Editor’s note: the following is the text of the homily delivered by Bishop Emeritus Timothy A. McDonnell at the funeral Mass of the late Bishop Joseph F. Maguire.
Bishop Rozanski, I thank you for the privilege of entering this pulpit once again, although I wish the circumstances were different.
On your behalf, and on behalf of the Maguire, Waystack and Banks families, on behalf of Bishop Maguire’s niece and nephews: Mary, Philip, Richard and Joseph, on behalf of all his relations, on behalf of the entire Catholic Community of the Springfield diocese, on behalf of Msgr. Christopher Connelly, the Cathedral’s Rector, and for myself, I thank everyone for being either here in the Cathedral or joining us through television.
(Archbishop Vigano, the representative of our Holy Father Pope Francis, Cardinal O’Malley) my brother bishops, priests, deacons, religious men and women, members of the Holy Sepulchre Order, Knights of Columbus, (Representative Neal, Mayor Sarno,) all you federal, state and civic officials, you first responders here today representing police and fire officers statewide, and most of all men and women, young and old, from across the Commonwealth and beyond, the memory of Bishop Maguire is honored by your presence. Thank you. God bless you.
On the altar in the Chapel of the Bishop’s Residence on Elliot Street, where for so many years Bishop Joseph Maguire offered Mass and prayed before the Blessed Sacrament – a constant devotion of his life, there’s a carving of Jesus seated at table with the Emmaus disciples. The scene is toward evening, the two disciples had invited him in, not realizing he was more than an intriguing stranger they had met on the road — until they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and then he disappeared from their sight. They had been drained, they had been weary, they had been morose – but his presence revivified them, enlivened them. Their weariness they threw off and they rushed, rushed back as fast as their feet would carry them over the miles they had just come, rushed back up the mountain road to Jerusalem, to bring the Good News.
I think of Bishop Maguire when I think of those two disciples, rushing back – “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings.” The joy, the eagerness, the energy they expended to proclaim glad tidings are mirrored in the life and ministry of Bishop Joseph Maguire.
He was constantly someone who proclaimed Good News, Glad Tidings, Gospel joy! He was certainly always on the go. In his youngest days, when his feet carried him swiftly, gliding across the ice as part of the hockey team at Boston College or, in those same years, as he swiftly rounded the bases, sliding many a time into them, on BC’s baseball team, he was consistently and constantly a man on the go!
And when his feet landed him at the door of St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, little did he dream where they would take him; even if they did give out on him when a few weeks before ordination, sliding into home base, he broke a leg — but got the run! Did you know that he was one of the few priests in history ordained with his leg in a cast? Joe Maguire wouldn’t let a little thing like a broken leg slow him down.
The day after his ordination, cast and all, his feet mounted the sanctuary steps to celebrate his First Mass, and he continued celebrating Mass day in and day out until the last months of his life when illness made it impossible. A few weeks after ordination, in his first priestly assignment, those feet carried him around the streets of St. Joseph’s Parish in Lynn, beginning thirty-one years of service in the parishes, institutions and ministries of the Archdiocese of Boston: curate in Readville, Jamaica Plain, Milton, chaplain in the Army Reserve and the Massachusetts National Guard, secretary for nine years in turn to Cardinal Richard Cushing and Cardinal Umberto Medeiros, pastor of St. John the Baptist in Quincy, and then named auxiliary Bishop of Boston on December 1st, 1971, exactly 43 years ago today. Tirelessly on the go, the feet of one bringing glad tidings, preaching the Gospel, celebrating Mass and the sacraments, comforting the sorrowful, consoling the hurting, celebrating joyful occasions and constantly being a support in the lives of the people he served.
And yet, those who knew him came to realize it wasn’t in his nature to speak about his accomplishments. With his self-deprecating humor, he’d rather tell the tales of those times when his feet did not carry him very well. That icy, wintry day, for example, when, having seen Cardinal Cushing into the car, he started around the back to get to the driver’s seat, slipped on the ice and wound up wedged under the car, only to hear that distinctive nasal voice saying, “Fatha Joe, wheah ah ya?” With his natural aplomb, he extricated himself, got in and never averted, at the time, to what had happened.
It’s over thirty-eight years since he moved from his ministry in Boston to Western Massachusetts to serve people here in the Diocese of Springfield; yet, the impact he had as a priest and auxiliary Bishop on so many lives in the Boston Archdiocese continued in the ongoing contacts people made with him from across the Commonwealth; they long remembered his goodness to them in his priestly ministry in Boston.
The Diocese of Springfield quickly learned about Joseph Maguire, Bishop Joe Maguire, Bishop Joe, on-the-go. He arrived as Coadjutor in 1976, the Bicentennial year, and quickly manifested his deep faith, gentle demeanor, compassionate heart and prodigious memory for names and faces. To this day he has remained deeply beloved throughout Western Massachusetts. His strong legs quickly took him to every corner in the diocese and “Bishop Joe” soon was a familiar face throughout the diocese. In many ways, his ministry as bishop here in the diocese, anticipated Pope Francis’ words to bishops during last year’s World Youth Day in Rio de Janiero:
“The bishop has to be among his people in three ways:
— in front of them, pointing the way;
— among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered;
— and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also,
and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths.”
It’s a good description of Bishop Maguire’ ministry – in front of, among, and behind the flock — constantly emphasizing a priestly, prophetic and shepherding role, always seeking to model himself on Christ, the Good Shepherd, always encouraging people to come closer to Christ, especially in the Eucharist. If I’ve applied the verse “how beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,” to his time as the Ordinary of the Springfield Diocese, it might be said of him in the vernacular, that he “walked the walk and talked the talk.” He accompanied people on their spiritual journeys, he spoke in such a way that they could understand where Christ was calling them; he truly was a herald of Good News, Glad Tidings, and Gospel Joy. He was with the flock in joy and sorrow, in good times and bad. He worked at being a true shepherd to all people. When it came to light that young people had been abused by priests under his jurisdiction, he anguished over the pain those young people had suffered, pain they carried into adulthood, pain many carry still. His apologies were profound, moving and from the heart. He asked for their forgiveness, regretting that he was not more aware at the time of all that was happening, and prayed intensely each day for God to ease their pain. He continued those prayers and those regrets to the end of his life.
When, in the early 90’s, his health began to give out and he realized that he would no longer be able to accomplish all that he had been doing, he thought first of the people of the diocese, asking the Holy Father to send a new shepherd, one who would have strength of limb for the people he loved.
He was to mentor in retirement four successors, four other Ordinaries who depended on his wise counsel, gentle mentoring and pastoral heart. He was, in many ways, the institutional memory of the Diocese of Springfield and he found a new role in retirement as the diocese’s heart. In his death, it’s as if the whole diocese has lost its “Grandpa.”
In recent years there has come to be recognized what’s being called a “ministry of presence.” It basically involves being there with and for people in time of need. Bishop Maguire, in the twenty three years of his retirement, was there — in visiting patients in hospitals, in reaching out to people in homes for the elderly, in praying at wakes and funerals, in conversations and visits and phone calls, and particularly in celebrating Mass and the sacraments. His ministry of presence, and the knowledge that his prayers and his heart were with people in joy and in sorrow, helped mitigate so many sad situations and enhance so many joyous ones. The feet were no longer so swift. The speedy pace of the skater and the base-runner gave way as the years passed, to the slow shuffle of the cane and the walker; and, in recent days, those steady legs gave out just about completely so that he could hardly take a step without help.
But the spirit remained strong, the prayer life remained deep and the concern for others remained constant. He who was, for more than ninety-five years, the one who ministered to others, now found himself on the receiving end of compassion and care, and it was lovingly given and accepted with love. A very special word of thanks goes to Helen Avis and her dedicated staff who took care of him: Julie, Larry, Lee, Liz, Rose and Sonia. You were truly there for him and he was grateful, and we with him. And I have to mention Diane Guyer who, following in the footsteps of Ronnie Donohue, helped him keep contact with the outside world by newspaper, mail and phone.
In his ministry of presence, I think Bishop Maguire again anticipated Pope Francis, who loves to tell this story of his namesake. One day St. Francis of Assisi went out with a young novice saying, “Come, we’re going to preach the Gospel.” And they walked through Assisi, up the hills and down; through the streets and squares, but Francis never said a word. When they got back home, the young novice asked him, “Francis, I thought we were going to preach the Gospel?” Francis looked at him, smiled and said “We just did, you don’t always have to use words.” The ministry of presence means that the Gospel is preached by the care and the compassion, the love, the concern manifested even without words – by the presence of someone who cares. That was Bishop Joseph Maguire.
Let me illustrate what I mean from Bishop Maguire’s own words at the funeral of his beloved sister, Grace Waystack:
“What comforts us also is the knowledge that so many who are here have been touched and inspired by the life and example of Grace. Possibly some are present who are facing their own problems and cares, but maybe we will all leave this church renewed in faith – all because of the witness of one good woman whose goal in life was to reflect God’s love simply by word and example.”
As everyone here can attest, the words apply just as fittingly to Grace’s brother, Joseph, whose word and example we cherish.
“What comforts us also is the knowledge that so many who are here have been touched and inspired by the life and example of Bishop Maguire. Possibly some are present who are facing their own problems and cares, but maybe we will all leave this church renewed in faith – all because of the witness of one good man whose goal in life was to reflect God’s love simply by word and example.”
As I started with the verse, “How beautiful upon the mountain are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,” let me end with St. Paul’s words from the Second Reading, for they too apply to Bishop Joseph Francis Maguire: “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on, the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.”
I know that, in these last months, despite his illness, Bishop Maguire was ready for the next steps on his journey, the steps into eternal life.
So, eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord – our priest, our pastor, our shepherd, our friend. May perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.