Editor’s note: The following is the homily from the Vigil Prayer Service for Bishop Joseph Maguire by Msgr. Christoper D. Connelly, vicar of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.
“Your friend in Christ, Joseph F. Maguire, Bishop of Springfield.” With those words, the good man, the holy priest, and the endearing prelate we now remember concluded every official correspondence. So it is in a spirit of friendship, led by our bishops tonight, that we pray with the Maguire, Waystack, and Banks family. In this Cathedral church all are assured by the words Jesus spoke as he gathered at night with his disciples: “I call you my friends, says the Lord, for I have made known to you all that the Father has told me.” (John 15:15)
The month of November which comes to conclusion in a few hours is significant in the life of the Church. It begins with the Solemnity of All Saints followed by the Commemoration of All the Souls of the Faithful Departed. For our nation, it is the month we especially honor veterans and it is a time for Thanksgiving. November is also the month that Joseph Francis Maguire was installed in 1977 as the Fifth Bishop of Springfield, and in November, just one week ago tonight on the Solemnity of Christ the King, providentially the final Sunday of the liturgical year, Bishop Maguire’s deepest longings were brought to peaceful fulfillment.
So many have said with both sadness and admiration: “It is the end of an era.”
In many ways for the Church of Boston, for the Church of Springfield, for the Church Universal, it is. Consider for a moment the numbers that comprise his remarkable era: born in 1919; a member of the high school class of 1937, St. Columbkille’s School in Brighton; a scholar, athlete, and proud graduate of Boston College 73 years ago; ordained to the priesthood by his legendary mentor Archbishop Richard Cushing in 1945, and now 69 years later the longest serving priest in the Diocese of Springfield; a bishop since 1972, he was our bishop for 15 years, Bishop Emeritus even longer, 22 years; and at 95 years of age, the 4th oldest bishop in the United States, the 30th oldest bishop in the world.
With humility, but also with a smile, he often would say, “I’ve been around an awfully long time.”
Never one to draw attention, accolades, or honors toward his direction, he believed every person is sacred, and everyone deserves reverence. Many years ago his close collaborator and treasured colleague, Bishop Leo O’Neil, paid tribute to him in a homily, reminding each listener that he’s a man who prides himself in one title only, “I am Joseph, your brother.” (Genesis 45:4)
Last year at the conclusion of the Year of Faith, also occurring on the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis shared with the world his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel. The Holy Father noted: “If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation. God created that person in his image, and he or she reflects something of God’s glory. Every human being is the object of God’s infinite tenderness, and he himself is present in their lives. Jesus offered his precious blood on the cross for that person. Appearances not withstanding, every person is immensely holy and deserves our love.” The Pope concluded: “Consequently, if I can help one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life. It is a wonderful thing to be God’s faithful people. We achieve fulfillment when we break down walls and our heart is filled with faces and names.” (274)
The Scriptures highlight the significance, the blessing, of being called by name. Gifted with a masterful memory, a keen intellect, and a gracious demeanor, Bishop Maguire knew well the sacredness of calling each person by name. It was one of the many ways he showed pastoral sensitivity, a gentle reminder that he was “your friend in Christ.” His authentic ministry ensured that people of every shape, color, economic status, and background were equally welcome in a church he loved and served so ardently. He was aware that ours is a big-wide Church, where sometimes there are problems. He once wrote: “How well we know the concerns of today’s Church – with its awesome promise and potential, and yes, with the anguish of our weakness and human frailty.” He was also aware that ours is a big-wide world where often there are disagreements. But through it all, he taught what he quietly professed all along: “Nothing is impossible with God.”
(Episcopal motto, Luke 1:37)
Personal calls, notes, visits, were reassuring reminders that a good shepherd, with a generous heart, never leaves a flock untended. He lived the words of our reading from St. Paul: “Brothers and sisters: Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all.” (Philippians 4:4-5) He never missed an opportunity to express gratitude to his brother priests, and he was the first to ordain permanent deacons in this diocese. His appreciation for women and men religious was obvious. In particular, for three decades on Elliot Street, Sister Patricia Francis, SSJ, was the capable administrator of the Bishop’s House. Armed with an iron and meticulous in pressing and folding, Sr. Patricia made sure her bishop looked every bit as good on the outside as she knew him to be on his inside.
It’s hard to imagine a more versatile Churchman. Bishop Maguire could talk hockey with a jittery groom before a wedding, sing a few Broadway tunes at an Over 60 Club gathering, and at 90 years of age, keep young people’s interest while giving a Confirmation homily. The late author and humorist Erma Bombeck wrote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single talent left and could say to the Lord: I used everything that you gave me.”
Allow me to share a couple of short stories. I’ll be quick, mindful that several years ago on a ride back from a priest’s funeral, Bishop Maguire said to me: “When my time comes, I’d like you to give the talk the night before.” He then added: “With you up there, things will be sure to move right along.”
He was invited to an elementary school one December to read a story to several of the younger grades. It was a Christmas story, and watching the scene of young people piling around the gentle man, the image of the Nazarene storyteller after whom he modeled his whole life was captured in the moment: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt.19:14) To the adults and teachers watching what seemed like a move by the bishop to settle down his eager audience was really his own mischievous, hilarious way to get things rolling. He said to the students, “I’m going to start with a song and if some of the words get mixed up, just tell me, and I’ll begin again.” So began his rendition of Rudolph, the BLUE Nosed Reindeer. Some may still be hesitant to correct a bishop, second graders were not.
Bishop Maguire began the tradition at the Cathedral of distributing candy canes at the conclusion of the televised Christmas Mass. Those watching may have thought it was a savvy move because of television. It was rather just the kindness of a thoroughly good man, the same man who brought muffins with him to the doctor’s office for the nurses, chocolate bars for the bank tellers, and the best one of all: before the invention of the fast lane transponder on the Turnpike, he was coming home from one of his many cherished visits at the Cape with Grace, his only sibling who loved him the longest, the best, and the most. When he got to the Springfield exit, sensing the toll collector had a long shift that day, he handed her the ticket, the toll money, and a banana. St. Paul was right: “Your kindness should be known to all.” (Philippians 4:5)
Tonight, in the presence of the Lord who calls us friends, the Advent season invites us to quiet joy and deep peace as we gather around the Lord’s faithful servant who befriended us all, and whose prayerful waiting has been brought to fulfillment. Loved by his family, cared for by his nurses, and strengthened in the sacraments by his bishops, he goes home to the Lord, to family and friends above, and to Mary, our Blessed Mother and Queen of the Clergy.
To conclude as he so often did: “Many centuries ago, Saint Augustine said, ‘He has left life, but not my life. How can he be said to have died who lives in my heart?’” How indeed can Bishop Joseph be said to have died when we know that he lives in our hearts, our Church, and forever in our prayers.