A number of tributes to Cecil McGarry SJ have come in in recent days. They are all fired by deep warmth towards the man who did so much, as Provincial from 1969-1975, to steer the Irish Province in the heady years after the Second Vatican Council, and who rose to equally large challenges in Rome and in Kenya until his death on 24 November last. An excerpt from Louis McRedmond’s history of the Irish Jesuits, To the Greater Glory, provides valuable context for understanding Cecil’s contribution to the Irish Province. And below you can read Michael Hurley’s personal recollections of Cecil, acknowledging the immense debt he owed him for his commitment to ecumenism. Also a short note by Paul Andrews, recognising Cecil’s iconic status in the 1970s.
CECIL McGARRY SJ (1929–2009): SOME PERSONAL MEMORIES
Michael Hurley SJ
When in 1964 Cecil McGarry returned from Rome to Milltown Park to teach theology, the faculty and the community were still recovering from a major crisis. Kevin Smyth who taught apologetics had on 9 April that year left the Society because of faith difficulties. Paddy Barry who taught canon law had done the same and for similar reasons on 26 January 1961. And in 1962 on 11 October Des Coyle who taught dogmatics had died; his colleague, Ned Hannigan who taught moral had predeceased him, dying on 15 February 1960. So in the space of four years four members of staff had gone, two still in their 40’s, the other two in their early 50’s and, most disturbingly, two of them for faith reasons. In 1964 as faculty and community we needed new courage, new confidence. Cecil’s arrival was providential, a godsend.
That very academic year Cecil’s name appears as one of the speakers in the Spring 1965 session of the Milltown Park Public Lectures. These had begun in January 1960 on ‘theological subjects of topical interest’ and, with literally hundreds coming to attend on the Wednesday evenings in Winter and Spring, they were helping to boost our spirits. Cecil’s subject, ‘collegiality’, could hardly have been more topical and indeed controversial. Vatican II’s document on the Church had just been approved, on 21 November 1964 but the Council’s discussions on primacy and collegiality had been tense.
In June of that same year, 1965, Cecil gave a paper on ‘The Eucharistic Celebration as the True Manifestation of the Church’ at the Glenstal Ecumenical Conference which was residential and interdenominational. . This was just the second such Conference and Cecil was giving some of the fruits of his doctoral research. The topic he had chosen for his thesis had been ‘The Catholic Character of Anglican Ecclesiology, 1945-1963’.
During the rest of his time in Ireland and indeed for the rest of his life Cecil maintained his interest in ecumenism and encouraged others to do likewise. Two notable examples took place during his time as Provincial (1968-1975). The first was the interdenominational service in Gonzaga chapel on 15 April 1970 on the occasion of the presentation to the Church of Ireland, in the person of its Primate, Archbishop George Simms, of a volume of essays to mark the centenary of its disestablishment. Cecil identified himself fully with the event by agreeing to preside and preach and he succeeded in securing the acquiescence (sic) of Archbishop McQuaid who was known to have serious misgivings about ecumenism..
The second example was the formal inauguration of the Irish School of Ecumenics at Milltown Park in that same year, on 9 November 1970, as an interdenominational third –level institute of research and teaching. Cecil had agreed to be the Catholic Patron. In advance he had advised Archbishop Conway of Armagh and had obtained the acquiescence of Archbishop McQuaid. Louis McRedmond, in his A History of the Irish Jesuits,(p.310), suggests that, in the context of service to the Church, no other single development of recent years may turn out to be as significant as this.
And the very last engagement of Cecil’s Dublin years was also ecumenical: in April 1975 he preached in St Patrick’s Cathedral with ‘Vatican II: Ten Years After’ as his theme; he was whisked from the pulpit to the airport to fly to Rome to begin his term of office at the Jesuit GHQ as one of Fr Pedro Arrupe’s Assistants.
I have sometimes found myself thinking that ‘without Cecil McGarry there would be no Michael Hurley’. His support for ecumenism in the teeth of episcopal discouragement if not opposition was really crucial: for some bishops an individual priest or religious was an ecclesiastical nobody. And in that internationally traumatic year of revolts, 1968, Archbishop McQuaid had requested that a forthcoming Milltown Park Public Lecture of mine on Original Sin be cancelled and that I be removed from the diocese. The Provincial was ready to acquiesce but Cecil as my Rector intervened and reached a compromise: my lecture would not take place but I would stay on in the Dublin diocese.
May Cecil rest in peace.
Paul Andrews SJ
For Irish Jesuits who lived through the tumultuous years round 1970, Cecil McGarry was an iconic figure, determined, courageous, a harbinger of change and not expecting everybody to love him for it. Becoming a Jesuit was not easy for him: suspected TB interrupted his noviciate, and after nearly a year in Cappagh he had to restart the process. He was not enthused at being sent to study theology in Rome, but he landed there with the fathers of the Vatican Council, which swept him off his feet with the vision of a renewed church.
The students whom he lectured on return to Milltown loved the fresh air he breathed into its fusty atmosphere, and were dismayed when Rome interrupted Brendan Barry’s reign after three years and made Cecil Provincial. It was not easy to instil the Province with the vision of Vatican II, especially when the incumbent archbishop, landing in Dublin after the Council, had announced “No change”.
Cecil used Encounter Groups to loosen up relationships between Jesuits. He set up a Secretariate to facilitate change in a Province unused to it and appointed some young rectors.
Cecil made mistakes, and was heavily criticised, but he so learned from his failures that he was able to lead the Province through six stormy years, and hand over a shaken-up and partly rejuvenated group to enjoy the calmer waters of Fr Paddy Doyle’s Provincialate.