Cecil McGarry SJ, Irish Provincial from 1969-1975, died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday 24 November, in Nairobi, Kenya. After his time as Provincial, Fr Cecil spent some years as Assistant to Fr General Pedro Arrupe in Rome. In 1984 Fr Arrupe sent him as part of a team to set up Hekima in Nairobi as the theologate for East Africa. He remained in Kenya for the rest of his days. For an appreciation of his contribution to the Irish Province, read below.
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.