Fr J Maguire & Passion Play 1952

SMA priest stars in Passion Play

maguire-j-jesus-1952-4In 1952 Fr Joe Maguire returned to Ireland for his first holiday from Nigeria. Fr Joe was a native of Dublin and after primary school in CBS Synge Street, Dublin he attended St Mungret’s College, Limerick. During his time there he came in contact with  the Society of African Missions (SMA).

After studies at the SMA Colleges in Cloughballymore, Co Galway and the African Missions Major seminary at Dromantine, Co Down he was ordained a priest in St Colman’s Cathedral by Bishop Mulhern on 18 June 1947. He was appointed to the then Prefecture of Jos in Nigeria.

It was normal at that time to spend 4 – 10 years ‘on the missions’ before taking a holiday. As the climate and conditions took a heavy toll of one’s health the normal holiday period was up to one year in Ireland. A part of it was spent with your family but most of it was spent in doing some work in the different houses of the Society in Ireland. Fr Joe had come home in December 1951 and after some time in Dublin with his loved ones, he went to the SMA Motherhouse in Blackrock Road, Cork for the rest of it.

One day the Blackrock Road Superior, Fr Maurice Walsh, asked if he was interested in helping the Presentation Brothers Old Boy’s Association in their Passion Play to be staged at the Cork Opera House. The late Myra Spillane, who played the part of Mary, asked Fr Walsh if he could recommend someone as the group wanted a priest to play the part that year. As was the SMA tradition, priests home on holidays had to spend the Lenten period in Blackrock Road and so Fr Maurice asked Fr Joe if he’d take it on. Despite his Dublin accent the Producer, Der Breen chose him for the part. Also acting in the play was Dan Donovan who had two parts. Gifted with a fine strong voice and known in the seminary for his acting ability, Fr Joe readily agreed. The production ran for three nights to full houses. It also travelled to Buttevant for one night.

Fr Joe, who celebrated his 90th birthday recently, recalls a tape of the event and in the midst of all the Cork accents his rich Dublin one could be heard clearly! One can only imagine what the people of Cork thought about Christ with the Dublin accent! Maybe it made them shout all the more: ‘Crucify him!’

maguire-j-jesus-1952-3

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

From the photographs taken at the time it is impossible to see that the beard and long hair of the ‘Christus’ are not Fr Joe’s own but the trick of the make-up artists.

When asked about the show Fr Joe was his usual reticent self: “I was asked to do it, and I did!” Spoken like a true missionary.