Fr Joseph (Joe) Maguire SMA

The oldest priest in the Irish Province, Fr Joseph [Joe] Maguire, passed to his eternal reward shortly before 10am on Monday, 21 November 2016, Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady. He was 94 years of age.

Fr Joe was born in Warren Street, South Circular Road, Dublin, the 5th child of seven born to James and Julia [née O’Brien]. He is predeceased by his parents and five siblings, James, Margaret [Sr Michael OSF], Micheál, Christina and Kevin. His sister Sheila [Barnwall] is the last remaining member of the family, living in Co Dublin.

After completing his primary education at Grantham St NS and Synge Street CBS he joined his father in Jacob’s Biscuit factory.  But feeling an intense interest in missionary priesthood he entered the Jesuit-run Apostolic school in Mungret College, Limerick, where he completed his secondary education before joining the SMA for Novitiate and Philosophy studies at Cloughballymore, Kilcolgan, Co Galway. He took his First Oath of membership in the Society on 1 July 1943. His theological studies were completed at the African Missions major seminary at Dromantine, Newry where he became a permanent member of the Society on 14 June 1946 and was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of St Patrick and St Colman on 18 June 1947 by Bishop Edward Mulhern, one of sixteen priests ordained on that day. His first Mass was celebrated in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Mourne Road, Drimnagh, Dublin.

In 1948 he went to Nigeria, and served for 50 years in northern Nigeria. He was Principal of the Minor seminary in Barakin Ladi for some years. Among the parishes he served in were Kwa, Kagoro, Shendam, Pankshin, St Theresa’s in Jos Town, Zawan, Bukuru and Tudun Wada.

Fr Joe served as Regional Superior with responsibility for the welfare of SMA personnel in northern Nigeria from 1979 – 1983. He later served as Society Superior for Jos Archdiocese. During his time as Regional Superior he was a most genial host in the SMA Regional House at Kagoro, as he was in every parish he lived in. He was a lifelong Pioneer, though on one occasion he was encouraged to take a hot whiskey to help with a very bad cold. Reluctantly he did but it was something he regretted and as soon as he came on his next home holiday he headed off to be re-enrolled in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association.

Reflecting on his years there at the time of his Golden Jubilee, Fr Joe saw it as “an enriching ministry involving parish work, teacher training and six years in the Minor seminary [Barakin Ladi, Jos]”.

Fr Joe as Christ, 1952

It was normal that when SMA priests were home on holidays they should spend some time in the Motherhouse at Blackrock Road, Cork. During his first holidays home [in 1952] Fr Joe was asked by a local theatrical group to play the part of Christ in a Passion Play they were performing in the then Cork Opera House during Lent 1952. He certainly cut a fine figure in that role.

Fr Joe had his share of ill health down the years but he never let this limit him. Right up to three days before his death he was participating to the full in the community prayer and daily Mass. Despite increasing difficulty with walking he could be seen moving slowly along the corridors heading to or from the chapel. He was a man of prayer and spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament every day. And, as someone remarked in recent days, the other place you’d find Fr Joe heading for was the community sitting room to have a cup of tea, countless mugs of tea every day with a biscuit. He loved the tea!

Pilate washes his hands, condemning Jesus to death.

Fr Joe was an enthusiastic supporter of the Dubs, an enthusiasm which was well nourished during the 70s and 80s in their absorbing tussles with Kerry. He retained that interest all his years and was delighted to see his beloved Dubs retain the Sam Maguire last month after overcoming Mayo in a replay. A story he often recounted was of the time, in Croke Park, watching Dublin playing a match. A vociferous fan of the opposing team [either Louth or Meath] was ‘casting aspersions’ on the late great Kevin Heffernan who was on the Dublin team that day. Joe had enough of ‘the language’ and turned to deal with the fan but, lucky for him [the fan] Fr Joe’s brother and another friend held him back and no contact was made. A most unusual action for Joe who was always so placid and gentle. “And I had my collar on”, he’d say and then chuckle away at the memory! 

Fr Joe is mourned by his sister, Mrs Sheila Barnwall [Dublin], sisters-in-law, Joyce Maguire and Jo Somerville, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, relatives, friends, SMA confreres and the people of the Archdiocese of Jos, Nigeria.

His funeral Mass was celebrated at 12 noon on Wednesday, 23 November 2016, in St Joseph’s SMA Church, Wilton. He was later laid to rest in the adjacent SMA community cemetery.

May Fr Joe now enjoy his eternal rest.

Read Fr Michael McCabe’s Homily at Fr Joe’s funeral here.

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