Born: 01 January 1929, Galway, Dublin
Entered: 07 September 1946, St Mary's, Emo, County Laois
Ordained: 28 July 1960, Milltown Park, Dublin
Final Vows: 02 February 1964, Chiesa de Gesù, Rome, Italy
Died: 24 October 2009, Arrupe, Mwangaza, Jesuit Spirituality Centre, Lang’ata, Nairobi, Kenya - Africa Orientalis Province (AOR)
Father Provincial of the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus : 25 July 1968-8 March 1975
Father General's General Assistant: 1977-1984
Transcribed HIB to AOR: 25 April 1989
by 1963 at Rome Italy (ROM) studying
by 1985 at Nairobi, Kenya (AOR) teaching - Hekima
◆ Jesuits in Ireland :
The Irish Jesuits under Cecil McGarry SJ
Cecil McGarry was Irish Provincial at a very difficult juncture in the history of the Society. In other words, it was upon his shoulders that the implementation of the renewal of religious life in accordance with the Second Vatican Council was placed. This took more specific form in the
32nd Jesuit General Congregation. Under Fr Arrupe’s leadership it called Jesuits to a faith that does justice: it was with this message that Cecil inspired his Province. The photo is of Cecil and Fr Arrupe conversing during one of the latter’s visits to Ireland.
From Chapter 7 of To the Greater Glory: A History of the Irish Jesuits by Louis McRedmond (Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1991) :
The Provincial on whom the burden primarily fell of bringing the Irish Jesuits safely through the aftermath of Vatican II was Father Cecil McGarry, who came to office in 1968. To guide him he had the emphasis of the documents approved in 1965 and 1966 by the 31st General Congregation of the Society, which had elected Father Arrupe, as well as the exhortations which very quickly came from the new General himself. The Congregation chose two themes to stress, both of them conciliar. The first was an insistence on returning to the Society’s origins, which meant developing a heightened awareness of its Founder’s intentions. The second theme was the need to adapt the Society’s organisation and activities to enable it better to cope with the intellectual, social and spiritual problems of the age. From the outset of his generalate Father Arrupe urged the Society to press on with this process of modernising itself in the spirit of Saint Ignatius (which involved inter alia Ignatian ideas of mobility and flexibility), in order that Jesuits might be able more easily to move into new areas of apostolic opportunity and need. And so ’Jesuits throughout the world began the task of integrating the decisions of the Congregation with their personal endeavours for renewal. As General, Father Arrupe indicated that he expected action. He said, “I do not want to defend any mistakes Jesuits might have made, but the greatest mistake would be to stand in such fear of making error that we would simply stop acting.” (1) Father McGarry acted promptly, to the great benefit of the Society in Ireland and to the admiration of Jesuits from other Provinces (2) which were slower to move.
It cannot have been easy. The Provincial discharged his unenviable task with courage, conviction and, it may reasonably be supposed, a degree of pain known to himself alone. While there were Jesuits in every age group who rejoiced to see the Congregation decisions implemented, what the Provincial had to do caused unhappiness to a number of older Fathers settled in their ways and harbouring no doubts concerning the work undertaken by the Irish Province in their lifetime. Also distressed were some younger men who had thrown themselves with enthusiasm into tasks given them in the recent past. If the Province was to adapt to new priorities some of the established activities would have to be curtailed, not least because of the fall in numbers which all orders began to suffer in the 1960s: eight Irish scholastics left the Jesuits in the year that Father McGarry took office, (3) which meant the intake of novices – averaging seven a year (4) – did nothing to balance the natural losses through death and retirement. This imbalance was unlikely to improve. The Provincial did not act arbitrarily: he initiated internal discussions in each house to establish what the community was doing, and what it felt it should be doing. It would be no more than a small exaggeration to say that there were as many opinions as there were Jesuits. (5) But only the Provincial could make the ultimate decisions, and these involved abandoning some cherished commitments.
Perhaps his most distasteful duty was deciding where manpower could be saved. Suppression of a boarding-school was likely to bring maximum results, if only because it took so many men to provide supervision and administration as well as teaching. If a school had to go, Mungret was more vulnerable than Clongowes. (6) In the first place, there would still be a substantial Jesuit presence in Limerick between the community serving the public church and those attached to the Crescent (now the Crescent Comprehensive). Secondly, Mungret had already lost its apostolic school, which was half the reason for its existence. The Vatican Council had been the remote cause of this happening. The Council seemed to require philosophy and theology to be integrated in seminaries. Father Redmond Roche, Superior of the Apostolic School, could not see how this was to be guaranteed for the future, given the vocations crisis and an already evident shortage of competent lecturers. The vocations crisis also meant that institutions doing similar work, such as All Hallows in Dublin, were adequate to the need. The Apostolic School was accordingly suspended in 1967. The lay school, by contrast, was reaping the benefits of Father Kerr’s rectorship. Demand for places constantly exceeded those available and the disappearance of the Apostolic School actually helped by removing an ambiguity from the overall purpose of Mungret. How far Clongowes was protected by its venerability as the first house of the restored Society in Ireland, or by its fame and continuing prestige, or (as was hinted sotto voce) by the fierce loyalty of its past pupils who would have made a far greater clamour if suppression were mooted than came from those of Mungret, must remain matter for speculation. One thing is certain. Father McGarry was not a man to flinch from any decision, however unpopular, if he believed it to be right. When he chose Mungret rather than Clongowes for suppression, it can be taken for granted that he did what he had prayerfully concluded to be his duty. Of course, there were many to say he was wrong: their arguments ranged from nostalgia to the new-found status of the lay school at Mungret and its long-established fecundity in vocations. But the critics who spoke thus were spared the responsibility of making the decision.
There were positive decisions also. In 1966 the State had proposed a scheme of ’free’ – i.e. fully State- supported secondary education. Although it involved a reduction of 20 per cent in their income, (7) Coláiste Iognáid in Galway and the Crescent in Limerick entered the scheme. Now came the further proposal that the Crescent should become the keystone of a large comprehensive school of the kind outlined above in the account of developments at Gonzaga. At Dooradoyle in Limerick, under the inspired guidance of the Jesuit historian and Limerickman, Father Thomas J. Morrissey, this experiment in Irish education took off with dynamic vigour as a non-feepaying co-educational school to meet ’the diverse needs of the bright and the dull, the affluent and the deprived’. (8) Personal initiatives received much encouragement, such as Father Michael Sweetman’s protests against inadequate housing for the poor of Dublin: (9) a stand which inspired more than one young Jesuit to become involved in activity for social reform and in time would result in the services provided by Jesuits today to the socially deprived in the suburban housing estates and the high- rise flats of the modern capital. The teachings of the Vatican Council were promoted by public lectures at Milltown Park which attracted overflow audiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (10)
In the context of service to the Church, it may be that no single development of recent years will turn out to have been as significant as the generous support given by Father McGarry to the Irish School of Ecumenics founded by Father Michael Hurley of the Milltown community in 1970. (11) This small but vitally important postgraduate institute offers university degrees, nowadays from the University of Dublin and formerly from the University of Hull, to students from various Christian Churches and from Third World as well as European countries who study theology together, gain firsthand experience of one another’s pastoral routine and return to their duties in their own communions as informed witnesses to the hope and possibility of Christian Unity. The School functions under the patronage of senior representatives of the Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. The facilities of Milltown Park have been made available to the School from the outset and its international character was confirmed by the attendance of then General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr Eugene Carson Blake, at its formal inauguration in Milltown, where he delivered the opening address. International Consultations on such topics as Mixed Marriages and Human Rights have confirmed its repute. It has developed a Centre for Peace Studies which underlines its significance not only for the ecumenical movement in contemporary Christendom but also for an Ireland still disrupted by violence and tensions in the North which have deep roots in the religious division of the past.
The emergence under Jesuit auspices of this independent educational body, together with the attainment by the Milltown Institute of pontifical university status, can stand for the quality of Cecil McGarry’s leadership of the Irish Province. But it may well be that his ultimate memorial will be the option for the poor exercised today by Father Peter McVerry and other Jesuit champions of the homeless and deprived. Much of this began only after Father McGarry’s term as Provincial ended in 1974 but it was his determination to give the Province a new direction, in obedience to the General Congregation and to Father Arrupe, that made possible an Irish Jesuit emphasis reminiscent of the old Mission dedicated to the poor of the Liberties and the dispossessed of the penal towns and countryside.
Tributes to Cecil McGarry SJ
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.
Funeral of Cecil McGarry SJ
Over 500 people gathered in St. John the Evangelist Church in Nairobi to bid farewell to Cecil McGarry SJ on Saturday, November 28th 2010. The Chapel in Mwangaza Spirituality
centre where Cecil worked, lived and died was too small for the numbers expected. The funeral service was moved to the neighbouring parish Church. Religious sisters formed the majority of the congregation and over 30 concelebrants participated. Fr. Provincial of Eastern Africa, Fr. Orobator Agbonkhianmeghe presided and Hekima College Choir led the singing. Cecil’s sister Doreen, his nephew Andrew and wife Trish were present and John K. Guney SJ represented the Irish Provincial at the ceremony and gave the homily. Cecil was buried in the Jesuit cemetery in Mwangaza retreat centre where another Irish Jesuit, Fr. Sean O’Connnor is at rest. Cecil got a great send-off, and the crowds present at the Mass and at the burial service were an indication of the impact he made in Eastern Africa over the past 25 years.
Homily given by Fr. John K. Guiney SJ at Cecil McGarry’s funeral Mass St. John Evangelist Church, Nairobi, Kenya
28 Nov. 2009
Readings: Jeremiah 1:4-9 Psalm 5: 6-8
1 Cor. 9: 16-19
We come together today to mourn, to thank God and to celebrate the life of a very special man.
Cecil McGarry was born in Ireland in 1929. He was a man who loved God, loved the Church and loved the Society of Jesus with all his heart. He was a companion of Jesus for 63 years. He served Christ’s mission in the spirit of the readings we have just heard; he served with all his heart, no half measures and with a passion, perseverance, determination and love that gave outstanding witness to all around him even to those who disagreed with him or opposed him. Words like visionary, courageous, prophetic with a wonderful gift of discernment, wise, manager of change, stubborn and controversial, are descriptions of Cecil by his friends and many others.
An African companion who knew Cecil well wrote me after his death a wonderful testimony to Cecil and his way of living:
“John, a giant has gone to the Father. He was of such stature, spiritual and intellectual that it was difficult to take him for granted. He evoked strong feelings of admiration or even of opposition. He did not care much what people thought of him. Once he was sure a decision was for the Kingdom, he never flinched or wavered. It had to be accomplished effectively and completely. He was of such inner strength. I found out that I could only admire him but could hardly imitate him. He was highly gifted intellectually; he was energetic and dynamic, so much so that he could hardly accept himself, when, in the last couple of years, he was reduced to an almost passive life. And yet, he held on serving to the last: what he could do he did. Whenever I found time, it was to him that I used to go to ‘talk’. We thank God for the great gift of Cecil, to the Society and to the Church, especially to the Church in Kenya and to so many persons who sought his ‘hekima’ (wisdom).”
What were the benchmarks of Cecil’s journey that made him the man he was?. He made a huge impact not only in his Province but also in the universal Society, as Assistant for formation to Fr. General from 1975-84 and in his adopted Province of Eastern Africa.
Cecil joined the Society in 1946 in the midlands of Ireland. One year later, he was asked to leave because of ill health. His dream was shattered; the event was a real dark night of the soul. It was to be the first of many major formative experiences of being tested and called to trust always in Divine Providence. After months of treatment for spinal T.B. he re-applied to the Society and was readmitted.
His peers recall that right through his formation Cecil was Beadle, that is to say, the leader of the scholastics/students. He was perceived somewhat like the prophet Jeremiah who, as we heard today, was gifted with leadership and an ability to discern and articulate God’s ways with people and events in a courageous manner.
In the early 1960s – an era of tremendous change, questioning and upheaval in the world – he was sent to Rome for his postgraduate studies in Theology. The experience of being in Rome during the time of Pope John XX111, Vatican 11, winds of change and renewal blowing through the corridors of the Catholic Church, and the election of the prophetic Pedro Arrupe as General of the Society in 1965, were all crucial formation events for Cecil.
These events and persons were to mark Cecil’s life journey and mission for the rest of his days. He returned to Ireland to teach theology and was soon appointed a very young Rector of the Milltown school of Philosophy and Theology. Immediately he began to work on renewing the formation of the theologian student community. He established small communities of scholastics with emphasis on sharing of life, personal responsibility, accountability and the development of internal structures of guidance and religious values, rather than mere conformity to external institutional rules.
He moved the Institute from a stand-alone Jesuit institute of studies to become a consortium of religious orders where all religious, including women religious and lay men and women, were allowed to pursue their academic and spiritual formation.
He promoted the school of Ecumenics, Peace and Reconciliation, which played a critical role during the growing conflict in Northern Ireland and continues to do so through healing processes for the whole of the island.
At the age of 39, he was appointed as Provincial, one of the youngest men ever to hold the role in the Irish Province. Inspired by the spirit of Vatican 11 and of the 31st Jesuit General Congregation, he moved immediately to update the communities and structures of Jesuit life in Ireland, which had developed shades of monasticism and introspection. He encouraged Jesuit life in Ireland to return to the spirit of its Ignatian sources. He explored with others the explicitly defined mission of the Society of Jesus after the 31st General Congregation as the service of faith of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. This twinning of faith and justice was the source of tremendous zeal, energy and controversy in the Province and indeed in the whole Society. He set up commissions to reflect on different sectors of Jesuit works and invited lay partners, who were experts in planning, change and management, to work with Jesuits to bring about renewal through reading the signs of the times in accordance with the founding charism. Each year, Provincial renewal programs brought in men and women like the American Jesuit psychologist, Jim Gill, to help people to talk to one another but above all to give Jesuits skills to listen to one another, grow in self awareness and build unity of minds and hearts.
The decisions from this process were many – for example, moving the novitiate from the country to the city, an emphasis on the human and social sciences in studies for scholastics and young priests, the closure of some schools, the immersion of some communities among the poor and a more participative and consultative management style of the Province. He encouraged and facilitated British and Irish Province collaboration and cooperation around formation programs. This was groundbreaking given the historical political and cultural conflicts over the years and the outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland at that time. Cecil believed that in conflict situations the people who must first reach out to join hands across the divide are companions of Jesus.
The responses and reactions to Cecil leadership were manifold. Many of you here today in leadership know that making decisions is not easy but dealing with the reactions can be even more difficult to manage. Some of the reactions were earthshaking and memories (both positive and negative) of his term of office live on in the Irish Province to this very day. The majority, especially, the younger generation, had great appreciation, believing that Cecil enabled the Society of Jesus to enter the 20th.Century and prepare for the 21st. They felt affirmed, trusted and were given responsibility at a young age. Some others were highly critical.
Amidst all this Cecil persevered, convinced that renewal according to the spirit of Vatican 11 and to the spirit of Jesuit Congregations was absolutely essential to apostolic efficaciousness of the Company in Ireland. He lived in a real way the beatitude we read today ‘’blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’’. Thank God the Province had a man of courage to live this beatitude, because it is still being blessed by his vision, discernment, planning and courageous decisions.
Following his six-year term as Provincial, he was sent to Rome to become Assistant for formation in the universal Society. He worked with the same dynamism, zeal and decisiveness in a diversity of contexts, cultures and even creeds of formation. His goal was always the renewal of the Society according to Vatican.11, the Jesuit congregations and in accordance with the spirit and charism of the founder. The formation of ‘men for others’ was the mantra and the end product was always to have men with an inner freedom ready for apostolic service anywhere in the world. His work as always evoked great support and also controversy.
Two of his most painful moments were:
- The assassination of the Companions in El Salvador which we commemorated in November on the 20th. anniversary. He had been with that Jesuit community immediately before the killings as a special delegate of Fr. Arrupe and they were deciding whether it was safe to send scholastics for regency to El Salvador. 2. Perhaps his most painful moment was the Papal intervention in the Governance of the Society after Fr. Arrupe suffered a stroke. In the true spirit of St. Ignatius he took this with a gracious obedience and holy silence.
Then God beckoned him for service in Africa.
I do not dare to say much of this period of his life because each one of you here today has your own homily on Cecil in your heart. I have a number of memories after reuniting with him in Eastern Africa after he and I left Ireland. I remember him on his bicycle as he negotiated the matatus (buses) on Ngong Rd. and I was fearing for his life. I remember him going to the Pallotines in Galapo, Tanzania, to get completely immersed in learning the rich Kiswahili of that country. I remember his excitement about working with Sr. Maura and the Emmanuel Sisters. I remember sharing survival notes with him during his recovery from his brain haemorrhage at Marjorie’s place.
But what I can say is this; in Africa Cecil found his real spiritual home. Yes, he was a resource person to Congregations and Bishops Conferences; he was teacher, dean, rector, but above all he wanted to be and was a Pastor- a shepherd of souls. IN Eastern Africa, he lived the quintessence of Ignatian and Celtic Spirituality -he became an ANAM CHARA as we say in Gaelic, a Soul Friend to numerous people and communities. He enabled so many people to discover and follow the will of God and to find peace. The presence of so many women here today is evidence of the way he enabled and empowered women to seek and find God’s will.
In finding his real spiritual home in Eastern Africa he wanted to be buried among the people he loved so much. We pay tribute to his family, Doreen, Andrew and Trish, who are with us today to represent all his family, for supporting and loving him in mission and setting him free to serve the God he loved so much and allowing him to be buried in his adopted country and Province.
I invite you all to join in the old Irish blessing for those who have passed on before us – “Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam dílis” (may Cecil’s faithful soul be at God’s right hand). AMEN.
◆ Irish Jesuit Missions :
As in “Jesuits in Ireland “ : https://www.jesuitmissions.ie/news/87-irish-jesuit-dies-in-kenya
IRISH JESUIT DIES IN KENYA
Irish born Jesuit, Fr.Cecil McGarry, died in Nairobi on November 24th.2009. John K. Guiney attended his funeral and gave the homily at the Requiem Mass.
Cecil served Christ’s mission with all his heart, no half measures, and with a passion, perseverance, determination and love that gave outstanding witness to all around him, even to those who disagreed with him or opposed him.
Interfuse No 142 : Spring 2010
Fr Cecil McGarry (1929-2009) : East African Province
Paul Andrews writes:
Why was it that, from the Juniorate on, we saw Cecil as a future Provincial? It is a clear memory, this agreement among the brethren that here was a man made for leadership. It was not just that whisper of a miracle which enabled him to resume his novitiate, interrupted when the doctors initially told him: “With a tubercular abscess on the spine you will not be able for the Jesuit life”. In his revealing memoir Seduced (in Call and Response, Frances Makower's collection of vocation stories), Cecil recalls his conversion experience:
“The heart of my novitiate vision had been a companionship that required a radical availability to God and his will. Reluctantly I came to see that God could be calling me to live that availability to him as a layman and possibly with impaired health for the rest of my life. It was one thing to understand that this was the real meaning of what I had committed myself to during the Spiritual Exercises, quite another to accept it now in quite changed circumstances. I could never forget the moment I did so, during a sleepless night in Cappagh Hospital. It was a moment of great pain but profound consolation, in which I accepted that my life was God's gift to me and that it was for him to determine its course; my part was to be available to his will”.
Whatever the reason - the blessing of John Sullivan's crucifix or a faulty diagnosis – repeated X-rays showed no sign of the tubercular abscess, and Cecil returned to Emo to start his novitiate all over again. The experience left him visibly stronger. He was his own man among us overgrown schoolboys. His background was not untypical: middle child of a civil servant father and a mother of deep but unobtrusive faith; impressed by his glimpse of Jesuit teachers in his three years in Belvedere; intelligent but not academically ambitious; a good companion - even to old age when, on leave from Kenya, he would join a Jesuit group in Kerry. God had touched him in some special way. The fact that in all the houses of study he was appointed beadle of the scholastics - a sort of tribune between the authorities and the plebs – reflected the confidence in him felt by both parties; responsible, perceptive, strong, not a yes-man. Even his formal relationships were softened by his genuine charm, thoughtfulness and sense of humour: in any discussion of the Jews' disdain for tax-collectors, he liked to remind us that his father was the head of all Ireland's taxmen.
Yet his path was not a smooth one, even after the health crisis in Emo. At the end of his studies he was happy to be fingered as a future master of novices, and destined for a course in Rome in ascetical and mystical theology. But the shakers and movers in Milltown wanted a canonist, and Cecil's destiny was changed to a doctorate in Canon Law, a devastating blow: “Canon or Church law held no interest for me, and the last thing in the world I wanted was to spend my life teaching in a seminary”. When Visitor John McMahon changed this to a Roman course in systematic theology, the relief at escaping from legal studies was tempered by the prospect of becoming a seminary professor at a time when the divine science in Milltown was at its nadir. Cecil could not have realised that windows were being opened in Rome, and the fathers of the Vatican Council were coming together, bringing a vision of a renewed church, a vision which swept Cecil off his feet.
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 listed the hard questions that he faced: “Were we not doing good things in the Irish Province? Undeniably. But were they the better things? Were they the most needed in Ireland at the time? Were they serving the more universal good? Were they the works that others were not doing? Fidelity to our own Constitutions, and to Pope John's signs of the times, required that we ask such questions. Pedro Arrupe's convictions and vision had become mine”.
But they were, initially at least, in conflict with many existing attitudes in the Province. This resistance surfaced most painfully at the 1970 Provincial Congregation, which overwhelmed Cecil with deep desolation, discouragement and doubts as to whether he could continue trying to lead people where they did not want to go.
Instead he sought another way forward: to facilitate new spiritual experiences in the Province, that would free men from fear and help them to communicate at a deeper and more personal level. So he used Encounter Groups to loosen up relationships between Jesuits. He sought help from other provinces to introduce individually directed Spiritual Exercises, and to encourage greater familiarity with our Constitutions. He received huge help from Eoin McCarthy, the consultant who visited every house in the Province, listened to almost every Jesuit in residence, and wrote a perceptive report which is still worth reading. Cecil set up a Secretariat to facilitate change in a Province unused to it. He gave enthusiastic support to the Irish School of Ecumenics during its difficult early years. As chairman of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of men, he reached a new level of communion with other Religious, which bore visible fruit in the Milltown Institute, financed and managed by a partnership of about ten congregations. He appointed some young rectors, three of whom left the Society shortly afterwards. 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.
The 32nd General Congregation in 1974 gave Cecil a new direction, when it elected him one of the General's four Assistants ad providentiam, Fr Arrupe's counsellor and companion in government.
That companionship was sorely needed at a time when Pope Paul VI reprimanded the Congregation for discussing the question of Grades in the Society, and openly wondered whether he could continue to trust us as before. It became clear that the Society did not enjoy the confidence of the central authorities of the Church during the remaining years of Fr Arrupe's generalate. Our commitment to a service of faith that does justice was alien to some Jesuits, who had the ear of high Vatican officials. This came to a head when Pope John Paul II, after refusing Arrupe's resignation and seeing him, in consequence, disabled by a stroke, dismissed his Vicar General, suspended the Constitutions, and appointed Fathers Dezza and Pittau to do their best as an interregnum. All that Arrupe and Cecil had worked for seemed to be ashes.
Three years later, after the election of Fr Kolvenbach as General, Cecil was asked to help in the establishment of Hekima, the East African theologate in Nairobi. He was Hekima's first dean of studies and professor of Systematic Theology from 1984-1994. Then he became its rector from 1995 to 1998. He was frequently called upon to assist the Kenyan bishops and to advise them as a resource person in many important seminars and conferences. In 1994 he played an important role in the first African Synod in Rome (he shared in the pain that the synod would not be held in the continent), where he was a member of the synod's secretariat. Cecil was also involved in the development of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, as consultant as well as a professor of theology.
After a sabbatical, Cecil moved to Mwangaza retreat house near Nairobi, where he directed the Exercises from 1999 until a few weeks before his death. A brain haemorrhage in 2001 had brought him to death's door, but he fought his way back to full ministry. He gave spiritual direction to numerous lay people, Religious, priests and bishops, and assisted many religious congregations in their efforts towards renewal and growth.
The flame we saw as Juniors still burned strongly, uncomfortably. “How”, he asked, “does one continue to feel with the Church, and to love it - such integral aspects of the Jesuit way of life - when the Spirit of Jesus seems to have been arrested and confined, as Jesus himself was in his time? My response can only be: I love Christ in this Church because I cannot love him apart from his Church. He lives in this body, in which I too am a sinful part”.
Cecil has left us an agenda (Seduced, page 77): “Many of the most burning issues in the Church community are resolutely excluded from the agendas even of synods of bishops by papai authority. Are the bishops not to be trusted? What is the true meaning of collegiality? Should we not search for truth, wherever it leads, confident that it will set us free? Truth about such issues as the place and role of women in the Church, sexual morality, obligatory celibacy of the clergy in the Church of the West, the demands and limits of collegiality and inculturation. Is there no danger that we are forgetting the stricture of Jesus: You load on people burdens that are unendurable, burdens that you yourselves do not move a finger to lift (Luke 11,46)? Is open dialogue, so treasured in the early Church and by Vatican II, to be entirely abandoned? Why do we not believe any more in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but only in that of central authority? Is this the way to foster loyalty, participation and love within the Church? Is this the way the Church of Rome should preside over the whole community?”
The legacy of this remarkable man, this great lover of the Society, is not merely in his massive accomplishments, but in his passion for a renewed Church and a renewed Society, in his unrealised dreams, and the work in progress, waiting for us to carry on.
From a letter of the Provincial of Eastern Africa (Nov. 24, 2009) to the Province of Eastern Africa (to which Cecil belonged):
Brothers: Greetings of Peace!
I have just received the sad news of the death of Fr Cecil McGarry at Pedro Arrupe Community, where he lived and worked for over 10 years. As you know, Cecil's condition had deteriorated rapidly due to a relapse of his prostate cancer, which compromised his kidneys.......
Cecil came to the Eastern Africa Province in 1984, as part of the team chosen by Fr Arrupe himself to found Hekima College, the first theologate of the African Assistancy. He was Hekima's first dean of studies and professor of Systematic Theology from 1984-1994. Then, he became its rector from 1995 to 1998.
Cecil's availability to serve the Church and the Society of Jesus in Africa took him beyond his full-time job at Hekima College. For many years he was frequently called upon by both AMECEA (Association of Members of the Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa) and the Kenyan Episcopal Conference to assist the bishops and to advise them as a resource person in many important seminars and conferences. He played a very important role in the first African Synod in Rome in 1994, where he was a member of the synod's secretariat. Cecil was also involved in the development of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), as consultant as well as a professor of theology. Moreover, at our province level, Cecil assisted our provincials with the governance of the newly established Eastern Africa Province, as well as with his availability to listen and give good advice to many companions,
After a well-deserved sabbatical, Cecil was assigned to continue his apostolic mission in retreat ministry at Mwangaza. He devoted his entire life to this ministry from 1999 until a few weeks before his death. All this time, Cecil guided the retreats of many people, gave spiritual direction to numerous bishops, priests, religious and lay people. and assisted many religious congregations in their efforts towards renewal and growth.
Cecil lived an exemplary life, fully devoted to the Society's mission, the formation of Ours and the apostolates, Not infrequently, he was likened to Pedro Arrupe, for the depth of his courage and the breadth of his vision as a Jesuit. The fruits of his presence among us will last a long time. The occasion of his death is a time to give thanks to God for a life well lived. As we say goodbye to Cecil, our companion, the example of his life inspires us to recommit ourselves more deeply to our Jesuit religious life as servants of Christ's mission.
I would like to take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation to the Irish Province of the Society of Jesus, for the presence of Cecil among us for so many fruitful years. In the person of Cecil they shared with us one of the best Jesuit companions they had. We are deeply grateful to the Irish Province for sending us fine Jesuit companions who have witnessed to the universal mission of the Society and for giving their constant support to our province's apostolic initiatives all these years. We pray in a special way for the Irish Province, so that the Lord may reward their generosity and steadfast commitment to the universal mission of the Society.
I would also like to thank the superior, members, nursing staff and support staff of Pedro Arrupe Community, and the collaborators and staff of Mwangaza, who cared for Cecil with so much love and affection during the time of his illness. Their care and love for Cecil with so much love and affection during the time of his illness will remain a blessing to the Society of Jesus in Eastern Africa....
A. E. Orobator, S.J., Provincial of Eastern Africa