Fr Joe McGuane was an honest priest
Joe McGuane was a complex man. Perhaps Joe’s many misunderstangings arose from his annoying habit of always speaking his truth, no matter the situation or who his audience. His views were often challenging and always thought-provoking, as his many past parishoners, fellow priests and bishops, and the readers of this website can vouch for.
Throughout his ministry, over 40 years, his honest evaluations and often forthright stance showed his strength but in some instances exposed his achilles heel and led him into deep and often hot waters. In the diocese of Cloyne, Joe was never one of those ‘chosen’ for high office, the Holy Spirit seeemed to bypassed him, but maybe it was because Joe never fitted into that mould. In hindsight his honest and directness would have been invaluable in Cloyne. When elected to the Priests Council, and at the rare diocesan gatherings, his critique of church practices and structures was for many of us a breath of fresh air. Joe would write and speak what many of us thought but were not brave enough to say.
Over my 30 years and more in the diocese, Joe drifted in and out of my life depending on our appointments. Looking back now over those years there are many happy memories. We shared days on the golf course, retreats and evenings debating and socialising. His mind was as sharp as a knife, with a quick wit, combined with an equally sharp tongue, which meant that you were never safe — I was often at the receiving end. Joe could be difficult but there was always a truth lurking beneath the surface of what he was saying.
From the outset, Joe was an active member of the Association of Catholic Priests (he was present at the very first meeting in Portlaoise). He felt comfortable in the atmosphere of openness and tolerance of all opinions he encountered, something that was sadly lacking in his local Church. We often met at such gatherings, the most recent being the AGM in Athlone on 29 October. He never engaged with our local group in Cork, preferring to stand on his own and speak his truth as he saw it.
Just over two months ago I moved to Killeagh in East Cork, near to where Joe lived in Youghal, where he cared for his sister Maura and acted as chaplain to St Raphael’s Centre. We bumped into each other in the local hospital in Youghal, where Joe was with Maura who was by now in need of constant care. This time I found Joe very different. Even though he was still in his 60s it was clear that something was not right. His posture was stooped, his sharpness was gone and he was prone to repeating himself. Not long after that, Maura was transferred to Cork University Hospital and religiously he would go to Cork each day to visit Maura and on his way home sometimes drop by.
Out of the blue on his last visit he asked me if I would go with him to Madrid next spring. He was an avid traveller and had seen much of the world but had never been to the Spanish capital. Having holiday plans in place for next year and being proccupied with the challenge of a new parish, I politely declined his invitation. Now I am left to wonder if in some way this was Joe’s way of asking for help – I will never know.
On Thursday 12 December Joe was struck by a car while walking on the dual carriageway near Carrigtwohill, coming home from visiting Maura. Why he was walking we do not know. He died at the scene. Maura passed away an hour later in Marymount Hospice. Since then I am drawn to the words of Brendan Hoban in his article Disenchanted Evenings: ‘Care of the diocesan priest may exist in theory but it doesn’t in fact’. Since the death of Joe I feel very sad and uneasy.
Maura and Joe were laid to rest in North Abbey Cemetery in Youghal on Monday 16 December.
Rest in peace, dear friend.