I shed a tear this week when I learned of the death of Father Bob Maguire, then I revived my soul to give thanks for the inspiration he has given me.
Father Bob was a priest of the Roman Catholic Church who lived in Melbourne and believed that his prime task was, not to give priority to the conduct of Mass, but to have an unwavering commitment to feeding and housing the poor, hungry and homeless.
He did this so splendidly that he became a legend in his own lifetime and a role model for many people like me as we strive to care and share.
His passing has come at a crucial time in the history of Churches and religion. Never before in my lifetime have Churches been held in such poor esteem or been in such a state of decline. Their appalling tolerance of child abuse has been absolutely shameful and their stance against abortion reform, same sex marriage and voluntary assisted dying was lamentable.
However, Father Bob was not a Churchman. He was a Christian, a committed working partner of Jesus of Nazareth, a follower of Jesus the Man, who did his utmost to walk with him to create a world of compassion.
He believed that what you did in life was far more important than what you said. In this belief, he was spot on.
This put him at odds with the hierarchy of his Church who condemned him for ‘not effectively carrying out his spiritual responsibilities as a priest.’ They actually hounded him out of his South Melbourne Parish at age 77 despite him wanting to remain at his ministry until he died, just as Popes are allowed to do. This humiliation of him was grossly vindictive as 77 is nowhere near old age.
I am not old at 91 and I am still able to conduct Church Services and lead the community care activities of my local Church. I plan to do so for another ten years.
But, lets get back to Father Bob’s total commitment to humanity.
He had deep personal experience of poverty. His father was a drunk and a wife basher who often left his family without food for days. He became an orphan at fifteen with no home and rags for clothing. He understood poverty. He had lived it.
So, he spent his life, trying ceaselessly to ensure that he personally helped people out of the gutter and the depths of despair to get a fresh start. Most people in South Melbourne knew that, if you were in strife of any kind, you could go to Father Bob’s home in the depths of the night. He would answer, you would be welcome and he would do something practical to help, especially if you were unloved and unlovely.
Such was his commitment that, when his Church kicked him out, he set up the Father Bob Foundation so that he could could continue his work in the community for another eleven years. Love was in his blood and, even though he was a powerful communicator who terrorised governments to do better, his actions far exceeded his words. Always.
Like all of us, he had his faults, but the good exceeded the bad by a huge margin.
As we say goodbye to him, the best way to give thanks is for you and I to decide to become the Father Bob of our street and create a caring society that is powered by compassion and justice.
VALE FATHER BOB.
PS. My book, A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET, is about a guy who has a terminal illness, has only three months to live and tries to spend them helping people around him who are in trouble, making his last days the most meaningful of his life. Father Bob was still doing this in his final days of grave illness.