Fr. John Maguire, CSsR: A Man with No Guile

John Maguire

Fr. John Michael Maguire, “Fr. Mags” as we fondly call him, was born on the 19th day of November, 1932 at Leichhardt, New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. His parents were John Thomas Maguire and Ivy May O’Neill. He was professed a Redemptorist on February 11, 1954.

His sister Anne, told Fr. Frank Pidgeon about how Mags practice his faith during his childhood years:[1] 

“John made his First Communion at the age of 6. From that day on, he was never absent from daily Mass. At that early age, he became an altar boy.”

His sister also narrated to Fr. Pidgeon how Mags decided to join the Redemptorists:

“John came down from Sydney to Wagga Wagga with our parents for my profession as a religious sister. Someone had given him a small booklet entitled ‘Van, beloved of God and man’, which told the story of a young American Redemptorist seminarian who died shortly before his ordination. John read that book while he was with us, and afterwards decided to write to the Redemptorists to learn more about their life and work. A short time later, John found himself in the Redemptorist seminary – he was 18 at the time – studying Latin.”

On March 20, 1960, he was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop J. O’Collins of the Diocese of Ballarat. A year after his ordination, Fr. Maguire took part in parish mission in New South Wales, Australia until the early months in 1963. In the same year, he was sent to the Philippines. He arrived in Manila on March 3, 1963 at the age of 30.

He spent the best years of his life in the missions and in the shrine ministry in Baclaran. He spent about half of his missionary life in the Philippines in mission and half in the shrine ministry in Baclaran.

The first thing he did upon arriving in the Philippines is to learn Tagalog. He became very fluent in it that he was able to talk in Tagalog very fast. Even in his native English, he doesn’t mince lots of words and could get across his message in simple and few words. More than words he was a man of action. He was a man without pretense, without “airs”; a man who would do you no wrong and who was open to the world.

Besides learning the language, Mags understood the culture and made friends with a lot of people especially from the mission areas. He gave mission mostly in Tagalog provinces especially in Quezon. He also gave missions in Bulacan, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cavite as well as many Squatter areas in Manila, like Tondo, Tramo in Pasay, Pandacan, Paranaque, Muntinglupa, Cubao etc.

He had always a genuine interest in people. He was willing to put himself out to anyone who had any special needs especially for the young. He helped a lot of young people in their education and other needs. In recognition of his work for the youth, the shrine named its newly established youth center as John Maguire Youth Center.

Above all, he had a great love for the Baclaran shrine and the many thousands of ordinary people who flock there each Wednesday and Sunday. The wellspring of his love for the shrine and the devotees is his love for Mary. His Rosary was always beside him. He gave flesh and blood to the instruction of Mary to His apostles—“Do whatever (Jesus) tells you.” In generously offering his time and life in service to God and his people in an uncomplaining way, he took his Mother at her word.

Mags was a prolific writer. He was one of the original writer and editor of the shrine’s newsletter, The Icon. In fact, he was the most sought after writer of The Icon with his humorous section—Shrine Trivia and the interesting bit of historical chronicle—Ala-ala ng Kahapon. He also wrote a book, To Give Missions to the Filipino People Wherever they were Needed, an enlightening short book on the missionary endeavors of the Baclaran community since 1932.

In his later years, he was into painting. He painted about the meaning of all he encountered in his lifetime: his hopes and dreams and faith, the suffering of the people he ministered to, their unanswered prayers of yearning and longing for a more beautiful life.

In the last year of his life, Fr. Mags had suffered from both lung and brain cancer. Didoy Fajarda, the man who took care of him during his six months of illness recalled that two days before he died, Father John told him:

“Lahat ng gagawin ay para sa tao, sa mga kabataan, at mga bata. Huwag humingi ng tulong sa iba, tumulong sa kapwa.” (Whatever you do, you do it for others, the people, the youth, the children. Do not seek help from others. Rather give them your help.”

Here two days before he died, John had laid bare his soul. He had revealed with utter clarity the truth about himself. He had made his own the quintessential message of the Gospel: He was prepared, like Jesus, to give his life for others; “to serve and not to be served.[2]

On October 11, 2007, at around 9:20 in the evening in San Juan de Dios Hospital in Manila, Fr. Mags, a true servant of Jesus and Mary, passed over to eternal peace.

Is it allowed to have beer in heaven? I am sure Mags would love to. But more than enjoying beer in heaven, in the presence of a most loving God, he is enjoying the company of ordinary people who have genuinely served God and others.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)


 

[1] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

[2] Fr. Frank Pidgeon, CSsR.,  “Fr. John Michael Maguire, CSsR.,” The Icon, November, 2007, Baclaran.

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Fr. George Tither: God is Rich!

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Fr. David Januarius Tither C.Ss.R. was born on August 20, 1920, at Edendale, Southland, New Zealand. His father, William Tither was from County Kerry, Ireland.   His mother was Frances Snodgrass, the first European child born in Te Anau, at the time a backwater. Though he was officially David Januarius, he was widely known as “George”, a name bestowed on him by his contemporaries in the Redemptorist juvenate.[1]

Fr. George always dreamed of becoming a priest. He was introduced to the Redemptorists by a teaching brother in his parish, who told him that by becoming a missionary he could do more good, and save more souls.

He was professed as a Redemptorist on February 2, 1940, and ordained priest on September 9, 1945.  He was appointed to the Philippines in 1948.  He was to minister there, apart from brief home visits, for the next sixty years.

Because of his beard and chubby frame, people would call him Fidel Castro. But the kids loved to call him Santa Clause. He loved to gather the kids around him and would sit the kids one by one over his legs and let them touch his beard. Then he would teach the kids the song, “Ang mga ibon …” The kids loved him and would always follow him wherever he goes.

He preferred speaking in Tagalog than in his native English, and he was very fluent at it. He was a fast talker just as he was a fast doer.  He is known for great energy and drive. The word “No” seems to be not part of his vocabulary. He had unbounded energy and zeal in mission and vocation.  He was a zealous promoter of vocation having recruited a number of Filipino Redemptorists.  Many of today’s Filipino Redemptorists and even those who have left the Redemptorists have testified that he was a decisive influence in their lives.

He had a knack for connecting with the young especially those who attended his Vocation search-in and “Night with the Lord.” In his correspondence to them, he would always sign his letters with words like utol George (brother George) or ang iyong ka chokaran (your buddy).  Whenever any of his recruits would hesitate to enter the seminary especially because of financial problems, he would always tell them, don’t worry, mayaman ang Diyos (God is rich!). Because of George’s magnanimity in giving his time, assistance and resources to anyone, people saw in George that, indeed, God is rich!

In mission, he was a hard worker and innovator. He especially inspired the explosion of the pioneering Kilusang Ilaw (Light Movement) mission.  In 1968, George challenged his confreres to give a mission in the entire fourth district of Manila and in the process he was able to secure the approval of the archbishop and the support of the parish priests. The mission was conducted simultaneously in the parishes of Paco, Pandacan, Peñafrancia, San Andres, Sta. Ana and Pius X. The mission was called Kilusang Ilaw and ran from 4 January to 29 March 1969.

Apart from being a missionary, he was famous for being a water diviner.  He can pinpoint streams of water underground in lands that were bone-dry using nothing but a Y- or an L-shaped twig. Sometimes he would just use a rod or a pendulum.  Those sceptical of his ability to divine water were silenced when a well drilled in the spot indicated by him provided a copious flow.  His reputation at this mystical craft had apparently spread far and wide that even the Philippines’ biggest landowning families were sending for him to search for water in their vast haciendas and farmlands.  It was far cheaper to get him than consign the job to a group of earth-digging geologists from the state university.

George’s commitment to the confessional was exceptional. Even in advanced old age he devoted many hours each week to this ministry.  One penitent who had known him for years had this to say after sharing with him last year a very personal problem.  “As I looked into George’s tear-filled eyes and listened to his soft, trembling voice, I realized more clearly than I ever did before, that I was truly in the presence of a holy man, hallowed by living, loving, and compassionately walking with the poor and the suffering. “[2]

In 1990, after serving in various capacities at the Redemptorist community in Baclaran, Manila, he was assigned to the community in Legazpi City, and never really left the place, except for a few periods. He was a popular confessor and spiritual director for many of Legazpi’s faithful – clergy, religious and laity alike. He had long suffered the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s disease before finally succumbing to severe pneumonia.

Fr. Tither was deeply committed to his religious community.  In his final illness, when it was realized that he had only a short time still to live, he was brought back from hospital so that he could end his life among his brethren. As one who was present put it, “After he was wheeled into the living room of the community, George’s face lit up immediately.  He had come home.”[3]  On January 31, 2008 Father David “George” Tither, passed on to eternal life at the age of 87.

His death left many people grateful and inspired to seek the richness of God through the goodness and utmost holiness in their own lives. In 2015, the Chapter the Redemptorist Vice-Province of Manila approved the initial process of investigating the worthiness of his life for canonization purposes.

Joey Echano, CSsR

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

 


 

[1] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[2] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

[3] Humphrey O’Leary, CSsR, Tribute to George Tither.

Bro. Tony Bernardo, CSsR: Friend of Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

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Most Redemptorists, like all ordinary people, have experienced pains and wounds in their lives. These painful and wounded experiences ironically became a resource for ministering to others. A minister is compelled to heal others because the minister himself/herself is “wounded”.  An example of this is the story of Bro. Tony Bernardo C.SS.R.

Brother Tony was born in Velasquez, Tondo and was the youngest of eight children. He graduated from Feati University as a Radio Operator. He tried to become a Brother with the Blessed Sacrament Order but had to leave in 1968 due to bad health. The same happened with the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in the following year. He joined the Redemptorists in 1972 and once again had difficulties in Formation due to his arthritis and diabetes. His Formation took him to Legaspi, Lipa and Antipolo and in 1975 he entered the Novitiate in Lipa. He was professed temporarily on May 15th 1977 and took Final Vows in 1981.

He was assigned to the Community in Antipolo to care for the needs of the professed students and later went with them when they transferred to 14th Street, New Manila. In 1987 he was given a chance to join the Mission team in Legaspi. He was always successful with the simple people and had a way of reaching their hearts and converting them.

In 1989 he was transferred to Baclaran and joined Alcoholics Anonymous in Makati. This was a turning point in his life. It began with his own need but it was here that he found his true vocation in life. He soon saw the need for a center for simple people who could not feel at home with the Regular AA meetings in Makati and the Army and Navy Club and it was not long until he had permission to hold his own meetings in one of the Consultation rooms in Baclaran. He also had a poster on the front door declaring himself available for those with drinking problems.

It was soon clear that his gift with simple people worked even with Drug Addicts. He studied Clinical Pastoral Education in 1991 and soon after became a regular counselor in Pasay City Jail especially with the addicts. His career as a counselor would not be a long one as God called him home on July 11th 1992 when he died of a massive heart attack. He was just 52 years of age.

John Maguire, CSsR.

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)

Fr. Pete Robb – Missionary to the Mountains

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How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of  those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52: 7)

Fr. Peter Robb, CSsR was a Redemptorist missionary who went to the mountains to preach about God but discovered instead that God was there even before he arrived.

He was ordained a Redemptorist priest on 7th September 1947 in Australia. He came to the Philippines in the second half of 1950. 

He was a man of great stature and story.  And the last to pass of his generation of Australian and New Zealander Redemptorists in the Philippines.  He played many roles in the congregation, but his mission to the mountain people was remarkable in apostolic boldness.  He himself would always say, “The most enriching period of my life was the 15 years I spent in the mountains with tribal Filipinos.”

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How did it all started? He did not look for the tribal people.  The tribal people found him. Or shall we say, it was divine providence.

In 1973, he had a severe attack of typhoid fever and was hospitalised in San Juan de Dios Hospital, near Baclaran, Manila. A Philippine bishop and a good friend paid him a visit and asked him if he could minister to a community of 150 families who had resettled in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains. These families were formerly squatters around the Manila Cathedral for many years. And the pope was coming, Pope Paul VI and he must not see this, this mess around the cathedral. So they remove them by force, army trucks and dumped them in the foothills of Sierra Madre in Moltalban, Rizal.

So after his recovery, Peter Robb went to these families in three villages.  He spent three months there, preaching a bit and encouraging them. One bright morning, 5 men in g-string appeared.  He chatted with them in broken Tagalog on their part and also on him. “Where do you come from?” He asked. They gave a nod of the head with a movement of the eyebrows towards the mountains. Then one of them gave the Gospel invitation: “Come and see”. That’s how his mission in the mountain began.

Two days later, Peter Robb was with the 5 Dumagat trekking the mountains.  It did take him almost four hours, climbing steep tropical mountains and down to the rivers. They told him: “Halik tuhod ‘yong bundok”, which means: “You kiss your knee while you climb.” It was a good novitiate for the years to come. On arriving at a community of about 15 lean-tos for homes, the kids all fled to the surrounding forest.  “Kapre”, they shouted, referring to a giant of lore who perched atop a tree at night smoking a cigar and preying upon hapless passers-by.

He spent two days with them, ate their diet of carbohydrate roots from the mountains and the tender tips of different plants (Mga talbos). He fished with the men on the rivers, catching prawns and eels. After the simple evening meal, they gathered around the fire. They all bedded down together; men on one side, women on the other, and children all over the place. The dogs were also with them. There was no light of any kind except for the fire. The night was dark. The log caught fire. He could see it in the eyes of all intently looking at the fire. “The fire of the Holy Spirit was in our midst,” he would say. Conversation was very quiet and sporadic. This became the pattern of his life for 12 years.

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He described his mission in the mountain in three stages:

From 1974 – 1978, the first four years he called this his education; living with the Dumagat, old time missionary, preaching at them.  Gradually, he realised the paternalism of this approach. He said: “It was condescending. I had everything to give and they had nothing. It was creating situations of dependence. No true personal relationships were established. I was a slow learner.”

Yet he felt something was missing.  During a five month holiday in Australia in 1979, he reflected on what it might be.  “The tribals listened to me but it was one way traffic,” he concludes. “He was the good, white Father with all kind of goodies.  It was a demeaning attitude. He had everything and they had nothing.”

On his return to the Philippines, Fr. Robb asked his superior for permission to live indefinitely with the tribals.  “No exceptions,” he says. This is the second stage of his mountain mission—from 1979-1981—which he called the stage of immersion, sharing and being ONE with them.

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For 18 months he lived with the tribals, shared life and hardships, asked for no exceptions, worked with them, ate their simple diet of root-crops, slept together around the fire at night, made himself dependent on them, tried to show that they were equals, and to some extent captured their values, attitudes and rhythm of life. Any talk of ‘belief’ was useless. It didn’t register. But when any hint of “experience” of his ‘Makedypat’ (or God) came up, He could share with them his experience of his ‘Makedypat’. He supposes He was a sort of “commodity” to be shared. That was evangelisation.

The third stage from 1981-1989, he called the stage of service as equal partners.  Tribals became subjects not objects of evangelisation. He recognised some important features of the tribal outlook on life and their way of life, learnt from experience and reflection. He suspects that many of his reflections here would apply to Australian Aborigines within the framework of their “Dreaming”. He speaks as one less wise!

He learned many things from the tribal Filipino but one of the most enduring things that he assimilated from them was their sort of mystical rhythm of life.  Peter Robb describes this rhythm: “To some extent, the tribals have assimilated the deepest core of life and things. Living with this interior harmony and rhythm of nature is a kind of secret prayer… Is not this interior harmony a secret prayer, a prefabricated liturgy hidden in the visible universe? Silently, it awaits the person of reflection and prayer to capture, disengage and make it known in all its splendours.”

In his own unique way, Peter Robb lived this contemplative rhythm of life.  He was an apostle of the ministry of presence. He gives full attention to the other.  This is perhaps the reason why his memory is amazing. He gives personal attention to people.  And this is why he demands the same attention from others especially when he tells his stories.  Unfortunately, perhaps we are of lesser mortals than him in this regard.

A tragic experience happened when two of his women leaders both social workers in the mission were killed by the military and declared communist guerrillas afterwards, their bodies dumped into watermelon patch, completely naked, no IDs of any kind. They exhumed the bodies from the shallow grave–mutilated by bullet wounds and badly decomposed. It was shattering, absolutely shattering for him.

He was an angry man after that and it seemed to increase. He had become a victim of the atrocity. It would be foolish to return to the mountains, he said. The problem was solved by joining the Trappists on the island of Guimaras, near Iloilo, 500 kilometres south of Manila. For over three weeks, the monks took him into their community of prayer and work, rising at 2.15am each day. The hurt was healed, but he can’t obliterate such a memory.

But not all experience in the mountain was tragic.  One funny experience was one Maundy Thursday, he decided to have a washing of the feet, going to great pains to explain again and again the significance of the ceremony. Some kind of expectancy was aroused. Four men and four women were seated on a bench in the outdoor meeting place. An old tin basin of sorts was provided and he proceeded to wash and kiss each foot. When he finished, the basin was half full of very muddy water. He might have known that the only time they washed their feet was when they waded through streams.

It was not fire and brimstone sermons that impressed in the memory of the tribal people when he left. He saved the lives of many, including diarrhea-stricken children threatened with dehydration. (He told their parents to give them boiled water to replace lost fluids).  He obtained medicine for lepers and drove the gravely ill to Tanay or Manila. He raised 10,000 pesos to buy a village water buffalo and worked hard to organize a rattan cooperative to boost tribal incomes (it failed on government red tape and the opposition of middlemen who controlled the trade).  And of course, the meaningful masses, baptisms, marriages and other sacraments that he presided over.

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Fr. Robb cared for people body and soul—sometimes at his own risk.  He vigorously championed local needs and rights, drawing the ire of powerful interests.  The national waterworks agency wanted him to convince people to drop their opposition to a massive dam project in eastern Luzon called Kaliwa-Kanan (“left-right”).  Concerned about communist rebels passing through, the military invited the missionary for questioning and kept him under surveillance.

By 1988, as much as he might have wanted to fight for his beloved tribals, the onset of painful arthritis in his knees forced him to leave the mountains.

But He brought back more.  He came to evangelize the tribals but he left being more evangelized by them.  His experience of God in the Makijapat of the tribals, strengthened and deepened his belief in our God.  He sought to bring faith to the tribals and discovered himself. This sort of spiritual transfiguration experience in the mountains did not leave him, he would talk about it over and over again.  It stayed with him until death.

Fr. Pete died in Melbourne on December 9,  2011.

Joey Echano

(This article is an excerpt from the book National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help: Tips, Trivia and Tribute by John Maguire, Joey Echano, et. al., soon to be published)