Justice was his middle name
“Mícheál Mac Gréil is not dead. He is not there! He is more alive than anyone here today. He is alive with the Lord. What’s here are his remains, the monument to his soul, a mosaic of goodness and kindness knitted throughout his life. He will live forever with God and in our hearts”. So said Liam McNally, broadcaster and lifelong friend of Mícheál MacGréil SJ, in his eulogy at the end of the late Jesuit’s funeral Mass in St Mary’s Church, Westport, on Thursday 26 January 2023.
The Irish Jesuit acting Provincial Shane Daly SJ was joined by fellow Jesuits concelebrating at the Mass. The main celebrant was Mícheál’s brother Fr Owen and the Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Francis Duffy and Archbishop Emeritus, Dr Michael Neary also concelebrated.
Local people and many from further afield had the opportunity to bid a final farewell to Mícheál as he lay in repose in the chapel before the Mass began. President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide de camp, Col Stephen Howard.
Mícheál’s friend Éamon Ó Cuív, TD read the first reading and Geraldine Delaney, a former student at Maynooth College, read the second. Along with the offertory gifts symbols of Micheal’s life were also presented. There was a picture of Mám Éan, the Patrician shrine in Connemara, which Mícheál restored and promoted again as a place of pilgrimage. The Mayo flag, which always adorned his car, his walking stick (the pastor’s staff) and one of his books, Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland, which was widely acknowledged as a ‘groundbreaking piece of work’, were all presented.
Over previous days as reported in The Mayo News, large crowds attended Míchéal’s reposal at Cushlough Community Centre on Wednesday evening before the removal to The Church of the Sacred Heart, Cushlough. On Thursday morning neighbours and schoolchildren lined the roads as the cortege made its way into Westport via his beloved home in Loughloon in the foothills of Croagh Patrick. (See photo below; photos courtesy of Conor McKeown.)
Liam McNally’s moving and often funny tribute to Mícheál, was quoted substantially by Edwin McGreal in The Mayo News. McNally painted a picture of Mícheál that only someone who had visited him every day in his home in Loughloon would know. “He was a colossus in every way – body, mind and spirit”, he said. ”He was a big man, never worried about girth control as he settled into a cuppa with apple tart and cream in Christy’s Harvest! The real dessert consisted of him holding court, seeking debate and dialogue with whoever was present. He wanted people to be critical thinkers,”
McNally went on “He asked me to sort out his papers. I’m doing it for years, they’re still not sorted! Roughly translated it meant diving into cobwebbed boxes that contained letters, notes, bills, receipts, lectures, press cuttings, press releases, articles, photos, invitations, various publications, out-of-date cheques and all things in between. He kept everything or at least seemed to… “I’d return home drenched in the Loughloon aftershave which anyone who has been there knows is turf smoke! He burned turf and timber daily and made no apologies for it to anyone!”
Referencing Mícheál’s social justice activism, McNally recounted an interesting anecdote that summed up the Jesuit, ”His mind centred around one word, justice. It was his middle name…“Regardless of opposition, church or state, justice was his mission. He was central to the legal case seeking the decriminalisation of homosexuality. ‘What is the Church teaching on the issue?’ a legal eagle asked him at the time. ‘This is a court of law, not a church liturgy. This is a justice issue.”’
Pádraig McGreal, Mícheál’s brother also shared a few words. He recalled the old family home in Loughloon which had fallen into disrepair and how Micheál decided in the 1970s to restore it and live there when he was home in Mayo. “It was one of the wisest things he ever did,” said Pádraig, speaking of the independence it gave him and the bond he had with his neighbours.
The Mass ended with the fulfilment of one of Mícheál’s final wishes – Mary Ann Coyne from Rosmuc singing An tAiséirí, a song she often sang at the Mám Éan pilgrimage at Micheál’s request.
Remembering his Irish Army days, Micheal also asked that ‘The Last Post and Reveille’ be sung at his graveside, in Aughavale cemetery, and Frank McCaffrey duly did the honours. ”The final prayers at the graveside were recited by Archbishop Duffy as family and friends said farewell to a man, the likes of whom we may not be fortunate enough to meet again.,” wrote Edwin McGreal in The Mayo News. Amen to that.
Ar Dheis De go raibh a anam dilis.