We will miss Archbishop Meagher dearly

  • January 29, 2007

Many people will have their stories about Archbishop Anthony Meagher, who died Jan. 14 at age 66, but I will always remember him as the first-time visitor to my house who put his feet on my coffee table.

We called him Bishop Tony back then. It was 1999 and he was auxiliary bishop of Toronto. He had agreed to come to my parish of St. John's in Burlington and talk about the Eucharist as part of our preparations for the Jubilee Year 2000. The evening began with a dinner at our place with my family and a few friends from the parish.

Having a bishop over for dinner is a special occasion, in my estimation, and we nervously hoped it wouldn't be difficult to make things seem relaxed without getting too familiar. Though a warm, friendly and gregarious soul, he was still a bishop, after all.

We didn't have to worry. Bishop Tony immediately made himself at home in my living room prior to dinner, along with the other guests. Without a moment's hesitation, his stocking feet (a larger size, as I recall) popped up on the table and he nestled back into our sofa with his hands behind his head, ready to chat.

The ice was not just broken; it was positively melted. Dinner was a merry and noisy event as we listened to his stories of mirthful priestly and episcopal encounters.

After dinner was over, there was a little time to kill before we had to leave for the lecture. Then the bishop made a request I've never fielded in all my years as dinner host: "Do you mind if I take a little nap before we go. I could use a few minutes to wind down."

Not a problem. Off he went for a quick nap in our bedroom and, 20 minutes later, he emerged refreshed and ready for anything.

The evening talk was everything I had hoped it would be. I already knew that Bishop Tony could talk passionately and at length about his love for the Eucharist. He did not disappoint and the audience was enthralled by his rapt description of God's love for His people and our response as it is encompassed in the sacrament of the Mass. He was enlightening, enthusiastic and, at times, humorous. Oh, and absolutely contagious.

On another occasion I had the opportunity to be his guest at his home in Barrie, Ont., from which he served the northern region of the archdiocese of Toronto. I was speaking at weekend Masses at St. Mary's parish there (which he was also visiting) and he insisted I stay the Saturday night at his place.

Later, we were doing a post-mortem on our talks at that night's Mass. He was kind about my meagre efforts, adding only one bit of advice: "Joe, your talk was good except for one thing. It was too long."

Ouch. But it was clear in his tone that there was only one intent in his criticism: to help me do better. My talk the next day was much shorter.

I learned a lot from Bishop Tony over the years — and most of it came not from his words but from his actions. Without any apparent effort, he could make even the most doubtful person feel the welcome embrace of God in the person of this down-to-earth former basketball coach from Oshawa. He made us feel as if we had something special to offer the church and each other. He kindled within us a desire to return God's love in whatever way we could.

Bishop Tony was a teacher, priest, pastor and bishop of a rare quality. We will miss him dearly.

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