Catholic Register columnist and executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League Joanne McGarry succumbed to pancreatic cancer April 28. She was 60 years old. Register file photo.

Register columnist Joanne McGarry was a tireless worker for the Church

  • April 28, 2014

TORONTO - A voice committed to faith and fairness has been silenced. Catholic Register columnist and executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League Joanne McGarry succumbed to pancreatic cancer April 28. She was 60 years old.

Ms. McGarry’s career spanned journalism, business, public relations and advocacy. Her personal life was devoted to family — a husband and three adult children. She passionately engaged in battles in defence of the Church, including its teachings on life, family and education.

Her education at St. Joseph’s College and the University of Western Ontario led to her first career in Catholic journalism, where she landed as managing editor of The Catholic Register. Mike Mastromatteo remembers catching on with The Register when Ms. McGarry hired him as youth editor in 1984.

“She was pretty supportive as a mentor,” said Mastromatteo, who still works in journalism for an engineering trade publication. “I thought this was someone I would want to emulate if I wanted to work in the Church press.”

Ms. McGarry’s commitment at The Catholic Register went beyond the requirements of a good and loyal employee.

“Trying to live the faith meant a lot to her. You could tell that she handled the position as more than just a job,” Mastromatteo said.

In the 1980s Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes frequently dealt with Ms. McGarry as The Register covered the abortion issue.

“She was always somebody that listened,” recalled Hughes. “She examined the facts thoroughly and then reported them accurately. She was a great writer, a lovely woman.”

Ms. McGarry’s experience covering the bitter, passionate abortion debate led her to a lifelong interest in how the Church and its teachings are portrayed in daily media — newspapers, television and radio.

“She was so concerned with what was being written, the different shades of truth that were written, that she felt she had a duty to do everything in her power to see that the (Catholic Civil Rights) League would respond to these things,” said Hughes. “She was somebody who wasn’t afraid to speak up and tell it like it is.”

Ms. McGarry became executive director of the CCRL in 2004 after more than 10 years as a communications and marketing expert in private industry. She worked for Speedware Corporation and JM Associates editing and producing magazines for the Canadian jewellery industry. As a private media consultant she helped businesses with media training and strategy.

Landing Ms. McGarry as executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League was a moment of serene serendipity for CCRL president Phil Horgan.

“To find someone who was capable, confident, competent and prepared to take on what is sometimes a thankless job was a delight for us,” Horgan said.

The tiny organization with a limited budget suddenly found itself with a lively and always current web site, professionally written press releases and the savvy to be heard on Catholic issues in publications such as The Globe and Mail and The National Post and on broadcasts including TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, Metro Morning and the Michael Coren Show.

“That’s a hard role. It requires some maturity. It requires an element of faithful consideration of how to best deal with some very difficult issues,” said Horgan.

Ms. McGarry made her return to The Catholic Register in 2009, when newly appointed editor and publisher Jim O’Leary asked her to write an op-ed essay about a frenzy of media misinterpretation of Pope Benedict’s remarks on condoms and AIDS while flying to a pastoral visit to Africa.

“She was happy to oblige and did a solid job. I then asked her if she would write a monthly column that looked at how the media treated the Church,” O’Leary said. “She was one of the first people I contacted to join the writing team at The Register when I became editor. Her column on the media never failed to provide insight into how the secular media viewed the Church. She was passionate about the topic and always passionate in her defence of the Church. We will miss her greatly.”

Her focus was on the issues and never on herself, said Horgan. When Ms. McGarry was diagnosed with a form of pancreatic cancer over a year ago, Horgan wanted to notify a broad circle of friends and supporters of the CCRL to request their prayers. But she didn’t want that.

“She requested that we maintain radio silence on that,” Horgan said.

She survived the deadly cancer longer than anyone expected and continued working through rounds of chemotherapy. On the Thursday before her death she had a round of chemo on her agenda, but only after she sent out notices for the CCRL’s annual dinner coming May 22.

At press time Ms. McGarry’s visitation was scheduled for the Rosar-Morrison Funeral Home and Chapel in Toronto, 467 Sherbourne St. on April 30, 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial was to be celebrated at Our Lady of Perpetual Help May 1 at 10 a.m.

Ms. McGarry leaves her husband David Paolini and her children Laura, Sarah and Daniel Paolini.

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