Pallbearer's carry Joanne McGarry's casket out of the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church following her May 1 funeral. Photo by Evan Boudreau.

Family, friends remember the life of rights league executive director Joanne McGarry

  • April 30, 2014

TORONTO - Joanne McGarry was a lot of things to a lot of people — an advocate for Catholic civil rights, a Catholic journalist and a dedicated colleague to some, to others always be a dear friend, loving wife and caring mother of three. Now to all she is an angel in heaven.

“Take the time to remember the things about Joanne that are going to stay with you,” said Fr. James Hannah in his homily at the May 1 funeral for Ms. McGarry. “She will continue to live on in our minds and our hearts in those memories.”

About 150 of those who knew Ms. McGarry packed into Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in midtown Toronto to pay their last respects to the woman who for the past decade was the Catholic Civil Rights League's executive director. She also wrote a monthly column for the past five years for The Catholic Register, where she was once managing editor.

“We don't come just to grieve or to remember, we also come to celebrate,” said Hannah, pastor of the parish where Ms. McGarry and her family were among the congregation. “We come to celebrate the new life that is hers. The new life that is hers in the passing from this life to the next.”

Many who attended the funeral gathered in the parish hall following the ceremony where within minutes the room rumbled with echos of memories, reflections and the occasional sob.  

“It was a wonderful celebration, she would have been so excited about the whole thing,” said Jim Hughes. “She will be receiving her eternal reward. I don't mean to second guess the good Lord but I would say that something good is in store for her.”

Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, first met McGarry about three decades ago when she interviewed him for The Catholic Register.

“She was someone who would not give up on a story,” he said. “She would not just take something at face value, she would go beyond and look behind the scene. You won't be able to replace her with a person of that calibre.”

Ms. McGarry, 60, passed away on April 28 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer which she often fought in silence. Her passing caught many, like Hughes, off guard.  

“I was shocked,” he said “I knew she wasn't well but I had no idea she was that far along.”

Longtime friend Karen Dalton, who graduated with Ms. McGarry in 1976 from the University of Western Ontario's journalism program, was also surprised by her friend's death.

“It was a surprise,” she said. “It (the cancer) seemed that it was being managed and she looked well.”

For the past 20 years the two would get together for quarterly dinners where they'd spend hours sipping wine and sharing stories both past and present. Dalton said she will always remember the last time they broke bread and tipped a glass together.

“My fondest memory was the last time we were together,” she said. “We had dinner in November and she was just very very at peace with herself and really enjoying her life. I can just picture her at the table.”

But one person, Ms. McGarry's husband of nearly 30 years, David Paolini, wasn't exactly surprised.

“Joanne carried the fight on for 23 months after diagnosis,” he said after returning from the cemetery. “Generally pancreatic cancer, which is a real lethal one, takes one within six months. So we were happy for almost two more years together.”

Although the days since his wife's passing have been “busy, stressful,” and most of all “hard,” Paolini said his belief that Ms. McGarry is now in heaven is easing the pain.

“Our shared belief in the Resurrection is helping me through,” he said.

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