Fr John D Geary CSSp, an Irish-born priest, served as superintendent of education in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He was principal at Neil McNeil High School in 1968 and founded Francis Libermann High School in 1977. Photo/

Fr. John D. Geary was happiest in the classroom

  • January 8, 2015

TORONTO - As he lay dying, Spiritan Father John D. Geary didn’t just listen to classical music on the stereo in his room, he conducted the invisible orchestra.

“He was a literary man and a man with tremendous taste in art and especially music,” recalled his lifelong friend in the Spiritan order, Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald.

Fr. Geary died New Year’s Eve from the cancer that had finally caught up with him. A funeral Mass is planned for Jan. 15 at St. Joseph’s Church in Scarborough.

The entire enterprise of learning seized Fr. Geary deep in his soul and stayed with him as both teacher and student right up to earning his PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto in 2007 at 76.

The happiest days of his life were spent standing in front of a classroom of boys at Toronto’s Neil McNeil High School through the 1960s, teaching them how to read Shakespeare and discover the questions behind a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. For Fr. Geary, it was absolutely essential that students be able to connect learning with their faith, said Fitzgerald.

“The only time I ever heard him speak with great passion, and vehemently too, was on the question of support for Catholic education,” Fitzgerald said.

A quiet and shy man, Fr. Geary’s passions were aroused when he heard Catholics running down the Catholic schools or second guessing the fight for full, public funding for Catholic education in Ontario. For the Irish-born priest, the idea that Catholic education would be somehow better if it were only available to those few who could pay drove him to distraction.

“That hurt him very greatly,” said Fitzgerald.

His career in Catholic education eventu-ally took him out of the classroom, first as a principal and later as superintendent of education in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He became principal of Neil McNeil in 1968 and then founding principal of Toronto’s Francis Libermann High School in 1977.

It was in the context of education that Fr. Geary found his footing as a preacher, as a man driven by the Gospel. From the age of 19, when Fr. Geary made his first vows in 1950, he was a man who believed in the Spiritan mission of education.

“Although we were a missionary order, we very soon began using education as the great tool of evangelization,” explained Fitzgerald.

After retiring from the school board, Fr. Geary became house superior at the Spiritan headquarters in Rome. From 1993 until 1999, he served as provincial superior to the Spiritans in Canada. But he always returned to education. Once he had his doctorate, he lectured at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University.

Comments (2)

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Deepest Sympathy and Condolences and Father "Fitz" has lost a great friend! God Bless!
James Regan

James Francis Regan
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Deepest Condolence!
Jim Regan, Toronto!

James Francis Regam
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