William J Meagher, class '17
1899 - 1989
When a man’s life spans ninety years, as did Fr William Meagher’s, there will be very few, if any, who can recall his early years. There are some of us, however, who, as boys, can remember him as a young priest. But it is difficult to erase more recent memories of him as he advanced into old age and to conjure up the young man whom once we knew and to whom we owed so much.
In later life he liked to recall that he had been ordained priest in Kilkenny by a Vincentian bishop, James Downey, co-adjutor bishop of Ossory, in company with three other confrères, Frs Dan O’Connell, Jack Walsh and James Rodgers. With the last named he spent the next year in Rome where he took the STL degree, and the companionship of James during that Roman year laid the foundation of a life-long friendship. The following year, in September 1925, he was appointed to Castleknock where he spent nearly twenty years, and it was there as a schoolboy that I first got to know him.
How does one account for the success of his various ministries during a long life and his profound influence on all those whose lives he touched? Humanly speaking (there were more spiritual reasons) it was perhaps due to the fact that he was an unusual combination of mildness and strength. The mildness of his character was reflected in his countenance and expression. He was kind and considerate as Dean in Castleknock, but on the other hand firm when he thought firmness was needed. Later, as Prefect of Studies, he was sympathetic to the academically weak and encouraging to the brighter boy.
All through life he was courteous in his dealings with others, whether the parents of the boys in Castleknock, or the parishioners in Phibsboro, Sheffield and Mill Hill, or the students in All Hallows and Maynooth where he was Spiritual Director. It was part of his courtesy, and also part of his success as President of Castleknock and, later, as superior of Phibsboro, where he was also Director of Missions, that he was prompt and punctilious in the answering of letters. He was a sensitive man himself, but was also sensitive of the feelings of others. He treated people with rare tact and delicacy and was sympathetic to all in trouble. Yet though basically a reserved and modest man, his personality was strong. I recall his quoting James Rodgers to me many years ago: “If a man is lucky he will be said to have a strong personality, but if unlucky he will be described as obstinate”. I don’t know whether he realized he was one of the lucky ones.
A native of Tuam he was intensely devoted to his family, especially to his mother, a most remarkable woman (his father died when he was a young boy) but also to his two sisters and his brother, Frank, and he retained an interest in his nieces and nephews until the end. In many ways he was ahead of his times: even before the second world war he felt that our Vincentian students should be allowed to visit their families during the vacation period.
He was diffident about public speaking and words did not come easily to him. It might almost be said that, in conversation, he cultivated a mumble. “Remember”, he advised me once, “that a boy’s best friend is his mutter”. Later in life I began to realize the uses of obscurity in speech! Yet in the religious context he was an effective speaker and the reason was simple: the medium was the message. His audience knew that they were listening to a man of God.
All during his parish ministry he was devoted to the confessional and it was this which brought him back to Phibsboro at the age of eighty. He was sympathetic to the frailties of human nature and he applied the touchstone of charity to what might be called the hierarchy of sins. With the passage of time he became increasingly deaf and I once asked him how he managed to hear confessions in spite of his disability. His reply was disarming: “If people come to confession their dispositions must be good, and, if I don’t hear everything I manage to hear everything of importance’’. In this his views were very much in accordance with Vatican II which he took in his stride. The Lord was good to him and enabled him to hear confessions almost to the day of his death. He helped people in the confessional but the faith and devotion of his penitents also helped to nourish his remarkable life of prayer: from early morning in the oratory to the prayers he said last thing at night in the privacy of his room he was continuously in the presence of God.
I always thought his gifts and virtues were Salesian and their application to the service of the Community and the Church must have been a source of great joy to St Vincent, the friend of Francis de Sales.
Donal F Cregan CM
WILLIAM J MEAGHER CM
Born: Tuam, Co. Galway, 13 January 1899.
Entered CM: 10 September 1917.
Final vows: 12 September 1919.
Ordained a priest in Loreto Convent, Kilkenny, by Dr James Downey
CM, co-adjutor bishop of Ossory, 8 September 1924.
1924-1925 Casa Internazionale, Rome.
1925-1944 St Vincent’s, Castleknock.
1944-1950 St Peter’s, Phibsboro.
1950-1954 St Vincent’s, Sheffield.
1954-1965 Maynooth (adscriptus Blackrock).
1965-1970 All Hallows.
1970-1973 Sacred Heart, Mill Hill.
1973-1979 All Hallows.
1979-1989 St Peter’s, Phibsboro.
Died 27 March 1989.