Homily of Archbishop Emeritus Michael Neary at the Funeral Mass for Father Micheál MacGréil SJ

26 Jan 2023

“We thank God for the hope, the courage and the joy that Father Micheál brought to so many people” – Archbishop Neary


Fíorchaoin fáilte romhaibh anseo.  Father Charlie, the Administrator,  has already welcomed you all and I join with him as we give thanks to God for the life of our dear friend, Father Micheál.

As the Church was about to celebrate the weekend of the Word of God which had been instituted by Pope Francis, An tAthair Micheál was called home by God.  There was something appropriate in this because his whole life was determined by God’s Word.  Born in 1931 and educated by the Christian Brothers in Westport.  He carried with him in a very manly and courageous way his army training from 1950-1959 as a Cadet and Officer.  Entered the Jesuits in 1959 and ordained in 1969.   Having studied in Louvain, in Kent University, Milltown Park and UCD, he lectured in sociology in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Micheál wore his learning very lightly and it never became a hindrance in his relationship with the people of the West.  Micheál was primarily a priest and while he initiated and espoused various causes he always did so as a priest whether it was prison reform, the Irish language or the Western Rail Corridor.  Although he retired from his position as lecturer the word retirement was not in his vocabulary. There was always a ruthless honesty about Micheál.  When Pope Francis was elected Pope, Micheál acknowledged that Pope Francis had studied in Milltown Park while Micheál was there but he said that he couldn’t remember him.  It has been established since however that the Pope remembers Micheál!!

Running through his long list of publications there is a common thread which is all about liberation, improvement and the dignity of the human person whether he was writing in respect of Prejudice, about Community, the Irish Language, Emigration, Tolerance, Re-opening of Railway Lines – West-on-Track, Memoirs, the Travelling People, Promotion of the Faith Ecumenism, The Pioneers, the Rights of Minorities.  Bhí grá speisialta aige don té a raibh thíos, tréith Chríostúil agus dúshlánach.  His extraordinary ability to move from the micro village to the macro world was mind boggling.  Family, community, national and international events happening, his experience at home and abroad as a university lecturer, trade unionist, priest, researcher, campaigner, pioneer and peace leader, this has been his life.  Michéal’s life has been radical – yet profoundly traditional.  Radical in the true sense of the word. A life of going back to the roots of where he came from and where the Church came from as a true follower of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, of Saint Patrick and Jesus Christ.

Here in the Archdiocese we are indebted to Micheál for the way in which he enabled us to articulate our priorities for Church as rapid changes were engulfing Irish society.  With his sociological expertise he enabled us to articulate our response to those changes in terms of Quo Vadimus in 1998, Ar Aghaidh Linn, The Challenge of Indifference: A Need for Religious Revival in Ireland.  Micheál had the facility for relating to and influencing areas from which the Church has been largely absent.  One of those areas was the trade unions and as shop steward when he was lecturing in Maynooth he always brought integrity, justice and balance to the causes which he espoused.  To his eternal credit I have to say that he was always one who focused on the issue. He never allowed personalities to distract from the central issue.  His integrity and openness did so much to influence people of different faiths and no faith.   As a former colleague  in Maynooth I knew how much an tAthair Micheál enjoyed the cut and thrust of robust debate.  You could disagree with him but he never became disagreeable – a hugely attractive trait in any person.

In Maynooth he always had a great rapport with students from the Archdiocese of Tuam.  He was very encouraging and challenged them in their studies. He convened a meeting and a meal for them in his family home in Lochloon each year, the menu was always bacon and cabbage!  He had been so helpful in his generous availability to do supply in Westport and the surrounding area and particularly in Aughagower and Cushlough.

The work Michéal has done in reviving the traditional Patrician pilgrimage in Máméan has been a huge and important part of his multi-faceted life. Is cúis áthais go dtagann na sluaite ansin ’chuile bhliain ar lá ‘le Pádraig, Aoine an Chéasta agus an chéad Domhnach de Mhí Lúnasa. 

Cur síos ar an Ath Micheál

Céard a d’fhéadfaí a rá faoi Mhichéal i mbeagán focail:

Saighdiúir, scoláire, socheolaí.

Duine uasal, úríseal, críonna.

Oide, ollamh agus Íosánach!

Mar atá i gcaint na sean daoine – Sagart ar fad!  Is cinnte gur sagart ar fad é Micheál.

One could go on and on but today is a day of thanksgiving, thanksgiving to God for the priesthood and thanksgiving to God in a special way for Micheál MacGréil for the way in which he so courageously, faithfully and energetically lived his priestly ministry.  We thank God for the hope, the courage and the joy that he brought to so many people.

We thank his family for the love and friendship that they have provided for him, his Jesuit Confreres for their encouragement and support and to Father Charlie who has been a constant and loyal friend.

Joining with Archbishop Francis Duffy, Father Charlie, priests, religious and people of the Archdiocese, the congregation here and those joining us online we offer our sincere sympathy and the support of our prayers to his brothers, Austin, Father Owen, Padraic and the extended family, to Father Leonard Maloney the Provincial of the Jesuits, and Father Richard O’Dwyer, Superior in Gardiner Street, Dublin, and the Jesuit Community.

Slán agus beannacht, Micheál a chara.  Solas na bhflaitheas go bhfeice tú agus glóire na nAingeal go gcloise tú.  Amen.


Notes for editors

  • Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop Emeritus of Tuam.
  • This homily was delivered at 1.00pm today during the Funeral Mass in Saint Mary’s Church, Westport, Co. Mayo, Archdiocese of Tuam.

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long +353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Lisa Sheridan +353 (0) 86 084 3175.