I got word that a very important person in my life died on March 6th. His name is Fr. Dan McGinn. Like me, he was a member of the Society of St. Columban. Dan was 15 years older than me. He came from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Before I met him, he had been a missionary in Japan for seven years. I studied with him in Rome from 1968 through 1972.
Dan and I hit it off as soon as he arrived at Corso Trieste 57, my second year in Rome. There, while I was studying moral theology at the Academia Alfonsiana, he worked in the Vatican – at the Secretariat for Non-Christians.
Dan usually sat directly across from me at our long dining room table, where the 20 or so men stationed with us in Rome ate three times each day. Three of us were Yanks, the others were Micks, Aussies, Brits and New Zealanders.
It was there that we all had such lively and memorable conversations about our studies, the church, theology, politics, and world events in general. Dan usually took great delight in playing the provocateur. The resulting discussions were intense. In fact, I’ve never experienced anything as consistently stimulating since those heady days following the Second Vatican Council (1962-’65).
Dan used to say that if he ever became a bishop (fat chance!), he’d do the expected and adopt an episcopal coat of arms for himself. He never described the shape of the shield he’d design.
But he was clear about the motto he’d have emblazoned on the banner below it. It would read, he said, “No More Bullshit!”
That was the kind of priest Dan was. He was a rebel. And, I guess, so was I. In many ways, I wanted to be like Dan. I considered him my mentor.
More than anything else, he taught me how to say Mass. I remember the first time I concelebrated with him in our chapel at the Columban house. There were probably five of us participating, and Dan had the lead role. He astonished me. He made the whole thing up.
No reading of prayers. No following the prescribed and inviolable eucharistic scripts. Instead, everything was ad-lib. For instance, even at the consecration – the most sacred part of the Mass – Dan said something like: “On the night before he died, Jesus was there in the Upper Room eating supper with his friends. He took a piece of bread and broke it like this (Dan broke the host) and asked them, ‘Do you see how I’m breaking this bread? This is the way my body will be broken for you. Yes, I love you all that much. This is my body which will be given up for you.’” The form varied each time Dan said it.
It all struck me as so natural – as the way the Mass must have been celebrated before the Roman obsessive-compulsives established such complete control. I resolved then and there that I’d celebrate my Masses like Dan from then on. And that’s what I did.
Even when I got back to the states and worked in Kentucky for the Christian Appalachian Project (CAP), that’s the way I celebrated Mass. And, like me, most of the people in the parishes I served there found it all so natural, very meaningful and completely acceptable. Even now, I marvel that I got away with that.
Dan also helped me when (towards the end of my time in Rome) I found myself re-evaluating my decision to remain a priest. I broke the news to him during a retreat we were on together at the Mundo Migliore Center at Roca di Papa on the edge of Rome. I remember walking together and discussing my “crisis,” and Dan’s advising that it might be a good idea for me to do a year of discernment before taking a final decision. I followed his advice and spent that year I just mentioned working in central Kentucky with the Christian Appalachian Project.
After I finally left the active priesthood and was working at Berea College, I spoke with Dan a few times on the phone. He told me once that he thought President G.W. Bush was “absolutely the worst we’ve ever had.” (At the time, of course, neither of us knew it could go down-hill a lot further.)
During those years, I also got on Dan’s mailing list for the poetic political commentary he wrote on what amounted to his blog. Then, at the reunions the Columbans held every three years or so at their former seminary-turned-retirement-home in Bristol Rhode Island, I visited Dan each time I attended – once with my wife, Peggy. At one point he was volunteering as a docent at a local museum.
My last encounter with Dan McGinn came last summer during our most recent Columban reunion. By then he was confined to a nursing home. He no longer remembered me, nor our time in Rome. I found that both sad and threatening. He had been so bright, so engaged, so witty and daring. I admired him so.
With that deep admiration, dear Dan, I send you off. Thank you for your friendship and for being such a good priest. Thank you for teaching me how to celebrate Mass. Thank you for your kind guidance. Know that I’ve tried to adopt your motto as my own. I’m trying to remain, like you – committed to a “no more bullshit” life. You succeeded at that for sure! Thanks again.
8 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Dan McGinn”
Thanks Mike I cant remember the might Dan when in Japan. Other than the NAME! Is there anyway you can snatch a Green Book for me? Or check out Sadhgura in You Tube He may make sense. Jim ’62
On Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 2:01 PM Mike Rivage-Seul’s Blog: . . .about things th
Dan was so good. And I was so disappointed when I couldn’t reconnect with him last summer. I love Sadhguru too. You’re right; he make so much sense. I’m not sure though what you meant about a Green Book. I know about the movie. Also, for years I had my students read Muammar Gaddafi’s prescient manifesto by that name. So good to hear from you, Jim.
Thanks for sharing this part of your story Mike. Our mentors are such an important part of our lives.
Yes, Dan was important for me. I remember one of our conversations at table in Rome where he maintained that Mao Tse Tung was the greatest man of the 20th century.
My name is Ann Franczyk and I knew Fr. Dan for probably the same number of years as you. He was my dear friend for approximately 50 years. I met Fr. Dan in 1968 when I was a junior in high school at Immaculata Academy in Hamburg, New York. Fr. Dan was at the Columban Retreat House in Derby New York. I worked with him in his retreat movement. I spoke at the retreat house many Sundays in my junior and senior years. It was an amazing experience for a young woman. I graduated in 1970. Fr. Dan attended my graduation.
I attended Boston College and spent my Junior year in Rome at Loyola University’s Rome Center. That was primarily on a recommendation of Dan’s. So it seems we were spending time in Rome with Fr. Dan over the same time period. I believe Dan was there from early March 1971 through Fall of 1972. I was to spend the entire academic year there but while my parents were visiting me in Rome in November of 1972 my older brother Gary was killed in a car accident back home. Gary had graduated from Law School in June of 1972. As a matter of fact my parents received news of his successful passing of the NY Bar exam the day after he was buried. It was a horrible time ad I returned to the US with my parents and never returned to Loyola. Fr. Dan had already left Rome just a few weeks prior.
I married my husband Chet in 1976 and we raised two wonderful children together.
I kept in touch with Christmas Cards and when Fr. retired to Bristol we struck up our friendship once again. A roommate of mine from BC lived on Ferry Road in Bristol so I spent a good bit of time there while Fr. Dan was in retirement. I would stay at the Columban House or with my roommate. I always felt very welcomed by Fr. Dan and his brother priests. He was an incredibly supportive friend over the years and helped me through some challenging times in my life.
I spent time with him at both Nursing Homes too, both Silver Creek and St. Elizabeth’s. It broke my heart when he passed. I was unable to attend his funeral in Bristol as I was vacationing in Florida with my family. My roommate from Bristol, Jane McSoley stepped in for me. I wrote a sort of eulogy, part of which Jane told me was shared at his funeral Mass. that brought me some peace.
I would love to share with you the words I wrote about Fr. Perhaps you will reply. That would be terrific.
Be well through this crazy time.
Dear Ann, Thank you so much for sharing these experiences and memories of Dan. You and I share similar sentiments about this wonderful priest and human being. I’m wondering did you visit the Columban house where Dan was staying while you were in Rome? If so, our paths might have crossed there. In any case, I’d love it if you’d share the eulogy you wrote. Again, I’m grateful for these memories of a very good friend.
I would be happy to email the eulogy I wrote to you. Can you provide your personal email address? Thanks much, Ann
My e-mail is email@example.com