1921 Born Bellshill
1933 – 1938 St Mary’s College Blairs
1938 – 1940 Scots College Rome
1941 – 1945 St Peter’s College Bearsden
1945 29 June Ordained for Glasgow by
Archbishop Donald A. Campbell
1946 – 1949 Cambridge: Further Studies
1949 – 1965 Aberdeen: St Mary College Blairs
1965 – 1966 Hamilton: Our Lady & St. Anne’s
1966 – 1971 Hamilton: St. Paul’s
1971 – 1980 East Kilbride: St. Bride’s
1980 – 1996 Mossend: Holy Family
1996 – 2009 Coatbridge: Retired to St. Augustine’s
2009 November died at the Little Sisters of the Poor aged 87
Canon Gerald Maher – 9th November 2009
CD 2010 p 291
Bishop Joseph Devine preached the following homily at the Funeral Mass for Canon Gerald Maher in Holy Family Church, Mossend on 13th November 2009, after which Canon Maher was buried in New Kilpatrick Cemetery.
For those priests of the Diocese who were in Blairs in the 1950s, all of them would have known Canon Maher for over 50 years. For those now few of us who were in Blairs from the 1940s, such as Canon Eddie Glackin, Mgr. Tom O’Hare and myself, we knew him for 60 years or over two thirds of his long life, a life that came to an end last Monday morning when he was in the care of the Little Sisters of the Poor in St. Joseph’s Home in Robroyston. That means that we three — and there will be some in other dioceses — knew him for two thirds of his long life, a life that began 88 years ago in this very street in Mossend.
After his initial schooling in the local St. Francis Xavier’s School in Carfin and for two years at Our Lady’s High School, he began his studies for the priesthood in Blairs from 1933 to 1938, then going to the Scots College in Rome from 1938 to 1940. Because of the outbreak of war he ended his studies in philosophy yet again back in Blairs for a year. He studied theology at St. Peter’s Seminary in Bearsden from 1941 to 1945, from which he was ordained by the then new Archbishop of Glasgow, Donald Alphonsus Campbell on 29th June 1945. On that occasion 12 new priests were ordained. Some 15 years later, I also would be ordained in that same Cathedral by the same Archbishop, with again twelve of us being ordained on that day, but only seven in Glasgow, with three in Paisley and two in Motherwell.
His initial appointment was a pleasant one, at least for a few months ‘doon the water’ in Saltcoats. I suspect that he knew that this would be a short stay for him as he was greeted by the parish priest of the day, Canon Mick O’Connor, with the cheery welcome of ‘we don’t need you here’! This was then followed by two other short appointments to St. Patrick’s in Dumbarton and St. Margaret’s in Johnstone.
But given his obvious intellectual talent, he was then sent to Christ’s College in Cambridge from 1946 to 1949. Then in 1949 his life was to take a different turn, when he was appointed to Blairs to teach Latin and Maths. But he would have been comforted by the fact that 2 others of his year group also went to Blairs at the same time, Fr. Tom McGurk, from the neighbouring parish, at that time, of Carfin and Fr. Tom Mannion, who with Fr. Jimmy Reilly, are the last surviving members of the 1945 year group of ordination.
My memories of him from those far off days are that of an extremely courteous person, someone who was a priest to his fingertips. Like many of his other classmates, Gerry was a sportsman, as a goalkeeper, while Tom McGurk and Tom Mannion were outstanding footballers in very different positions, the first as a centre forward and the latter as a centre half.
From 1954 to my coming to Motherwell in 1983, a period of almost 30 years, I had little or no contact with Gerry, although from my scrutiny of the Directory over the years, I was aware of the fact that he had returned to this diocese in 1965, then becoming the parish priest of St. Paul’s in the Whitehill District of Hamilton, in succession to an outstanding priest of this diocese, the late Canon John Moss.
Thereafter, I suspect that he inherited his biggest challenge, when he became the Parish Priest of St. Bride’s in East Kilbride in 1971, in succession to the late and simply delightful Canon James Kilpatrick, a former colleague with him in Blairs in the 1940s and 1950s.
I could write a book about Canon Kilpatrick’s reservations of all that he thought about Jack Coia’s building, for which Jack received the Gold Medal for the finest building to be erected in Britain in 1964, then receiving the same reward for the seminary in Cardross in 1968. But I will refrain from doing so. I suspect that in my years of retirement, if I am given such years, I owe it to the Church in Scotland to tell such a tale.
Canon Maher did a fine job as pastor of St. Bride’s, despite the problems of loss of heat through a heating system that never really worked, as well as inflows of water from the roof that was always leaking. I do not know, but I suspect that my predecessor, Bishop Thomson, decided to give Gerry a break and send him back home to his beloved Holy Family in Mossend in 1980. Gerry was delighted to come back here and he began a programme of enhancing the beauty of this church, a programme that Fr. Jim Grant has continued to implement over the past years.
Then about 13 years ago, Canon Maher decided that he was no longer fit enough to provide adequately for the pastoral care of this parish community and he was more than willing for me to find a successor for him. He wanted to be with some priest who would welcome him to his home as a retired priest. As it happened, a place was then made available with the death of Canon John Moss in St. Augustine’s in Coatbridge. On behalf of the Diocese, I am delighted to pay tribute to Canon Jim Foley for making Gerry so welcome in that parish house for the better part of the past 13 years.
Gerry was very content with his life in St Augustine’s. On so many occasions I would meet him there, mostly in connection with Confirmations or at funerals. He always struck me as being so contented to be there, not least as he was in receipt not only of Canon Foley’s hospitality, but also of his conversation skills. Gerry loved that kind of intellectual banter or cut and thrust.
But just over a year ago his health began to deteriorate quite badly and it was clear to me, but never to Gerry that he could not return to St. Augustine’s after having been several weeks in Monklands Hospital. Rather reluctantly he went to St. Joseph’s Home in Robroyston where he was wonderfully cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor, even if he would have preferred to have been in some other place — a chapel house, for that was where he was comfortable and could not be comfortable elsewhere. That is what I meant when I said earlier that the Gerry Maher that I knew for over 60 years was a priest to his fingertips.
As I close, I want to say farewell to a very old friend, someone who was ever good to me. More importantly still, someone who will have no fear of standing before the judgement seat of the Lord and showing himself to have been the Lord’s good servant. Eternal rest grant unto him, 0 Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen.
Month’s Mind Panegyric 7 Dec 2009:
Preached by J. Foley in Holy Family Mossend.
Bishop Scanlan once remarked that Canon Maher was one of the most highly-qualified priests he had ever come up against. Father O’Brien, Sister Eileen and I from St Augustine’s can vouch for that after more than twelve years in his company.
He was a lethal combination of Cambridge graduate in History, with special interest in the Crusades, an urban liturgist with an encyclopaedic command of rubrics, an accomplished singer, especially of Gregorian chant, a classical scholar with a retentive memory for the lighter passages in Homer’s Odyssey, and a mathematician with a grudge against Ludwig Wittgenstein.
He was also a pyromaniac with a weakness for fast cars. He would regularly disappear into the garage behind St. Augustine’s church hall. Then the hammering would begin and we could see sparks flying and smoke seeping from under the closed doors, sometimes for hours on end. It was understood that it could only be a matter of time till the garage doors would be thrown wide open and a Formula One pushed out into the church yard. Over lunch he was known to remark that there was a strong smell of petrol off the soup. On one occasion his suit was returned by the Dry Cleaner with a note to the effect that it was fire hazard. A penitent of mine mentioned that he was having great difficulty in making a perfect act of contrition. As a penance I recommended he go out for a spin in the canon’s car and he would soon get over his problem.
For Gerry the golden years were the years spent in St. Mary’s College, Blairs. The group of students entrusted to his supervision have remained faithful to him over the years and I suspect this reflects their gratitude to him for bringing the best out of them academically and spiritually.
He loved to recall episodes from those days. Let me end with one such episode. He chanced upon a student who was all smiles after the Highers results had been published. Gerry remarked, ‘you look very pleased with yourself, I take it your results were good’. ‘Oh no’, he replied, ‘but I was the best of the failures’. Gerry was sufficiently sure of himself as a teacher and guide of young people to be able to bring the best out of them.
In his second Encyclical, ‘Spe salvi’, Pope Benedict made the virtue of hope the hallmark of his pontificate. Gerry Maher, the Good Shepherd, was ahead of him. The faith and hope he engendered in others, now give way to the vision of glory. May he rest in peace.