IT IS over 50 years since Gary MacEoin was sacked by the Redemptorists two weeks before his ordination in a display of power and arrogance so blatant and cruel that, re-reading his 1953 autobiography, Nothing is Quite Enough, I still feel anger towards that well-known and otherwise respected community.
Gary MacEoin has since become journalist, biographer, Doctor of Philosophy, barrister, lecturer, linguist, theologian, world traveller, author of over 20 books and hundreds upon hundreds of articles in several languages. His story cannot be adequately told by anyone other than himself. He has done so beautifully in his second autobiography, Memoirs & Memories (XXIII Press, 1986).
"The cornerstone which was rejected," he has remained an embarrassment to institutional orthodoxy as well as a hero to seekers after justice. He harbours no bitterness towards the Church. "I have never said that the Redemptorists didn't have a reason for what they did to me. Under church law they weren't required to give one and they didn't." After 11 years and in perpetual vows he was dismissed with the princely sum of £25 and no professional degree.
Currently scholar and writer in residence at St Edmund's College, Cambridge, Dr MacEoin has just finished his latest book, Central America's Options, Death or Life (Sheed & Ward) and is preparing two others, a retrospect on Cuba and a revision of his monumental Northern Ireland, Captive of History (1973) as well as writing a regular column for the Catholic Herald.
He has been editor of a Spanish
language paper in Trinidad, Pax Romana delegate to the United Nations, contributor to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, to mention just a few of his accomplishments. John Cogley, late religion editor of the New York Times and editor of The Commonweal, described MacEoin's What Happened at Rome, as the book he would like to have written on the Vatican Council. "The Council changed my life," Gary has often said, "and it was purely by chance that 1 was there at all. The editor of the National Catholic Reporter (an American lay Catholic
weekly) asked me to take time from my round-the-world trip with my wife Jo, to have a look at what was going on."
Gary was, of course, not the only one to find himself transformed by Vatican II. It was at that memorable convocation that we met when I was a reporter for Newsweek magazine. I recall distinctly the subject of our first conversation. "We must pray for the canonisation of Martin," he told me. I was puzzled. "Martin de Porres?" (a newly beatified black religious)," I asked? "Not at all," he replied, with a giggle, "Martin Luther, of course. The
Council is completing the work of the Reformation!"
Well, the rest is history, or will be, I suppose. In the ensuing 25 years or so, MacEoin has not been idle. His wife's illness necessitated a move from New York to Tucson, Arizona, where she died in 1986. The nursing costs were catastrophic and left him virtually penniless.
Still, he continues to say, "I have everything 1 need,more than I need." Early lessons in evangelical poverty were never forgotten by this man for all seasons. He pledged the assets of his home to the defence of Central American refugees who were being illegally hounded by the US Immigration Service. He is a co-founder of Sanctuary, an organisation which shelters those same refugees. correct your Latin, never mind your Spanish, two of the languages in which he is completely fluent, or to quote Gaelic poetry at length over dinner. And, in moments of pure Celtic reverie, he may sing all the verses of The Queen of Connemara. And don't ask that diminutive, soft-spoken scholar about Liberation theology unless you want to know about it. Cambridge dons take note!
Last year, while browsing through books at Parsons' on Baggott Street Bridge, Dublin, I happened on a copy of Memoirs & Memories displayed, though not prominently. When I complimented one of the ladies who operate the bookshop, she nodded. Then, recalling Nothing is Quite Enough, she replied with some impatience, "Ah, he's still at it!"