Lessons from Fr Bob Maguire
In 1960, Rev Fr Robert Maguire AM PE RFD affectionately known to all as Fr Bob was ordained. Over the last 60-plus years, so many of our team members at Tobin Brothers have had the privilege to work alongside Fr Bob. I have spoken to many of our team members about Fr Bob and the experiences they have had with him over the journey.
One of the things that Fr Bob did that one would not realise at the time was he was always teaching you something. I first met Fr Bob at a funeral on a cold winter’s day nearly 30 years ago. He walked into the Church Sacristy some two minutes before the funeral was to commence with his traditional hat, a long overcoat that had holes and stains on it, it had been pouring rain and he was dripping. His opening words to me were; I will robe up and we will get Mary’s funeral underway. I was alarmed straight away because we were doing the funeral for John on this particular day. I provided Fr Bob with all the information on the funeral service. He put it in his prayer book and as he walked out of the Sacristy, he said “Let’s give Mary a really good send-off” and walked out on the alter to commence. I was panic-stricken. My first impressions were ‘Who is this guy? He is not all there'. Then he commenced his opening remarks by talking about the deceased in such a personal manner and yes he was talking about John and not Mary.
As I sat in the foyer of the Church, I picked up the Catholic magazine Kairos which was distributed weekly in the Archdiocese and in the rear of the magazine were the readings and gospel that would be delivered at the forthcoming Sunday’s Mass. Fr Bob wrote in Kairos each and every week for many years on the meaning of each of the readings and Gospel writings. Five minutes earlier I had thought the man was not all there – but then I found myself reading the words of this great theologian.
The first lesson Fr Bob taught me was never judge a book by its cover.
Fr Bob was always way ahead of his time. He had the ability to walk with Kings but always retained the common touch. Over the years following our first meeting, I used to do many funerals with Fr Bob. He would conduct a funeral for anyone, anywhere. The saint, the sinner, the rich, the poor.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s both Fr Ernie Smith OAM (deceased) Founder of Sacred Heart Mission and Fr Bob would call me regularly to assist with funerals. Generally speaking they were people that they both got to know, living on the streets, living in South Melbourne, Port Melbourne and St Kilda. Those without family, those that had been at the Coroners for a long period of time and their bodies had not been claimed by anyone. Fr Ernie and Fr Bob often did these funerals together and when Fr Bob would ring he would always call me ‘Mr MacLeod’. He would say “I need a hand” and Fr Bob is one of those people that you could never say no to.
The second lesson Fr Bob taught me was that Ministry should have no boundaries. We are here to serve and care for every single human being regardless of race, religion or status in life.
In recent days, I spoke to Michael Tobin, Company Director and one of our longest-serving team members. He referred to a funeral some 55 years ago that he did with Fr Bob when he was a Curate at St Anne’s in East Kew. He can recall Fr Bob saying “when you come up for a feed (Communion) don’t be afraid to give Fred a tap on the coffin and say g’day to him as you go past. He is not going to hurt you”.
The third lesson was that Fr Bob was way ahead of his time. He gave permission to people to do things way back in the 1960s that people commonly do today at funerals in touching the coffin.
The final story I would like to share is in the late nineties I was conducting a funeral at St Peter and Pauls South Melbourne. Just prior to the final blessing and commendation, I walked out onto the altar with the thurible which holds a burning piece of charcoal, the clergyperson adds incense and the smoke from the thurible rises. There were some 300 people at this funeral and Fr Bob was talking to the congregation, about heaven. I am standing before him with the thurible in hand and Fr Bob says “Mr MacLeod you go to a lot of funerals do you believe in heaven”. I was trying to speak quietly. Fr Bob said, “Speak up what did you say”. I said, “Yes Fr Bob, I believe in heaven”. He said to the congregation, “See he goes to a lot of funerals, he believes in heaven, he believes in afterlife, he believes in heaven”.
Fr Bob is now putting the incense into the thurible. All his words are going through his lapel microphone to the whole congregation. “You know I like plenty of smoke Mr MacLeod, plenty of smoke, plenty of smoke”. The thurible is really smoking by now. He then said “How is Norm?” (he was referring to my father Norm MacLeod who was the Funeral Director at Tobin Brothers for some 40 plus years) I did not respond. In typical Fr Bob style, he spoke louder and said “How is he?” I still hadn’t responded and he said well “How is?...” I then said quietly to him that he is dead.
Remembering all of this is going through the PA system and we are standing in front of 300 mourners at a funeral. Fr Bob responds “I didn’t know Norm was dead, we better say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for Norm”.
So there is the congregation there to celebrate their loved one's funeral and Fr Bob has got them saying an Our Father and a Hail Mary for my father who had been dead some 18 months now. At this time I just wanted to slip quietly out the side door or fall into the cracks of the floor of the Church. Fr Bob kept talking about Norm.
It was now time to process the coffin from the Church. I walked over to the family and said “I am sorry”. They were so gracious and said, “you don’t need to say a thing”.
As the coffin bearers took the deceased from the Church with Fr Bob and I leading the coffin out. Fr Bob continued to talk about my father Norm. “Why didn’t you tell me that he died? I didn’t know he died…” All the way out to the hearse, these words continued to echo through the loudspeaker system.
I asked myself over many years what was that lesson that Fr Bob was teaching me. I guess the lesson is what you see is what you get.
Fr Bob was consistently consistent, and I guess that is what we all loved about him.
Just last night I was at Blackburn Football Club which is my local club where I have run the Coterie lunches at that Club for some 20 years. I had asked Fr Bob to come and speak at a luncheon there one day. Over the journey we have had Premiership Coaches, Brownlow Medallists, Melbourne Cup-winning jockeys, trainers, famous journalists, and the list goes on, speaking at our lunches.
Several people came up to me last night, sharing memories of Fr Bob’s speech at the Blackburn Football Club. One person said to me his stories were amazing, he talked about history; particularly war times, he talked about the Church, but mostly he talked about people. The guy I was speaking to said he cried during Fr Bob’s speech that day. He said the hairs were standing up on the back of his neck. The same guy has got a big heart but you will never see him on a pew on a Sunday. That demonstrates the impact of Fr Bob Maguire, a priest to all.
Fr Bob, on behalf of everyone at Tobin Brothers and the many client families you have cared for over the years, thank you. It has been an absolute privilege to journey with you.
James MacLeod, Managing Director – Tobin Brothers Funerals