National Catholic Reporter
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Inside NCR
Issue Date:  July 18, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

If a publication can have a grandfather, then Gary MacEoin was that to NCR. We all feel a deep personal loss at his death (see Appreciation).

Gary was much more, however, than a gentle relation, a wise elder. He was a steady monitor checking on the purpose and direction of our reporting, an insatiable intellect and inveterate social reformer, a scholar and writer, an activist and believer, an Irish countenance with an actual eye-twinkle and a lilt in the voice that stayed with him to the last of his 94 years.

I loved Gary MacEoin and will miss him very much. We would fly Gary in once a year, usually in the spring, just to sit with us at NCR, to talk and hear his thinking on issues and the state of things in the world and the church. And then we would ask him where he wanted to go that year.

Allow me to reprise some Gary stories from my March 8, 2002, column:

“Do you have time for a story?”

“Of course,” I replied.

“Well, 22 years ago, when I was about 70,” began Gary MacEoin.

I stopped him short. “That’s it, Gary. I don’t know anyone else who can say that. And I certainly don’t know anyone who can say that who wants to take off for Cuba in three weeks.”

Gary continued his story, telling about someone at some religious house in the Upper Midwest, who had grumped, referring to Gary, “That old man should stop traipsing around the globe and stay at home and say his prayers.”

We’re glad he never took that advice.

In the nine-and-a-half years that I’ve been at NCR, Gary has been to Hong Kong, China, Italy, Ireland several times, lectured in Europe several times, scrabbled around the Guatemalan Highlands, been to El Salvador twice, and spent time in Chiapas, Mexico, to both cover disturbances there and to interview then-Archbishop Samuel Ruiz García for a book that has since been published. In that time he has also compiled a book of opinion written by 10 theologians from around the world, about the qualities they see as essential in the next pope. That book was done almost entirely via the Internet. For most people that’s a lifetime of work and travel.

I often got off the phone after talking about the next lineup of projects he had in mind and marvel at his enormous energy and talent.

Not long ago, I had the privilege to sit in on an interview he did with Ruiz in a hotel in Milwaukee. The interview was in Spanish and I didn’t pick up too much of it during the hour-long session.

Seated later in the hotel lobby, I began asking Gary to go back through the interview point-by-point. He did that for about 10 minutes before he stopped abruptly and looked at me with his sly grin and asked: “Isn’t all of this wisdom and information worth at least a drink?”

It was, and we headed for the bar, where he ordered up a double scotch, and we got on with our conversation.

Gary, who so often could give you not only his read of history, but also his experience of it, eased my worries about Cuba. “Tom,” he said, “I know lots of people in Cuba. I was there five or six times before Castro, and many times since.”

I wished him a safe trip.

~ ~ ~

If awards were given for a lifetime of integrity and ceaseless search for the truth of things, Gary would win hands down. He was dedicated not only to the search, but to living that truth as he understood it. His life was simple, his needs when he visited expressed in a daily swim and a daily afternoon scotch. When asked what kept him young, he said he read poetry every day, in one of the five languages he knew, including Latin.

His remarkable spirit will always be part of this place; his determination to tell the story of those on the margins a permanent element in the weave of our publication.

Rest well, Gary. Now, we trust, you have all the answers. We trust, too, that from time to time you’ll pass some our way.

~ ~ ~

The MacEoin family asks that donations in Gary’s honor be sent either to aid in the completion of a documentary on his life or to a San Antonio refugee project. To contribute to the documentary, make out the check to Day Productions and send it c/o Betsy Cohn, 7209 Willow Ave., Takoma Park MD 20912. To contribute to the refugee project, make out the check to RAICES, noting on behalf of Gary MacEoin, and send it to RAICES, 1305 N. Flores, San Antonio TX 78212. (RAICES stands for Refugee and Immigrant Center for Legal Services.)

-- Tom Roberts

My e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, July 18, 2003

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