ARCHBISHOP JOHM CHARLES MC QUAID (1895 – 1973) WAS INDEED THE RULER OD CATHOLIC IRELAND – RELIGION AND POLITICS.
Many priests were afraid of him and indeed if a priest ever said even one word against the Catholic Faith Mc Quaid would hastily and ruthlessly demolish him.
But there was another, hidden side to McQuaid – a side I got to know during my contacts with him from 1970 to 1983.
He was very good to poor people.
Mc Quaid had a rule that any homeless of down and out person who called at Archbishop’s House had to be seen by him personally. He kept cash near the back door of the house to give to those in need.
He not only gave money to people in need. He often went on to get them a house by contacting Dublin Corporation or get them a job through his many contacts with senior and wealthy business men.
In fact he got me summer jobs in 1971 and 1972 so that I would be able to buy the books I needed in Clonliffe Seminary.
Every night on the way home from Archbishop’s House to his home in Killiney he visited sick priests and people in Dublin’s hospital.
He also visited a youth club he set up in Eccles Street. On one occasion one of the boys asked him to dress up in all his episcopal gear. The following night he came with his gear and explained the history and meaning of each garment. He allowed several of the kids to try on his mitre.
He was particularly interested in helping Dublin’s prostitutes to give up their sex work. He appointed a Canon John Pierce (my PP at one time) as a special chaplain to the girls and insisted they were to be helped financially and to find a home.
He was very supportive of the trade union movement in Dublin and often acted as a mediator between the unions and the employers.
He was very good and kind to priests who got into trouble through drinking or womanising. He sent them for help and payed all their living expenses until they were able to return to ministry.
He once asked the Church of Ireland archbishop to help a Church of Ireland priest who was in trouble. The archbishop agreed after asking McQuaid was the problem “Punch or Judy”. Mc Quaid told him it was both!”
He was ahead of his time in founding organisations and charities to address all kinds of social issues.
In the early 1970s he was asked by the Papal Nuncio to tender his resignation but was firmly told it was just a formality and it would not be accepted.
But it was! McQuaid was devastated.
Soon afterwards I was visiting him in Archbishop’s House and he said to me:
“Pat, when I leave here I will lose all my so called friends. Will you come and visit me”?
Of course I agreed and every Friday afternoon until he died I got the bus to Killiney and spent several hours with him. We prayed together and talked.
My exact return bus fare stood as a little column of coins on the corner of a his desk.
He lived between two mansions – one in Drumcondra and one in Killiney.
But his personal life was extremely. His bedroom consisted of an single iron bed, a chair and a prie-dieu under a crucifix and a wardrobe.
His bathroom next to it, which I also used was bare and as clean as an operating theatre – thanks to the three nuns that looked after him – members of the Notre Dame sisters.
Incidentally his Killiney house was called Notre Dame de Bois – Our Lady of the Woods.
One Friday I arrived and saw a Jack Russell pup in the back garden. I asked him was it his. He replied: “It is. A gift from a well meaning man”. Then I noticed he had a plaster cast on his wrist. I asked what had happened and he pointed to the pup that had tripped him. I asked “What is its name Your Grace”? He replied: I have not decided yet, but I am thinking of calling him Lucifer for he tripped an archbishop over”.
He had no problem with alcohol. His nephew, the child psychiatrist Paul McQuaid went to see him on Sundays. He would pour Paul a full glass of wine and put a thimble full in his own glass to play with.
I also used him as a confessor and spiritual director.
I felt very sorry for him on the day his successor Dermot Ryan was being installed. He stood alone on the stairs of the Pro Cathedral Presbytery and cut a very forlorn figure.
On that day I had been chosen to be Dermot Ryan’s personal assistant. He picked me up at 9 am and dropped me off at midnight. He never spoke one work to be during the day. When I got him a cup of tea he never said thanks. When I tipped him on the arm to let him know that Bishop Eamon Casey wanted a word with him he shouted: “Get your hands off me”. When he dropped me off at midnight he never even said thank you or good night.
John Charles was certainly very wrong to dictate to politicians and political leaders. He was also criticised for his handling of abuse cases.
But he was a man of his time and he believed that the RC Church was God’s representative on earth and that he was God’s representative in Dublin and Ireland.
Obviously a man of great contradictions. And in spite of all his failings he tried to do all the good he could.
I was quite devastated when at lunch time in Clonliffre on April 7th 1973 The president announced that” His Grace Archbishop McQuaud died during the night”.
No more trips to Killiney and no more the column of coins sitting on the corner of a desk.