Retiree Jeremiah McGinley Leaves Imprint on New Jersey Parish

Stephen Mangione Friar News

This is the fifth in a series of profiles of the Province’s retired friars, featuring those making a difference in their communities through varied activities and interests. The previous featured was Bartholomew McMahon, OFM. The article below is about a friar who is currently at the Province’s skilled nursing facility recuperating from a hip operation that was needed after a mishap several months ago. He hopes to return soon to his normal activities.

BUTLER, N.J. — After ministering for two decades at St. Anne’s Parish in Fair Lawn, N.J. – where he celebrated more Masses, presided at more weddings, and baptized even more babies than he can remember – it should come as no surprise that 13 years later, Jeremiah McGinley, OFM, despite retiring in 2007, is still touching the lives of members of the Bergen County parish. In talking to some of those parishioners, it’s evident that they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Everyone loves that he comes back. Parishioners try to find out which Mass he’s saying so they can go to it,” said Dan McCarthy, a member of St. Anne’s since 1985, just about the same time Jeremiah arrived at the parish.

“He is a great priest and a wonderful homilist. I think parishioners gravitate to him and identify with him because he has always come across as one of the people,” added McCarthy, who is grateful for the lasting friendship that he and his family have developed with Jeremiah.

It’s a tribute to just how beloved Jeremiah has been, and what he has meant to families of St. Anne’s Parish.

Although Jeremiah lives at St. Anthony Friary, the Province’s retirement house in Butler, his ministerial life makes it clear that retirement, at least for him, is overrated.

Celebrating his 89th birthday nearly four months ago hasn’t slowed him down in the least – although Jeremiah admits that he retired his golf game more than a few birthdays ago.

It seems like Jeremiah hasn’t skipped a beat at St. Anne’s ever since leaving in 2005, when Holy Name Province, after 95 years, handed off full operations of the parish to the Diocese of Newark.

He and the Franciscans were barely out the door when the then-newly appointed pastor from the diocese, Fr. Joseph Doyle, encouraged him to visit the parish and school as often as he desired.

“Before I met Jeremiah, I found out that he had been at St. Anne’s for more than 20 years,” said Fr. Joe, who said he has known Fr. Jeremiah for nearly 13 years. “Jeremiah had ministered to more people than I can count. He was loved in part because he was so loving. He has always been a very natural person, with no airs, no desire for the limelight.

“In the time that I have known him, he has willingly given of himself to help us minister to the people of this parish,” said Fr. Joe. “He has celebrated Mass at least twice a week and once on Sundays, traveling first from Assumption Parish in Wood-Ridge and then driving here from St. Anthony’s in Butler. Rain or shine, snow or sun, he has always been here.

“When we needed someone to cover the rectory, he would do it. When he came, he often spent time in the school continuing his wonderful engagement with the students, faculty, and the principal and staff that he had when he was assigned here. St. Anne’s has been blessed by his humor, his down-to-earth spirituality, and his intelligence. He has shown us all the face of Christ.”

Jeremiah with Loretta Stachiotti, principal at St. Anne School, and an eighth-grade student – Patrick Kearney — playing St. Patrick.

Charismatic Personality
Kate Humble, a St. Anne’s parishioner for more than 55 years, praised Fr. Doyle for recognizing Jeremiah’s significance to the fabric of the parish.

“When Fr. Joe asked him to continue to make St. Anne’s part of his home, that was a great gesture because you don’t often see that between different religious orders,” Humble said.

“It seemed like Fr. Joe knew what we needed. We came to love the pastoral approach of Fr. Joe [and the diocesan priests], but when the parish was transitioning from the Franciscans to the diocese, Jeremiah was a charismatic personality who bridged and helped us through the transition,” Humble continued.

“Jeremiah was the face of the Franciscans, so he became the common thread when he came back to help out. Jeremiah is so loved that he received a standing ovation at the first Mass he celebrated when he returned,” she added.

Fifteen words found in a brief profile of Jeremiah on the St. Anne’s website speak volumes of the affection that parishioners have for him. Identifying him as an associate clergy member of the parish, the words read: “… by popular request, he remains an important and beloved part of the Saint Anne family…”

His visits to the parish started with celebrating an occasional Mass, then increased to his current “workload” of celebrating Mass a few days a week (and sometimes on weekends) and visiting the students at the parish school – proof that Jeremiah continued to be an integral part of delivering spiritual nourishment and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to parishioners at St. Anne’s.

“He has always had a deep commitment to St. Anne’s, and I think his connection to the people and our parish keeps him going. He always gets your attention because he’s so genuine and such a great storyteller,” said Laurie Hessman, who has been a parishioner for 28 years and currently serves as the parish administrator.

Like many parishioners, Hessman has kept in contact with Jeremiah during his brief absence from the parish by either visiting or calling him while he is rehabilitating at Holy Name Friary.

“He’s can’t physically be here, but the parish is always on his mind,” she said.

“He asks about the school children every time we talk. He always loves visiting the students, and they love seeing him. During his 20 years at St. Anne’s, he would drop by the school every Friday afternoon to wish the students a good weekend,” added Hessman, whose now-20-year-old daughter also holds a special place in her heart for Jeremiah.

Jeremiah at the 2015 celebration of his 60th anniversary of ordination.

A Little Ham in this ‘Moose’
McCarthy, a former head of maintenance at the parish, recalled how Jeremiah became known for “this little knock” on the head that he would give each student.

“As soon as they spotted him in the building or on the playground, the kids would run up to him just not to be left out. It was an honor to get that little tap on the noggin from Fr. Jeremiah,” explained McCarthy, who, along with Jeremiah, was one of the founding members of the parish’s annual St. Patrick’s parade, which has been held on the Friday before St. Patrick’s Day since its inception more than 30 years ago.

Jeremiah, who was the parade’s first grand marshal, has been asked to return every year to serve as master of ceremonies, which concludes with a social at the parish community center – and, inevitably, with Jeremiah belting out a few Irish tunes.

“He loves to sing, although he has to be provoked – let’s say with a little, very little, twist-his-arm encouragement. But once he gets started…” said Hessman, ending the sentence with a chuckle from the other end of the phone.

So maybe there’s a little ham in the friar known as “Moose” – a nickname from his childhood growing up in Buffalo, N.Y., that has stuck throughout his life.

Perhaps the connection that people feel when they meet Jeremiah comes from his humble beginnings.

“He always says he’s just a bricklayer’s kid from Buffalo, but he is one of the most eloquent and effective preachers I have had the good fortune to meet. He keeps all of us on our toes. He has a bit of a gruff demeanor, but that’s always offset by his wit and his genuine caring and concern for others,” said Humble, noting that many parishioners enjoy Jeremiah’s company at various parish social events and dinners at their homes.

“My family connected with him right away and we developed a special bond over the years. He [presided at] my daughter’s wedding, he buried my husband. He still remains a big part of our lives,” said Humble, who along with Fr. Joe, recently had a pleasant lunch visit with Jeremiah at Holy Name Friary.

When Jeremiah went into semi-retirement in 2005 after the Franciscans’ departure from St. Anne’s, he lived for two years at Sacred Heart Friary in nearby East Rutherford, where he immediately found new ministries.

He served as chaplain of the South Monmouth County Bar Association and also became more greatly involved in an annual golf benefit held in New Jersey for a national, privately funded agency that provides crisis care to homeless and runaway youth. Jeremiah also served ministerial duties at St. Bonaventure Parish in Paterson, N.J. – all while ministering at St. Anne’s.

Jeremiah entertaining at a St Patrick’s party in the 1980s. (photo courtesy of Kate Humble)

Franciscans’ Early Influence
Although he attended public school in his native Buffalo, Jeremiah’s introduction to the Franciscans came at the local parish of St. Patrick’s. He was intrigued by the impact that the friars had on the community, and by their giving and kind spirit, camaraderie and way of life.

The influence of the friars weighed heavily in his decision to pursue a religious life, but not until he attended St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y., where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in philosophy, did it directly affect his life. Shortly after graduation, he applied to enter the Province’s novitiate program. He professed first vows in 1951, made his solemn profession in 1954, and was ordained in 1955.

His first assignment as an assistant friar at St. Stephen of Hungary Parish on Manhattan’s Upper East Side was fairly short-lived.

By 1959, he was assigned to the Province’s Mission Band. For the next 26 years, Jeremiah preached missions, gave retreats, evangelized and spread the Gospel message as he traveled across Texas, Colorado, Louisiana and Wyoming when he was stationed at the Franciscan-run parish of St. Elizabeth’s in Denver, Colo. – and later up and down the East Coast, and sometimes in Canada and Jamaica, when he was assigned to St. Anthony Friary in Butler.

He would often travel with two other friars, offering missions and retreats that ranged from one to three weeks to large groups.

“I loved that the missions had a revival-like feel. People were yearning to increase or fill a void in their spiritual lives. They wanted to grow closer to God,” Jeremiah said during an interview at St. Anthony Friary before his mishap.

He added, “I loved being on the move, traveling by railroad and bus, or living out of my car. It was a great assignment for a young friar.”

Jeremiah’s ministry with the Mission Band ended in 1985 when he was assigned to St. Anne’s and parish life.

Perhaps his constant travels – always on the go and being in the thick of the action with the Mission Band – and his enormous personality and seemingly unlimited energy is why Jeremiah remains so active, even in retirement. It’s certainly a combination of this and the people he has met along the way.

“I have a special place in my heart for the parishioners at St. Anne’s. To be able to baptize children and then preside at their wedding has been a blessing. It’s very special,” said Jeremiah, who conferred the sacrament of matrimony on three of the McCarthy family’s four children.

One of his favorite retirement activities is immersing himself in a good novel. In fact, it was a novel that he was anxious to finish – and the lunch bell – that decidedly ended the interview at St. Anthony Friary.

Stephen Mangione is a longtime writer and public relations executive based in Westchester County, N.Y.

Related Links
There’s No Slowing Down for Jeremiah McGinley” – Oct. 27, 2010, HNP Today

Friars Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Culture, Dignitaries, and Parades” – March 28, 2007, HNP Today