In Memoriam

James Peter McGinty

(March 15, 1962 – December 19, 2022)

My brother Jim has died. More importantly, the father of four wonderful young women and a great young man, who were brought into the world by he and Trish van Dusen McGinty, has died. Brother to my brothers and sister. Son of Jack and Mary of Lynn. And so much more.

This hard word came Wednesday from Baltimore. As family we are spread around the states these days. So phone and Zoom and texts have filled these next days with voices of disbelief, grief and sorrow, shock, and much more. Today has brought a huge rainstorm, the same storm that has covered other places with snow. Here, its drenching rain and massive winds seem to express something of what I, at least, am feeling.

Every life is complex, and many deaths as well. It is the moment we are forced, if we are honest, to begin to seek to understand who a person has been, not to fail to appreciate all the good, and neither to fail to admit failings (which every one of us definitely have). That’s our work, and it’s also the best way to honor our loved one.

There will be a lot to say, and voices to hear, in time to come. We will gather to remember and to pray for Jim soon, but we do not know yet when or where. For now, I remember how he could talk with a person he had just met for five minutes and cement a friendship. I remember how closely he listened one day on the beltway outside DC years ago when I shared with him something of great importance in my life. How well he listened, and with what understanding and compassion he responded.

As is so often the case in our times, we did not always agree on politics and issues and the rest. For sure. But I never felt less than connected at the cellular level to him. Brother is brother. Which is a beautiful thing, and also an exquisite source of pain right now. And for the wonderful humans who are linked to him in so many other ways, the complexity, the pain, the questions, are all there.

There is also in all this, and in all else, the One whose birth we are about to celebrate. I commend my brother with absolute confidence into the hands of Mercy. For two days now, in real pain, I have been comforted by an image that simply came to me of our Mom and Dad with him, hugging him, embracing him, loving him. That’s the goal of all lives, I believe. That’s the finish line.

Jim knew joy and hope and health. He also knew sorrow and desperation and sickness. He knew suffering, and sometimes that suffering touched others as well. That was important, but all of it was, including the joy and the love.

When we were little kids, Jim and I shared a bedroom there at 75 Eastern Avenue in Lynn. Two twin beds. He didn’t go to sleep right away. He wanted to talk. I used to make up stories and tell them with as much expression and verve as I could muster. He would laugh and add his own embellishments. Decades later he remembered the names I made up of some of the characters.

All those stories were big adventures, with challenges and setbacks, losses and victories. But every one of them ended with our going to sleep in that quiet room in security and peace, knowing that after all – after all – after all – we were surrounded by love. That is my prayer for my brother these days, and for the rest of my days.

With love, my brother, with love.


On December 10, 1958, our brother Michael was born. His coming was his going. Michael Gerard, second child of John Joseph (Jack) and Mary (Sweeney) McGinty, was born with Downs Syndrome and Spina Bifida. The second of those, in terns of the medicine of that day, guaranteed that he would not survive in this world.

I do not know at what time of day he was born. I suppose there must be a birth certificate on file at Salem, Massachusetts. I do not know what he looked like, or who he looked like. Only our Dad would have known, and perhaps Nana and Papa, Dad’s parents. Mom would not have known. As she told the story of that moment, when labor was complete and the baby born, the doctor and nurses recognized the conditions that he carried with him into the world. They determined that it would be better or easier if a bond between mother and child did not begin or develop and Baby Michael was whisked from the room. Mom never held him. His life here on earth was 10 days in length. She was not allowed to see him. And then, he was gone.

Our family grave is at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Lynn. The stone on the grave is a depiction of the Holy Family of Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Most of the back of the monument records in stone the entire story of Michael’s life. Since 1958, his little body has been joined there by our grandparents, John Hugh McGinty (+1971) and Beatrice (Kelly) McGinty (+1982), and by his parents and ours, Jack (+2000) and Mary (+2020). All the near witnesses of his brief life are there. And all of them also, faith assures, are together in the Kingdom of God.

Our mother was a hardy Irish farmgirl. She was challenged by many forces in life – physical and emotional – and she withstood them all. More than that, she had enough strength remaining to help many others bear their challenges as well. I am the oldest of the seven children she bore into this world full-term and I can rarely remember her crying. When heavy emotion shook her, it most often emerged looking and sounding like anger. When I was chosen to travel overseas to Rome for seminary studies beginning in the fall of 1979, I remember clearly her voice, “You can’t go there! What will we do without you?” There was determination and pain in her voice. But I did not see her cry. Perhaps I could not see her tears through my own.

There is an exception. In her later years, in her 80’s and coming to 90 years, if I reminded her on this day of Michael’s birth, there would be tears in her amazing eyes, and sometimes the recollection that she had never been able to hold her son in his first moments, and in his need.

When Mom’s own dying day came, early on the morning of December 12, two years ago this coming Monday, I was blessed – thanks to the loving kindness of the night nurse – to go to her bedside at Little Sisters’ Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville and to sit by her side to pray, to thank God and her for her life and untiring love, for an hour in the silence. As I sat there, and many times since then, the image came to me of Mom, as she was in 1958, holding Michael in love and singing him to sleep, his eyes alert to her face and his ears to every note of her song for him. At last. Holding him. With no limit of time at all.

That same birth scene, with those same diagnoses or the link taking place today, would look so different. They could treat the Spina Bifida, and he could become all things possible as Downs Syndrome child, teen, and adult. She could hold him numberless times and laugh and sing and hope and live. Thank God for that.

As I write these words this evening, I am moved to urge any who may come across these few paragraphs and read them, not to accept with ease the restrictions, the rules put in place by any of the human systems we put in place as a species. They are never infallible. They may seem justified for a time, but in terms of the eternity of God, they may be quite limited. When you come across a human judgment that restricts or bars the expression of real love, in the name of the God of love, contest it. Push against it. To say it in terms of that labor and delivery room back in 1958, hold the baby. Protest until you are enabled to hold the baby.

Rest in peace my little brother. Give Mom and Dad and Nana and Papa and all the others a big lasting hug from those of us still along the way.

Embracing Compassion

Many good folks have been asking about my taking vows this past Friday in the Franciscan Community of Compassion. So I will share a bit about that arrival point and the road there.

The Community was founded just a few years ago in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. It is an ecumenical community, open to men and women, married and unmarried, from any branch of Christianity. The community is dispersed, that is non-residential, with vowed members living in their own homes in various locations, presently in several states.* The Community includes some ordained persons and many whose path to this commitment flows out of the grace of their baptism. (Hopefully the same is true of us members who have also been ordained).

The vows taken are the traditional ones of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who have learned of the life and love of Francis of Assisi at all will know that the first of these, Poverty, was of central and life-giving importance for him.

Members are clothed in a Franciscan habit, as the three of us received last Friday evening at Saint Luke’s Church at Forest Hill, Queens, New York were. This simple robing is an ongoing sign of the inner commitment made to the living of the Gospel of Jesus in the Spirit of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi and of the many many thousands of women and men who have lived the Franciscan charism (grace) since their day. I plan on letting that sign of the habit be seen and speak its word and invitation to the people of our 21st century. I wore it at Saint Matthew’s, the church which I serve, this past Sunday morning for the first time.

I have been considering in mind and heart what those three vows mean to me.

To live vowed poverty is to choose to live life with open hands, clinging to nothing and accepting all that comes as gift of God and invitation to an ever-deepening relationship with God, now in this world and in hope of the ultimate future. Poverty is absolute openness to life as it comes, firmly believing that in ways sometimes beautifully obvious and sometimes darkly hidden, all that comes my way and all that I am asked to live, at times by seemingly random circumstance, comes from the hand and heart of the God whose only motivation is God’s very essence: Love.

Chastity is to value every person whose path I cross as a reminder of God’s proven intention in Christ to be present and to be revealed in human persons, even in those where God seems (to my weak eyes) most well-disguised. Chastity is a promise not to seek to possess or to dominate another human being, anywhere, at any time, in any kind of relationship. It means to hold sacred the freedom and the uniqueness of all whom I am blessed to meet and to know. It means in valuing each of them as icons of God’s presence to find myself constantly blessed to be looking into the eyes of Christ, hearing the voice of Christ, holding the hands of Christ.

Obedience is the willingness to be a lifelong listener. Obedience is to listen with reverence to the voices of sisters and brothers, to the sounds of nature, to the music of life each day with confidence that in openness to what is heard I will be guided by the Creator and Redeemer, by the ever-present Spirit, in the way that I should go, in the next step I am called to take. In that listening, I am confident, will be found the strength to say yes to what is heard with the heart.

Am I going to mess up along the way? (Excuse me, have we met?!) Of course! But as Benedictine friends have reminded me in a manner that is a blessing: every day we begin again.

I will continue to think about all this, and to share what may seem worthwhile. Thank you for your interest, and for your moving and loving support.

Francis with the Leper.

The story of Saint Francis and the Leper:

A birthday week reflection II: a prayer

Faithful God.

That’s the title I offer you in praise this evening. It’s the one that says it best as I pause to celebrate 65 years of this life. Throughout, even through the many times I have not, you Lord have been faithful. Faithful to your Word. Faithful to your promises. Faithful to this, your unworthy and unfaithful servant. Always, faithful.

I remember, it seems only yesterday, celebrating our Mom’s 80th with the family. She asked me that evening, “How did this happen so fast?” I begin to know what she was asking.

And yet, really it doesn’t come fast at all. The planet turns at its accustomed rate. The hands of the clock as they have since the first clock was wound. Your timeless love continues to embrace the world, embracing and healing all the contests we humans put before you.

I can remember with clarity my habit, as a child and a teen, of every so often proclaiming to myself that I was ‘turning over a new leaf.’ I don’t know how I first heard the phrase or understood it in my childish way. But on an irregular basis, many more times than once, I turned over a new leaf. I began again. I declared a season of renewal, either about one part of life or about the whole. And begin again I did.

Those moments gave me hope. What was most renewed was my sense of purpose. And so I continued to grow. And to come to know you better Lord, and to know your love, and to learn to love you in return.

I remember at some point reading somewhere or hearing at church or having a conversation with someone older that allowed me to know one of the wonders you build into the human world. A double wonder. That most of the time in most of our lives our love for you is expressed in our loving care for others. And the reciprocal truth that most of the time in most of our lives we experience your love for us personally through the loving caring eyes, faces, hands, and gestures of the people you give us to meet, to come to know, and to be loved by.

So I remember my Nana and Papa who lived five minutes from us growing older and having problems getting around and doing things by themselves. I remember realizing that at the same time we kids were growing older and more able, and so we were well-placed by love (that is to say, well-placed by you) to be of loving help to them in those years of their lives. And that experience would be repeated, even more powerfully, a generation later with our Dad and Mom. They loved us through their years of strength with every ounce of their being, with all their will and all their capacity. And later on, they needed us to lean on. And we could. Because we had learned – from them – to love. That is to say, we had learned You from them.

Photo: Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash

Over these six and a half decades, dear God how many people have I crossed paths with? The number is beyond my counting, constant, and over several continents of your world. Only you know. And you know too that it was really never just a crossing of paths. The potential for something much deeper – for friendship, for a lasting connection, has so often been there already in first meetings with one another. You have made that possible, Lord. You have been right there, every time. Sometimes I was even (dimly) aware of your presence and action – mostly because I was so often so blown away by the magnificence of these human creatures, made in your image. The creativity, the intelligence, the beauty, the faith, the potential and the achievements in them! The gentle, deep and unique spirits in them. Again and again to this moment, I marvel at your creation – and most of all at the persons that have come to be in you – and whom I have been privileged to meet and know, to study and serve with, to laugh and mourn with, to become connected to at a depth beyond description.

Lord, I do wish I had a better memory. There are many incidents that remain with me, true. But when I am together with those with whom I have shared life in Boston, in New York, in Italy, in Scotland and Ireland through all the years, they ask if I recall when we did this or that or when I said this or that? Inevitably, I never do remember. But, you, Faithful One, have had them remember, and share the stories with me. Every time, I am delighted from my toenails to the crown of my often-empty head.

Dear God, I do not announce today, to myself or anyone else, the turning over of a new leaf. I have hopes and desires for sure. But I simply place them from my heart into yours. We can hold them at heart together. That is more than enough for me. For whatever happens or doesn’t happen then is entirely your doing, and so entirely perfect.

I only ask you to take this sinner, this tripping bumbling servant who is grateful to you and to your people for all that has been. The best I can do, with the love you have taught me, is to place the remainder of my life – along with the hopes and hurts of those who confide in me, and with the memories of all those whom I love – into your hands. As Saint Ignatius taught so well, take it all for all has come from you. As Saint Charles de Foucauld gave me words of prayer, whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me.

Thank you for this very happy birthday Lord. It has been marked with tears of joy, much more than most of its predecessors. And its name is hope.