An Appreciation: Canon Gerard McGreevy


The death of Canon Gerard McGreevy at the age of 86 on August 11th recalls a largely unheralded era of scientific investigation and education in the rarified environment of Ireland’s national seminary for the Catholic priesthood.

As professor of experimental physics, 1957-1982 in St Patrick’s College, Maynooth (later NUI Maynooth and now Maynooth University), he oversaw the transition, from the late 1970s onwards, of the science faculty there. From a four-professor department serving an annual intake of perhaps half a dozen seminarians a year, it became a fully-developed academic facility serving hundreds of lay students.

Gerry McGreevy was born in Belfast on January 25th, 1929 to Paddy and Mary McGreevy, from Faughart in Co Louth and Togan in Co Monaghan, respectively. The early death of his father resulted in his mother returning to Togan with Gerry and his brother Raymond.

Gerry was educated at Threemilehouse National School and St Macartan’s College, Monaghan. In 1947 he began his priestly formation at Maynooth, where he studied physics under Fr Patrick McLaughlin and obtained his BSc.

Ordained in 1954 for service in the diocese of Clogher, Fr McGreevy spent the following years in further research in University College Dublin, where he received his PhD.

He went on to lecture at University College Galway, where he continued his research into aerosols, alongside Tony Scott and Tom O’Connor. Their work led to the foundation of the Atmospheric Physics Observatory at Mace Head in Carna, Galway. He was also briefly on the staff of St Michael’s College, Enniskillen.

In 1957 he succeeded Fr McLaughlin at Maynooth, where his affable nature, combined with a blunt approach to the vagaries of academic life and administrative issues, gave him a loyal following among his students and colleagues, many of whom maintained contact with him long after he had left for pastures new.

The new pastures included the pastoral care of the Catholic people first of Bundoran and then of Donaghmoyne, before his retirement to Magherarney. He helped mastermind the construction of a golf course, the restoration of a second World War memorial in Lisburn and the publication of a history of the Togan locality. His work on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the Monaghan area was legendary.

He travelled extensively – to visit priest friends in Eastern Europe, China and Russia. In the latter he became involved in the restoration of the historic Church of the Nativity at Priskokovo, 1,000 miles east of Moscow.

At his funeral, his bishop, Liam McDaid, paid him this tribute: “If he was small in stature he was big in heart and mind. He folded many parachutes and he blessed many people educationally and pastorally. He had a special feel for the small man and the neglected or downtrodden people.”

It was the perfect summation of a life lived as an ardent promoter of the spiritual world but with a significant contribution to our understanding of the physical. NIALL McKEITH,