Lives Lost to Covid-19: Fr Leo McGarry – educator and inspiration

‘He was a brilliant teacher and ... is fondly remembered by hundreds of past pupils’

Fr Leo McGarry CSSp: ‘Positive, jovial, upbeat and accommodating to all.’

Fr Leo McGarry CSSp: ‘Positive, jovial, upbeat and accommodating to all.’


This article is one of a series about people who have died with coronavirus in Ireland and among the diaspora. You can read more of them here. If you would like a friend or family member included in the series, please email

Fr Leo McGarry

Fr Leo McGarry was a well-known Holy Ghost priest who taught generations of boys mathematics at St Michael’s College in Dublin

He was born to Mary (née Berrill) and Francis McGarry of North Circular Road, Dublin, on July 3rd, 1933. Having attended O’Connell Schools (CBS), he entered Kilshane in 1951 to become a Spiritan priest and was professed the following year. He studied philosophy in Dublin for two years, prefected in Trinidad (1954-1956) and then returned to Kimmage for four years of theology studies.

He had obtained a diploma in machine-printing while in Kimmage, later doing further teaching-related studies in St Mary’s College, Strawberry Hill, England, and gaining a Baccalaureate in Divinity (B.D) from Maynooth.

One of 29 members of the Province ordained in 1959, Fr Leo was appointed to Nigeria. Having taught for a short period in Regina Coeli Teacher Training College, Port Harcourt, he served as parish priest/manager of schools in St Mary’s Cathedral parish where there were many schools, a staff of 12 priests and a congregation of more than 20,000 people.

He took charge of St Gregory’s Parish, which had been newly opened in 1964 at Bomu near Ogoni in what had become the Diocese of Port Harcourt. He returned to Ireland in the late 1960s.

An accomplished maths teacher, a gift which he used in many areas of his life, Fr Leo went on to teach in St Michael’s College, Dublin, in the junior and senior schools. He remained part of the Spiritan community there until 2014 when he moved to Kimmage.

Fr Leo was chaplain for a period to the Knights of St Columbanus and he worked with Travellers. For more than three decades he celebrated Mass regularly for the community of St Damian’s Poor Clare Monastery in Ballsbridge and he regularly spent his summers on ministry in the United States, including at St Theresa of Avila Church and at the Church of the Most Precious Blood in Boston.

A one-time table tennis player who liked to play golf and bridge and who was known for his word-perfect recitation of the poem “Joe’s no Saint”, Fr Leo moved to Nazareth House, a nursing home in north Dublin, in 2019.

He was particularly close to his sister Vera and her family. Vera’s son Paul Bulger said Fr Leo considered himself as part of her family and visa-versa.

“Fr Leo was always positive, jovial, upbeat and accommodating to all. He was completely selfless and never ever complained about anything; this combined with his wicked sense of humour made him a complete pleasure to be around. One of Leo’s greatest traits was that he never saw the bad in anyone,” said Bulger.

“He was a brilliant teacher and very proud of his time spent teaching in St Michaels’s College. He is fondly remembered by hundreds of past pupils. I even heard one past pupil remark that Leo had taught him so much in life without ever actually being in his class.

“Fr Leo was exceptionally sociable and loved the camaraderie with a glass of Merlot in the company of his many friends; he was much loved by one and all. Everybody who had the pleasure of knowing him will have been enriched by the experience, one that will never be forgotten.”

Covid-19: Lives Lost