Lives Remembered

Canon Bernard Magee: Priest of patience, kindness, gentleness and clemency

Canon Bernard Magee lived for 40 years with a bullet lodged in his head

CANON Bernard Magee was one of those priests whom God the Father chose to serve the people of Down and Connor during the many years of what we call 'The Troubles'.

He was also one of three Down and Connor priests shot in that service - and the only one who survived.

During the 12 years from 1969 that Fr Bernie served in St Patrick's in Belfast, some 108 people were killed by bomb or bullet - 78 Catholic civilians and 18 Protestants in addition to 12 armed forces.

These violent deaths brought great grief to relatives and stress to the officiating clergy.

When McGurk's Bar was totally devastated by a UVF bomb on December 4 1971, Fr Bernie was one of the priests anointing the 18 dead and consoling the relatives.

In 1974 he was visiting his widowed father, George, close to St Colmcille's Church on the Upper Newtownards Road.

As he spoke to a parishioner in the church grounds, two young UVF recruits arrived on a motorbike "to blood themselves".

Fr Bernie was shot in his head and left leg, while the parishioner was shot in the abdomen.

Then people of goodness and grace took command.

Two Baptist pastors held up the traffic on a busy road while a Church of Ireland sacristan did the same to an ambulance.

The two wounded men were rushed to the Ulster Hospital. Surgeons from the RVH came to operate on Fr Bernie and a dental surgeon fitted a titanium plate to his wounded skull.

His brother, Fr Eamon, anointed him. His treatment was concluded in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

A worried priest would later ask: "Anything on your conscience, Bernie?"

"Yes, I have a bullet in my head," said the canon.

Bernard was one of seven adult children of George and Nora Magee - two daughters, Nora and Maureen, and five sons.

George, like his father, became a primary school headmaster.

The other four sons, Philip, Eamonn, Joseph and Bernard, all served as priests in Down and Connor.

So many vocations to priesthood in one family is indicative of deep faith, sincere prayer, self denial and readiness to serve.

Canon Magee and I attended St Malachy's College together, then Queen's University and St Patrick's College, Maynooth, where we were both ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop McQuaid on June 18 1950.

He was always kind and gracious, easily making friends.

He showed no anger about his injuries nor resentment about those who caused them.

When Bishop Patrick Walsh appointed him parish priest of Loughinisland, he continued to lead his people in prayer and the sacraments.

With their help the Church of St Macartan was renovated, a new cemetery landscaped and a new primary school built.

When the canon retired aged 75, a substantial bank credit existed.

But on June 16 1994 the peace of the parish was shattered when loyalist gunmen invaded the Heights public house as its patrons were watching an Ireland v Italy football match.

The canon and a priest celebrated the parish mission, anointed the six shot dead and consoled the wounded and bereaved.

Our Divine Lord declared: "If anyone wishes to be a follower of mine, renounce self, take up his cross every day and follow me."

Canon Bernard gave up self in his own priesthood and, as the years passed and his infirmities became more obvious, accepted without complaint his daily cross of blindness, deafness and immobility.

He died aged 94 on July 4.

Don't pity him but give him credit for his living martyrdom and imitation of the priesthood of Christ.

Dean of Down and Connor, Rt Rev Brendan McGee

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access

Lives Remembered