A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Death of a Marist

Fr Michael McVerry SM

Born: 4 September 1943

Professed: 9 January 1964

Ordained: 24 June 1968
Died: 21 October 2022

Fr Michael McVerry SM

Michael McVerry was a great Marist, a great priest and a giant missionary in Oceania. This was made possible because he was a truly wonderful human being, warm, compassionate, sensitive, understanding, insightful, practical and caring. He became a world leader in rural education; and  world leader in Marriage Encounter.

Mick (or Mac as he became known) entered Greenmeadows seminary in 1962. He was intelligent but book study seldom inspired him. In those days he saw himself as a poor student, but his real skill, working with people, was just beginning to become apparent. 

After ordination he taught briefly at St Patrick’s College, Silverstream and then St Bede’s, Christchurch. He volunteered for the overseas missions and was sent to Malaita, Solomon Islands. After just three years in the Solomons, he transferred in 1972 to the Marist Training Centre Tutu in Fiji, which was in danger of being closed. Tutu, with its youth programs and its courses for married couples, was to become his work for the next 40 years. 

After completing three years at Tutu he went to Berkeley California where he completed a Master’s degree in Liturgy. 

While he had a love of Mary from his NZ formation, at Tutu Mike found a new Marian inspiration to lead him in his work there. Two Marists became his mentors: an Irish man, Fr Micky Bransfield, and a Kiwi farmer, Br Kevin Foote. Micky guided him on how to manage government and politics in Fiji; and Kevin on how to keep Mary at the heart of all that was done at Tutu

The land on which Tutu was built had been dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes in 1914 and a statue from Lourdes had been erected there in 1908. Mick would remind the staff that they were called to “be Mary” to one another and to the students. It was Mick’s genius that saw in Mary of Lura (Lourdes) the story that could unify, enlighten, and inspire staff and students. Mary’s statue would be where all Tutu activities would begin. Now, after another 30 years, a Marian spirituality developed  which has become part of the training and formation given to all who participate in the programs in Tutu, and has helped inform an inculturated spirituality. 

Mac fostered Marriage Encounter and established it in Fiji and in several other countries in the South Pacific. He weaved Marriage Encounter  into the various courses at Tutu and the formation of the future leaders of the Centre. It was about listening to and responding to the very personal and intimate thoughts of the other. But he always insisted that we remember that the truths we live by are the ones we discover for ourselves. This was a fundamental principle for him.

Mike’s ability to listen to others and to remember their stories allowed him to tell stories his way to convey his message. “Jesus”, he would say “was a man who reached people through stories”. Whether he was teaching, or preaching or sharing intimately with a community or a group of people, Mac told stories. He had a wonderful sense of drama – the ability to hold attention, to pause just long enough to make an important point; and inevitably you would be captured by his infectious laughter at his conclusion. 

Having time for others was important to Mike and many life-changing experiences took place on the verandah of his house. The conversations covered all of life: rugby, politics, and society. 

He always remained close to the grassroots people, especially in Fiji. But he insisted on receiving advice from the best academics: be it in agriculture, politics, sociology, theology, culture, spirituality and all the other disciplines that touched his own life and the lives of those he served. He also encouraged other movements within ministry such as Christian Meditation and the Ignatian thirty day retreats. And if he supported a movement, he  practised it seriously himself. 

Returning to a very different New Zealand in 2019 was difficult for him. Being able to watch more rugby and cricket was a small consolation. But looking after Pahiatua and later, Dannevirke, gave him the caring and supportive communities which helped him gradually settle back. 

The great joy of his last few months was to go back to Fiji and to say his goodbyes. He was warmly welcomed, joyfully celebrated and sent on his way back home with many tears. Lani Tatini , the Finance Officer at Tutu wrote: “With great sadness and deep sorrow in our hearts we say good bye to our hero, our beloved priest, our best friend and companion on mission. We love you dearly and miss you greatly.”

May Michael McVerry rest in peace in the presence of Jesus and his mother Mary, and be welcomed by those to whom he ministered so generously in his rich and wonderful life. Amen.

Based on the Eulogy by Fr Michael O’Connor SM

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