Bob Maguire, Melbourne priest loved by the poor

bob maguire

Variously described as a maverick, a “kick-arse dude in a robe” and an “anti-Catholic lowlife”, the Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire became the darling of the people – and the media – for his community work and his often acerbic statements delivered with humour, irreverence and hyperbole.

Maguire, who has died aged 88, defiantly and tirelessly advocated for the underdog using his most powerful tool: charisma.

Candid and controversial, he brought a legion of new adherents to the church with his distinctive approach and unwavering commitment to feeding and housing the poor, the hungry and the homeless of Melbourne.

He also regularly butted heads with the church hierarchy, who found his forthright, populist approach to Catholicism difficult to contain and who eventually drove him from his parish after almost four decades.

His enthusiastic embodiment of the principles of Vatican II, a modernised Catholicism initiated by Pope John XXIII in 1958, led him to clash with the church’s more traditional members, among them Cardinal George Pell who, according to Maguire, considered Vatican II devotees to be “cafeteria Catholics”.

“Some people have said I’m a saint; to others I’m more the devil incarnate,” he told his biographer Sue Williams in 2013.

At 77, having spent 38 years as priest of St Peter and Paul in South Melbourne, Maguire found himself without a parish. He had declined a request from then archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, to retire at 75 but fought the church for two years before giving way.

Maguire vigorously contested allegations by the church that he had mismanaged parish funds.

Charity and Compassion

Without a pulpit, Maguire turned his formidable vigour to sharing his message of charity and compassion in other ways and found social media, radio, television and online forums the ideal tools.

He had almost 126,000 Twitter followers (“The Larrikin priest … patron of the unloved and unlovely”), 37,000 views of his cover version of Kanye West’s Jesus Walks, and sold bobblehead dolls to raise money for the Father Bob Foundation.

In 2014, in an effort to gauge the happiness of Australians, he organised a competition offering as first prize the chance to work in one of the foundation’s soup kitchens.

In May 2022 Maguire criticised the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, for his government’s decision to pass voluntary assisted dying laws.

Williams remembered Maguire as a wise, caring, smart and very funny man, although trying to pin him down became one of her most difficult assignments.

“It was like trying to catch a shooting star, and every time you felt you had a firm grip, you just had to close your eyes and hang on, with absolutely no idea where you’d end up,” she said. Read more

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