Remembering Dr. Brendan McGuire
Beloved history professor Dr. Brendan McGuire passed away on Friday, October 9, after receiving Last Rites and the Apostolic Blessing. McGuire, a husband, father, and lover of baseball and rugby, died after a nearly decade-long battle with cancer. He was 37 years old.
“Words cannot express the incredible love, esteem and affection of the entire Christendom family for Brendan as faculty, mentor, friend and colleague,” said College President Dr. Timothy O’Donnell. “He gave himself so generously in the midst of suffering and so many challenges to the mission of Christendom College and it’s students. We will never forget his deep faith, his love, his passion and the intense joy he took in God’s great gift of life. Let us remember him, his wife Susan, their 3 children, Joseph, Jack and Aileen and all the members of his family in our fervent prayers. May God rest his soul.”
Read more about Brendan HERE.
The Seagull | A Poem by Dr. Brendan McGuire
The seagull’s cry is heard at Ards on every winter’s morn
The ocean, dark, still surges then, its billows frayed and torn
By ice-cold blasts that shriek and howl
Beneath the pale, weak sun
Whose slanting rays bring little warmth
‘Ere cold, brief day is done.
The gull has witnessed other things, remembers better days
When summer warmed the hearts of youths who swam beneath his gaze.
When friendship forged its bonds of steel
In souls both young and old
When footballs, frisbees flew by day;
By night, the fires bold.
The seagull never understood, nor could his heart conceive
How precious, fleeting, were those days; how could we bear to leave?
Why not just stay, and e’er enjoy
The comradeship we found
With man and God beneath blest sun
Upon this Irish ground?
We have no earthly dwelling place, no home beneath the sky
Ever restless are our hearts, until to Him they fly
Who formed the cliffs above the sea
And launched, of old, the waves,
That beat, forever, Ulster’s shores
To shape the rocks and caves.
Christians never say goodbye; we never truly part
From friends and fellow travelers, with whom we’ve shared some part
Of earthly sojourn, here below
Beneath the changing sky
We’re still together, come what may
Until the day we die.
And so, upon that winter day, o’er cliffs and beaches fair
The ghosts of song and laughter seem to echo in the air.
The seagull will remember us,
The ocean too, the sod.
And we’ll remember where we found
Fierce joy, calm peace, and God.
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The beauteous exuberance of these golden leaves,
Though they’ll soon fall and fade away,
Imprint their glory in our mind; they stay
And express to our heart that grieves:
His sublime presence shall ever remain,
Ever ignite, embrace, and console,
And though he’s entered the Eternal Domain,
He’ll dwell forever in each mind and soul.
Those dancing eyes, mischievous and blue,
His gestures adamant, ardent, and alive,
With words so soothing, sagacious, and true,
He lifts our soul, our hearts revive.
He’ll live in us always, our dear Brendan McGuire,
His golden memory will never die;
Our Faith, Hope, and Love he’ll ever inspire;
As he himself proclaimed,
We’ll never say good-bye!
Reflections & Memories
One of the best men I have ever had the privilege of knowing, Dr. McGuire was not just a man’s man, he was brilliant, he was self-less, he had a courageous spirit that would match the heroes of old he would lecture about. As easy as it is to imagine him in a classroom, you could as easily imagine him at the Battle of Lepanto or Agincourt. Most of all he was exceedingly kind. He could speak on subjects from the most mundane to the most intellectual, he engaged our minds and invested his time in mentoring us in the most humble and earnest of ways that made us all feel recognized, always placing us on a better path. His joy and energy were contagious, much like his dramatic humor, and his sincerity palpable. In his short life, he has left a mark on this world in a way some can only hope for. He won’t be missed, he will be grieved. Although this day was coming for such a long time, I don’t think any of us are quite ready for it. May the angels carry you into paradise, my mentor and friend.
I had Dr. McGuire for History 101 and it was a joy to be taught by him. My section was at 2:30 in the afternoon so there were always one or two students who would nod off at the back of the classroom. He had a habit of pausing mid-lecture to throw a well-aimed piece of chalk at the offending student and say “Yes! Got him!” before resuming the lecture. Once before class began he was describing his methods for waking up students in class. “I’ve always found that the simple things – modulation of the voice, a small projectile – are very effective. However, I’ve always wondered what I might need to do if those methods were ineffective …” and he pulled a lighter out of his pocket and sparked it. We were all startled, and he must have enjoyed our expressions because he was laughing as he began the lecture. He never clarified exactly what he might have set on fire, and we never knew, but it became a source of laughter and speculation for the rest of the semester. For me, that memory is a reminder of his lively presence in the classroom. It was part of what made him such a brilliant professor and mentor. Classes tend to become a blur after so many months, but I have never forgotten that class. It was a gift to be one of his students.
He knew he was dying, but I think in many ways he was much more alive than most people are. He brought life and light to everyone he spoke with. It’s impossible to forget that presence. It was the kind of radiance that belies death. Knowing that he has entered into Life itself is a reason to be joyful in the midst of grief. Rest in peace, Dr. McGuire.
Typically when I tell people about Brendan McGuire, I tell them about how he made fun of my handwriting constantly. How, at my graduation, he had my college president tuck one last joke about my handwriting into his graduation address. That was Brendan.
When I tell people about him now and after today, I’ll tell them about what he taught me. What he taught all of us.
He taught us history, yes, but he also taught us so much more than that. He taught us bravery. He taught us charity. He taught us how to live life to the fullest, no matter the suffering. Most of all, he taught us how to love Christ daily and bear crosses lovingly.
I’m not sure I realized how much he taught me until today.
He was my professor. My colleague. My friend. I am a better man today because of him, because he was one of the finest I will ever know. Rest In Peace, Brendan. We all miss you dearly.
Many former students of Dr. McGuire’s will share the humorous and brilliant things he did: threw chalk at sleeping students in class, launched unexpectedly into the entire First Oration against Catiline in Latin, wrote the wildest multiple-choice questions (Q. “Lycurgus lived:” A. “True”), wrote “encouraging” slogans (such as “It’s always darkest before it goes pitch black”) on the board during exams, and bought tickets on behalf of female students for the Win-a-Date contest (freshman me had never been more flustered!). I can’t count the anecdotes my classmates and I amassed in four years, scribbling quotes in our margins for the Clothesline or Christendom Quote Board. And this is important, fundamental to his personality and approach to life.
My very first history class at Christendom was also the very first class Dr. McGuire taught. He was a brilliant teacher who challenged us to rethink our preconceptions. You could tell he was having fun teaching. In his class on the book of Job, he led us in discussing and understanding (or not understanding) suffering. This was before his cancer diagnosis, but he already had this amazing faith and insight into the problem of pain. His witness has always inspired me, and Job is the book of the Bible I read and re-read. Thank you Dr. McGuire.
There was a time when I was a freshman when I had a class that I was struggling with. I did well on the tests, I spoke in class, but I was just having so much trouble retaining the material. So I went to the professor’s office hours to talk to him, and the first thing he asked me after I explained why I was there was “well how’s life treating you?” We ended up talking for over 2 hours about life, school, family, everything, until we realized he only had 10 minutes of office hours left to talk about the reason I was there. In the end, I left his office thinking that he was the coolest professor ever but still worried about being able to retain the knowledge I was getting. However, during the next few classes I found myself really getting into it and every time I had a struggle all I had to do was look at him and it made sense. This professor, Dr. Brendan McGuire, has made such an impact on my life as a professor, a role model, a fighter, and a friend and I am so glad that I was able to be in his last class. Rest In Peace Dr. McGuire, I hope they let you play your pipes in heaven.
I am a freshman that just joined Christendom in the Fall, but I attended the ECSP this summer and got to experience Dr. McGuire as he taught our history class for the week. He was so energetic and funny, and he was my favorite Professor of the program. I remember getting the email saying that class registration was open for freshmen and I went right to History to see if he was teaching History 101, and I was bummed to see he was not. Even though I only got to meet him for a week, I am going to miss him nonetheless.
My Christendom experience was bracketed by Dr. McGuire’s first two episodes of battling cancer. And over the course of those four years, I found in him a professor who genuinely cared about each one of his students. I was a lucky sophomore when I got into his first History of Islam course and found there a wealth of knowledge and a professor who never let me feel like the baby of the class. My senior year, I went to him with a personal problem that I just needed to talk to an adult about. Despite the fact that we’d barely talked outside of casual conversation, I had seen his influence on my friends who were struggling, and I knew I could trust him to help me. He welcomed me into his office and gave me the clarity and straight talk that I needed, and a good dose of humor. That last semester, when he alternated weeks of teaching with weeks of treatment, I was amazed at the energy he still continued to put into his classes despite how obviously drained he was. Then he discharged himself from the hospital after surgery just so he could be there for our graduation – and cheerfully endured our fond exasperation when he showed up. Everybody loved McGuire, and my experience of him is small compared to many others who knew him better. But it didn’t take much to know him for the good man and great teacher that he was. Requiescat in pace.
Dr. McGuire will be remembered forever by all the stories about his humor and brilliance, but mine is just a small example of his kindness and selflessness.
I had McGuire for History 101, and on a Tuesday morning two weeks into freshman year, we had a seminar outside behind the library. I was dehydrated that morning (Ramen for breakfast is a bad freshman decision), and I passed out halfway through class, unexpectedly slumping into the lap of the student next to me. When I revived after a moment, Dr McGuire drove me and my roommate to the ER. He stayed in the waiting room while I received an armful of saline IVs. He went out to get lunch for my friend and me (Pizza Hut personal pizzas). He waited at the hospital for three hours to make sure I was okay, and finally returned to campus only when he had to get back for his 2:30 class.
I have never forgotten his kindness that day, and he didn’t, either – years after I graduated, he cracked up while informing me that he was still telling his freshman classes about the girl who fainted during a seminar about sheep sacrifices.
There is so, so much I could say about Dr. McGuire, and yet still so much I could never express. He is one of the bravest, kindest, and best men I’ll ever know. One of the most profound things about him, however, that could not help but inspire all around him was his authentic joy and will to live life to the fullest in the face of extreme pain. He was determined to live every second for Christ and for others, always resolute in never letting his suffering be a cause for worry for anyone else; rather, he turned his pain into a weapon for the Church Militant, always laying his pain down for others. He never complained though he had every possible right to, and always walked with a contagious smile.
I will never forget being in his history class, fascinated by his lectures on one of his favorite subjects: the Crusades. Dr. McGuire could tell a story like no other, and even speak a multitude of languages or draw precise maps of Europe on the board solely from memory. At the time, he had just gotten a knee replacement and had to walk with a cane, and his evident limp showed us just a glimpse of the pain he must have been in. However, his love for teaching and desire to transfer his passion to his students constantly overrode him, and he’d throw down his cane and emphatically walk around the room, urging us to have the fearless spirit of the crusaders who rose to the Church’s call to win back the Holy Land. He’d encourage us to never be afraid to leave everything behind for God, and always reminded us of something more that we are all made for – a unique, divine mission that the world needs in order to be conquered for Love.
Not only was he a dedicated professor, but he was also a genuine friend to all of the students here. He always loved the loner in the room and made everyone feel welcome, heard, and special to him. On quite a few of the days that he would have chemotherapy, he’d pass me at the Receptionist desk and always be concerned with if I was doing well, or share with me the latest story or joke he heard. He’d also always have this mischievous look in his eye and ask me to share the latest news on campus. Don’t think he was all gentle and sweet, haha. He loved to make trouble and had lots of fun playing matchmaker to the students or place bets with professors on which month a serious couple would get engaged in. He’d also emcee some of our flag football games, bellowing out savage roasts or being the most enthusiastic of everyone for a touchdown. You could also find him playing an epic Irish jig on his bagpipes at our rugby games or throwing chalk at students. Dr. McGuire was always aware of what a gift life is, and always made the most of it and shared that deep joy, the joy that keeps its gaze fixed on heaven, with everyone around him.
His family also lives with heroic strength and courage. His wonderful son just played his baseball game, because dad would want him to, and his wife and other children also embody that same brave spirit in so many ways.
Please pray and offer your suffering for his soul and their family. And let his legacy live on in you, inspiring you to live each moment – each pain, annoyance, task, etc – for God’s glory.
I can’t believe you’re gone. You fought the cancer off time and time and time again, and I thought this time you’d pull through.
But you didn’t, and there’s a void that I don’t know how to fill.
I only had one class with you: History 101 in 2008. The most I remember from that class is that you put “Elephants are big: True or False?” on a test. Big in comparison to what? An ant? A beluga whale?
In the following years, I said “hi” in passing; I remember chatting with you after you successfully defended your dissertation, but I hadn’t yet glimpsed the depths hidden under your joking and chalk-throwing.
It would take seeing your example in carrying the cross of suffering, for me to see those depths.
When you got sick in 2011, it broke me. I was angry with God; I questioned Him. I yelled, cried, and prayed harder than I ever had before. Wrestling with the problem of suffering, and observing your cheer and selflessness, led to my choice of a thesis topic: redemptive suffering.
Your first semester back after chemo and surgery and regaining the ability to walk happened to be my last semester at Christendom.
The words of Venerable Fulton Sheen—“Never seek true wisdom from a person who has never suffered”—sent me to your office a few days into that last semester.
Through discussions in your office about the Book of Job, and later through emails to a struggling alumna, you taught me more about the love of God for me as an individual than any sermon or theology class (and I was a theology major, so there were a lot of those) ever had.
The fact that I no longer scoff at the notion of God as a loving Father, is due to your words—words which I would not have taken to heart if you hadn’t exemplified that love in your life and actions.
Rest in peace, Brendan.
Emily C. Hurt
Back in December when Dr. McGuire was down at UVA for cancer treatment, we were going to meet up for lunch but I unexpectedly had to work at the rehab hospital that day. Instead of canceling, he finished his morning appointment, swung by Bodo’s, brought me a bagel, and sat with me outside the hospital for the brief half-hour I had for lunch before he had to return to the main hospital for more blood work.
We chatted about a couple of things- my fiancé, the PT school applications, the scoop on Christendom, but as if we were both aware of the time crunch (in that moment and in his life) we switched to more serious matters. He told me things weren’t looking good, that he had a secondary disease from so much chemo, and that he would need to find a bone marrow transplant. I remember asking him quietly, “How are you feeling? Are you scared?”
And he responded that he had been doing a lot of thinking lately, that it was hard to prepare oneself for eternity, but that he would continue to pray for the canonization of Blessed Solanus Casey, that maybe he could be the second miracle. He was realistic and frank as ever while remaining hopeful that God, in His infinite wisdom, would do with him what He saw was best.
We sometimes find it hard to connect with the saints, even the “average joe saints,” because we can read about them and try to be inspired by their life and holiness, but we didn’t ever know them while they were alive. We can’t know for certain if Dr. McGuire is in heaven. But if anyone’s life could come close to resembling an ordinary saint, it would be his.
Brendan McGuire was without a doubt one of the bravest and humblest men I knew. Ten years of preparing for the next life cultivated such a gentle spirit and immense faith. He was thankful for every day he was alive and threw his whole heart, soul, and battered body into doing as much good on earth as he could in the time remaining to him. He was unfailingly kind to everyone and had deep personal relationships with so many students, faculty, and friends. He didn’t let anyone slip through the cracks. His wit and optimism about life were unparalleled.
He was even at our wedding two months ago. Right as JP and I walked out of the church, newly married, we caught up with him in the narthex. He looked tired and worn, even more so than usual, and made a comment about how it had been a tough week and he almost hadn’t been able to come, but he was so glad he did because witnessing a marriage is a beautiful opportunity to recall one’s own marriage vows. He also told us to spend a lot of money on our honeymoon, because we’d regret it later if we didn’t live it up, and we certainly took his advice. I will cherish those last memories with him forever, that last picture we took, and those last words we exchanged, not knowing they’d be the last.
He was simply there for everyone when they needed it. Hearing the vast numbers of students, alumni and staff share their stories is proof that this man touched so many people’s lives in his brief stay on earth. It’s not the quantity of years but the quality. And though he had ten years to anticipate his passing into eternal life, not all of us will have that kind of preparation. So live like Dr. McGuire lived, and don’t be afraid or mournful about life after death. As he himself said, “it’s literally not scary at all. Death has no sting, hell has no victory. I might still be around for a little while. But it’s always just a little while, isn’t it? But God has put eternity into the mind of man.”
When I was in high school, I fell out of love with history as a subject. Dr. McGuire reawakened my love of history and intensified my love of learning in general. I looked forward to every single class I ever had with him. Not only was he an incredible professor, but he was also an inspiration as a person. In a world where Christian values are being consistently mocked and devalued, Dr. McGuire was an inspirational example of a teacher, husband, father, leader, and Christian Catholic. It always made me proud that I would graduate from his Alma mater. I will never forget to be grateful that I was able to have him as a professor and role model.
Dr. McGuire came to Christendom as a teacher with my class, so we always felt he was part of the Class of 2011 in a special way. From the start, Brendan was popular and everyone loved him as a teacher. I saw this firsthand when I was assigned to Dr. McGuire’s History class during the second semester of my freshman year.
Although I did well in history and literature, I struggled in many classes, especially in Latin. I had failed the class the semester before and was on academic warning. I was absolutely terrified of failing again and not being able to return to Christendom. Dr. McGuire not only encouraged me as a student, he tutored me in Latin, just to help out! By the end of the semester, I passed my Latin class and was also out of academic warning. I went on to major in history and after graduation, I ended up teaching for eight years. I told my students that one day I hoped to be as good of a teacher as Dr. McGuire.
Dr. McGuire was loved by his family, friends, and his students, and he did more in thirty-eight years than most people do in seventy. Rest in peace Dr. McGuire, we will never forget you.
Mary Harrington Norris