Fr Luke Magee, much loved member of the Passionist Congregation and a long standing member of the community at Minsteracres died recently. Fellow Passionist Fr Mark White, like Luke a former rector of Minsteracres, gave a moving homily at his funeral:
“What about us? We have left everything and followed you.”
This Gospel question is a perfect starting point for a reflection on Luke’s life. For he did indeed leave family and friends and the beauties of Antrim and came to the industrial north west of England. But he was to remain closely connected to the land where he grew up and he would return frequently.
After many fruitful years teaching in the Juniorate at Blythe Hall, Luke was appointed rector of Minsteracres. It was a time of transition: the Passionist house of studies was about to become a retreat centre.
Under Luke’s guidance, the new ministry developed. There began the great partnership between Luke and Mark (Whelehan), “the two evangelists”, who, together with others, gave Minsteracres its distinctive ethos of welcome, hospitality and a desire to spread the Gospel and encourage others to do so. Like their namesakes the Gospel writers, Luke and Mark had distinctive visions of the Good News, different approaches to the same wonderful mystery, but they produced a harmony and a fruitfulness that is evident in all you see around you.
And as Minsteracres flourished, so the great gifts that Luke had to offer were coming more and more to light. There was the work with the Manpower Services Commission which did a great deal to mitigate the effects of serious unemployment in the area, following the closure of Consett Iron works.
At one point the schemes at Minsteracres and the outreach work they sponsored meant that Minsteracres was the biggest employer in the area.
The pattern began to emerge: a need was seen and a courageous and innovative response was worked out by Luke and his friends, Andrew O’Connor, director of the employment programme, prominent among them. With the help of Luke and others Andrew later became the first permanent deacon in the diocese, and was known as the deacon for the unemployed.
The next move Luke inspired was to invite the Sisters of St Paul the Apostle to come to Minsteracres as collaborators in the mission of the retreat centre and from the beginning they took a full part in the ministry of the community and an extremely happy and productive period of 25 years ensued.
A conversation with a retreatant, Martha Freckleton, led to an invitation to a team from the USA bringing the Beginning Experience that would help thousands of men and women whose lives bore the marks of suffering caused by separation, divorce and bereavement, and of “Rainbows for God’s children”, the ministry to children affected by divorce, separation or death.
This work with bereaved, divorced or separated people ran alongside Luke’s lifelong interest in the healing ministry, and there are very many who can bear testimony to Luke’s gift of healing, particularly for diseases of the skin.
In 1999 he was elected by his brothers to be provincial of St.Joseph’s Province. This was never a position or a responsibility that he would have looked for himself. But he responded to the call of the brethren, and in many ways it was a leaving of the familiar things and patterns of life for the sake of the Kingdom.
After serving his two terms as provincial, Luke was able to resume his life and ministry in Minsteracres. Then the call of the Brethren came again, and Luke went to the Parish of St.Anne and Blessed Dominic in Sutton where he had lived as a student in the 50s. This cannot by any means have been easy for him after so many years in rural Northumberland, but his years there were hardworking and happy.
When it became clear that the Passionists were going to leave Sutton, Luke returned to Minsteracres in 2004 and took up the duties of parish priest in 2009. He always maintained his special concern for the sick, and would visit the housebound regularly, latterly with the help of volunteer drivers.
His health needs gradually became more pressing and he moved into the care of the Sisters in Ebchester.
It was there, somehow fittingly on the Feast of the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael that Luke went gently into that good night, and I’m sure he heard the Lord’s greeting, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter the inheritance I have prepared for you”.
So the pattern of the hundredfold promise Jesus makes in the Gospel can be seen working its truth in Luke’s life and work. We could list the variety of his experiences, but it is more than a list, it is a life, a life that reveals the form the hundredfold promise of Jesus took: Luke’s life.