By Fr. David Purcell, C.Ss.R.
(A special thank-you to Virginia DeWitt and Fr. Mark Miller for their contributions to this article.)
Fr. Ralph McQuaid, C.Ss.R., was born on March 1, 1932, in Detroit, Michigan. He died at the age of 87. On Tuesday, the 29th of October 2019, Fr. Charles Duval led us in a Mass of the Resurrection in the presence of Fr. Ralph’s body.
I was saddened by his death and the paradox of his life. From 1977 through to 2006, he lived and worked primarily in New Brunswick where he was based in our community at St. Peter’s parish rectory, Saint John; and on Prince Edward Island, where he lived on his family homestead in Riverdale, and a couple of years at St. Mary’s parish in Souris. During that time, he preached in churches and gave workshops in communities about the need for respect for our Mother Earth, and he encouraged people to live a more simple lifestyle. Someone who was there in the 1980’s to hear his preaching, noticed that this message seemed to “go over people’s heads.”
The poignant paradox: Five years ago, Pope Francis wrote to us in “Praise to you, O Lord” – “Laudato Si” that Jesus taught us about his Father’s intimate relationship and loving union with all of nature, and that in turn we are called to imitate our Creator. Just a few weeks before Fr. Ralph died, there were climate strikes held throughout the world. We saw in Montreal for example, how hundreds of thousands of people brought the city to a pause. Free transportation was provided on the subway system as all the major downtown intersections were blocked by marchers. Because of his declining health in the last while, Fr. Ralph was unaware of all this awareness – this enthusiasm for promoting more care for our Mother Earth, that he had preached about so many years ago, is now being taken up by many.
I was also heartened and encouraged by what I learned at the celebration of his funeral. Fluent in German, Fr. Ralph was assigned to St. Patrick’s German parish, Toronto (1962-1969). And from 1969 to 1976 he worked in a special youth ministry, as director of the Young Catholic Workers in the Archdiocese of Toronto. At the funeral, I met people who had been helped to grow and remain steadfast in their Catholic faith through this ministry of Fr. Ralph. These people remembered attending socials and faith sharing groups for young adults that he had organized so many years ago.
One confrere who lived with Fr. Ralph told me this story. Fr. Clare had been a hard working missionary travelling all over the Maritimes to preach the Gospel, when suddenly disabled by a heart attack. This affected him so much that he was quite scared to leave the home of the Redemptorists in Saint John, New Brunswick. Fr. Ralph would go out of his way to take Fr. Clare for short trips in the car, for example, to pick up an artificial Christmas tree at the local hardware store.
Fr. Ralph loved to welcome people at his home in Riverdale, P.E.I. He belonged to the Queen’s county fiddlers and loved to share music with people in the area and also around the table in his home on P.E.I. This joy that he shared with people is certainly well remembered. On Saturday, Nov. 2nd, an almost-full church at St. Anne’s Parish in Emyvale, P.E.I., gathered to say farewell to Fr. Ralph McQuaid. The funeral Mass was presided by Fr. Mark Miller C.Ss.R., and attended by relatives of various degrees of closeness, and by people in the community. Numerous stories were shared about the goodness and kind-heartedness of Fr. Ralph as he shared baptisms, weddings, funerals and special events. One comment heard several times was that he had been a priest who was down to earth and close to people.
This ability to connect with people, in part, came from his initial education and his subsequent Redemptorist formation. His formative years immersed him in many diverse and multi-cultural experiences. As you may know, Fr. Ralph’s family left Detroit when he was six years old and moved to Riverdale, Prince Edward Island. There he began his education and then entered St. Mary’s College, Brockville from which he graduated in 1954. He made novitiate (1954-1955) at L’Abord-à-Plouffe, Quebec under Fr. Cornelius McElligott, and took first vows on September 15, 1955. He completed his undergraduate studies at St. Alphonsus seminary in Woodstock. He attended Holy Redeemer College, Windsor for one year of theology and then was sent to the Redemptorist seminary at Gars am Inn, Germany where he completed his theological studies. He was ordained as a priest, in Munich at the World Eucharistic Congress on August 4, 1960 by Bishop Antonio Macedo, C.Ss.R. from Brazil. Fr. McQuaid celebrated his first Mass in St. Alfons church in Wuerzburg, Germany, with Fr. Karl Schindler of St. Patrick’s, Toronto, assisting. Studying at St. Paul’s University, Ottawa, in the mid 1970’s, he earned a Master’s degree in pastoral counselling.
As mentioned, we began his farewell, in St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto. His body was brought to the church for public viewing in the late afternoon of Monday, October 28th and again the next morning, just before the Mass of Christian Burial. Fr. Ralph’s sister Justine, her husband Joe, their children Darcy and Dan; some cousins to Fr. Ralph; many friends and parishioners of St. Patrick; and many Redemptorist confreres, celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial. This was followed by a lunch that was served by members of the German community. After the Mass that was celebrated at St. Anne’s church, a few days later, Fr. Ralph was laid to rest beside his brother and in the home cemetery where his parents and many relatives and friends are buried. May he rest in peace.