Two decades ago, an 11-year-old boy from the Bay Area was honored with an invitation most devout Catholics would envy. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize for her work among the developing world's poor, was celebrating Mass at her order's convent in Noe Valley. The ceremony was part of a retreat led by one of the famed humanitarian nun's close spiritual advisers, a Jesuit priest and former University of San Francisco professor named Donald McGuire.
It was at McGuire's bidding that the 11-year-old came to serve as an altar boy that morning at St. Paul's Convent, a boxy building of yellow stucco that rises from a tree-lined block near the intersection of 29th and Church streets. (The convent houses local novices in the international Missionaries of Charity order, founded by Mother Teresa in 1950.) The priest was close to the boy's family: He had baptized the boy, and offered his mother spiritual and psychological counseling over the years. Indeed, within church circles, McGuire was something of a celebrity himself.
Steeped, as are all Jesuits, in the cerebral traditions of Catholicism, McGuire dazzled his many admirers with his command of ancient history and literature. He could speak eloquently about philosophy and theology, and deployed his rhetoric to powerful effect during multiday religious seminars based on the teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits' founder. He had silvering brown hair and a round, red Irish face that often creased into a puckish smile. He liked to give advice. And he liked to hear confession.
On that morning almost 20 years ago, however, McGuire's interests were more profane than sacred. Following a morning Mass, he asked the boy to retire with him to a private chamber reserved for the priest at the convent. While the nuns and Mother Teresa milled about, McGuire closed the door to his room and asked his favored altar boy to join him, in his cot, for a nap. The boy lay down. The priest lay on the outside of the narrow bed and then reached across the boy's body and into his pants.
So said the boy in a recent interview with SF Weekly. Now 30, he is suing the Jesuits for turning a blind eye to McGuire's repeated acts of child molestation. His lawsuit was filed this winter in Cook County, Ill., home of the Chicago Province of the Jesuits, where McGuire kept his primary residence.
The boy — who is identified in court documents only as John Doe 129, and requested that SF Weekly not publish his name or hometown to spare him the stigma attached to childhood sexual abuse — is accusing the Chicago Province of negligence and fraud in failing to keep McGuire away from children. He and his attorneys allege that over a period of about 10 years beginning in 1988, McGuire forced the boy to massage the priest's genitals and watch him masturbate, among other acts of abuse.
Doe 129 is not the first to accuse McGuire, now an ailing 79-year-old, of such misdeeds. In 2006, the priest was convicted in a Wisconsin court of molesting two teenage boys he had taught decades earlier at a prominent Jesuit high school in the Midwest. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Illinois sentenced McGuire to 25 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of traveling abroad with a teenage boy to sexually abuse him. (For his part, McGuire still insists he is innocent and has appealed his latest conviction.)
While the federal case rested on molestation charges involving only one boy, investigators believed McGuire had abused dozens during his career. In fact, Jesuit leaders first received complaints about the priest in 1969, although he was not officially defrocked until last year. Some of the ex-priest's alleged victims — many of them now grown men — and their family members were permitted to address U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer during his sentencing hearing. Their statements, not surprisingly, were emotionally charged. The Arizona father of two boys McGuire allegedly molested said he would like to hand down his own sentence on the ex-priest using a baseball bat.
One of those who traveled to Chicago to speak out was the mother of the altar boy allegedly molested at the Missionaries of Charity convent in San Francisco. "I told the judge that I thought that he deserved the maximum sentence," she said. "Even we, as adults, couldn't stand up to someone who was Mother Teresa's confessor. Can you imagine children that have no voice?"
Doe 129's lawsuit is just one of multiple pending civil cases against McGuire nationwide. But it is the first to draw attention to the strong San Francisco ties of the man who is arguably the most prominent convicted child abuser in the Jesuits' 470-year history. Interviews with McGuire's former colleagues, associates, and admirers cast light on the pivotal phases of his life that took place in this city — it was in San Francisco that he began his working relationship with Mother Teresa — and suggest that the disgraced ex-priest committed acts of abuse here for which neither he nor his superiors have ever been held to account.
In 1976, Father Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit instructor at the University of San Francisco, was busy recruiting students and professors for a new classics program. Called the St. Ignatius Institute, it would focus on a traditional "great books" curriculum, functioning as an autonomous college within the university. As he organized the institute, Fessio got a call from a well-known Jesuit teacher from the Midwest who was interested in joining. His name was Donald McGuire.
Fessio had heard of McGuire. By reputation, he was "very dynamic" and "a very exciting teacher," Fessio recalls, known for his orthodoxy and loyalty to the church. The truth, as documents unearthed in McGuire's subsequent criminal and civil cases would later reveal, was more complicated. As a matter of fact, at the time he came to USF, McGuire's Midwestern superiors had already received complaints that he had sexually molested two boys at Loyola Academy, a Jesuit high school in Illinois. (The same incidents eventually led to McGuire's first criminal conviction in 2006.)