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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.)
Fessio, now an editor at Ignatius Press, a San Francisco–based publishing house, said in an interview that he didn't know about the skeletons in McGuire's closet back then. But once McGuire moved to San Francisco and began teaching freshman seminars in ancient Greek literature and history, it didn't take long for Fessio to notice that his new colleague had a dark side.
"He loved the classics, and he communicated that to the kids. That was the positive side," Fessio said. "There was a negative side. He seemed like he had to have people around him. He needed to have an audience. ... For all of us, our failings are pretty well interwoven in our personalities. There was a talent, but it was kind of a dangerous talent, and I was always a little bit reserved toward it."
McGuire was mercurial, quick to turn on colleagues or friends, and inclined to nurse grudges. He was also prone to bragging — even about his own piety. "Joe, I can pray circles around you," Fessio recalled McGuire once saying to him. "It was a weird claim."
Father Cornelius Buckley, a former history teacher at the St. Ignatius Institute, said he was troubled by the strangely intense attachments McGuire cultivated among select groups of students. (In contrast to his strained relations with other teachers, McGuire was always wildly popular with those enrolled in his classes, former colleagues say.) Those students who followed the Greek professor's banner "seemed to be more involved with him than they were with the program," Buckley recalled in a telephone interview from Santa Paula, Calif., where he is now chaplain at Thomas Aquinas College.
McGuire taught at the St. Ignatius Institute for four years. Jesuit records from that period show that Buckley wasn't the only one vexed by McGuire's closeness to his students. Father Alfred Naucke, an official at the California Jesuit Province, said his office's files on McGuire indicate that USF officials frowned upon the priest's practice of inviting students into his private room. (Those students were most likely boys, since women would not have been permitted to enter the university's Jesuit residences.)
In May 1981, then-USF Dean David Harnett wrote a letter to California provincial officials, obtained by SF Weekly, explaining that McGuire would not be rehired for the following academic year. Among the reasons Harnett cited for the priest's sacking were "highly questionable acts on his part" and "interactions with a student." Reached by telephone in Philadelphia, where he now lives in retirement, Harnett said he did not recall the letter or the circumstances of McGuire's departure. Father Joseph Angilella, academic vice-president of the university at the time, declined to comment on McGuire's firing or whether it was linked to incidents of abuse involving USF students. "It's unfortunate you have that letter, but I'm not going to add to it," he said. "This material is confidential in terms of the decision that was made. I assure you that nothing that happened during these times has anything to do with the present legal matters that are happening in the Midwest."
Doe 129's attorneys plan to depose California Jesuits, including some formerly associated with USF. However, university records — as opposed to those kept by the California Province — illuminate almost nothing about McGuire's time as a professor in San Francisco. Apparently, that's because they no longer exist. When Doe 129's lawyers requested the school's personnel records on the priest from the four years he taught at the St. Ignatius Institute, they were told that the file on one of the church's most notorious predators had been thrown out.
In an e-mail response to questions about McGuire from SF Weekly, USF spokesman Gary McDonald offered this explanation: "USF retains employee records for seven years after an employee leaves the university, and USF has few employee records dating back 30 years, including those of Donald McGuire."
McGuire's ouster from the university's St. Ignatius Institute did not signal the end of his career. Far from it. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, he took up the life of an itinerant spiritual adviser. Based at a Jesuit residence in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, McGuire trotted the globe, leading the Ignatian spiritual retreats that had become the hallmark of his ministry. The retreats typically involved daylong prayer and ritual interspersed with talks from a priest. During these trips, observers say, McGuire was often accompanied by teenage male attendants who he said helped him manage his diabetes.