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.)
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.
It was during this time that McGuire first met Mother Teresa. Fessio said he introduced the pair after the nun had asked him during a visit to San Francisco to recommend a priest who could lead retreats for the nuns of her order. Despite the two men's prickly relationship while academic colleagues in the late 1970s, Fessio suggested she seek out McGuire.
From the beginning, Fessio said, Mother Teresa's opinion of McGuire was “very high.” Though he was probably not — as he liked to boast — her most esteemed spiritual adviser and confessor, observers of the pair agree that she respected McGuire, and would occasionally confess her sins to him.
Judie Hockel and her husband, Jack, often hosted McGuire's retreats in Northern California at their Walnut Creek home. The couple met him through their oldest son, who was a student at USF during McGuire's time there. (On his subsequent trips to the Bay Area, McGuire often stayed at a house attached to a Carmelite monastery adjacent to the USF campus.) Even now, Judie Hockel, 70, finds it hard to reconcile McGuire's charisma and intellectual heft with his acts of abuse.
“Everything seemed to combine together to give him a really superhuman ability — it probably was superhuman; Satan is pure intelligence, and maybe that's where it came from — to make you feel that you were liked by God, that you were worthy of being loved by God, that Christ was calling you to be closer to him,” she said. “Catholicism is an adult religion. I certainly would not want to deny the significance of faith, but a lot of times people need a grasp of the rational thought. They're not getting the depth or the richness of Catholicism from the pulpit these days, and Donald McGuire filled that need in many people's lives.”
In contrast to other Jesuits, who tend to occupy the liberal end of the Catholic spectrum on political and cultural issues, McGuire was a staunch conservative on doctrinal questions, including those involving gender and sexuality. Brigid Crotty, a 40-year-old Napa resident whose family became close to McGuire in the 1980s, recalled that the priest demanded that women wear long skirts in his presence.
Looking back, Hockel said she could pick out “red flags” that signaled an unstable personality. “There was always a chaos that surrounded his presence,” she said. Meetings started late; appointments were not kept; people were made to wait, or to indulge McGuire's eccentricities. He was something of a control freak, forcing his hosts to cater to strict demands regarding his schedule, accommodations, and diet.
“He always wanted a salad with his meal,” Hockel said. “He always wanted four ounces of fresh-squeezed orange juice. I can't believe every time he came I actually made an effort to squeeze orange juice. You look back …” She paused. “I think deep down inside he enjoyed the coronation that we laypeople gave him, because we felt so lucky that we had this time with this brilliant, devout prophet.”
It was this later phase of McGuire's life, as a traveling Jesuit guru, that federal authorities investigated as they built their case against him. They discovered that the priest, while he preached the virtues of intensely orthodox Catholicism to his followers, was subverting the traditions of his calling in startling ways. According to a sentencing memorandum filed by federal prosecutors after McGuire's conviction, one of his primary means of “grooming” young abuse victims was the ritual of confession.
For example, when the primary victim in the case confessed to McGuire at the age of 13 that he masturbated, McGuire “seized on it” and said the boy had an “addiction” that could send him to hell, according to court documents. He then demanded to “inspect” the boy's penis using a magnifying glass and baby oil.
Doe 129 said he was never abused in the confessional. But he does recall other strange twists on McGuire's vocational interests. During a visit to the Jesuit residence in Evanston, Doe 129 said, McGuire began masturbating in front of him in a private upstairs room. The classics scholar had allegedly preceded this exhibition with a discourse on how gay sex was a common practice among the ancient Greeks.
There is reason to believe that Doe 129 was not McGuire's sole local victim during his post-USF decades of world travel. A colleague of McGuire's within the church said in a recent interview that he received a complaint from a Bay Area family that McGuire was molesting their teenage son in the years after the priest left the university. The church official, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from his superiors, said he had passed the complaint on to McGuire's Jesuit higher-ups. (Doe 129 confirmed that he was not the complainant.)
Likewise, Crotty said her father, Fran Crotty, a former administrator at a North Bay Catholic school, was informed “in no uncertain terms” sometime in the last few years by a local man that McGuire had abused his son in the past. Reached by telephone, Fran Crotty declined to comment. “I'm not at liberty to discuss anything concerning McGuire,” he said.
Stephen Komie, McGuire's Chicago-based lawyer, said in an interview that his client continues to maintain that the allegations leveled at him are lies intended to wring money from the church — and that his criminal convictions are simply by-products of accusations that drove the civil suits against him. “Father McGuire has always said that these are stories made up for the financial benefit of the persons who are bringing the case,” Komie said.
It is true that the interplay among abuse victims, private attorneys, and law-enforcement officials in McGuire's case has at times been complicated. The victim whose complaint led to McGuire's federal conviction — his identity was withheld during the trial, and he is named in court records only as Dominick — originally consulted a private attorney known for representing plaintiffs in priest-pedophilia civil suits in Southern California. That attorney's name is Kevin McGuire, and he is Donald McGuire's nephew.
Kevin McGuire said he urged Dominick to take his allegations to federal authorities, and accompanied him to the U.S. Attorney's office on the day he filed a complaint. “I traveled in the same Catholic circles that a lot of these same victims traveled in,” he said. “I realized it was my obligation to turn my uncle in. I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do.”
Kevin McGuire is also representing Doe 129, who claims he is motivated by desire to hold the priest's superiors to account, rather than the prospect of financial gain. The litigation “certainly hasn't made my life any easier, and it's certainly not fun, and I certainly question whether there's any justice that can be done,” said Doe 129, who still lives in the Bay Area. “I'm just really disgusted and furious about the fact that they knew about this for so goddamn long, and didn't do anything about it. If you had a carpet-cleaning business and a guy was a rapist, you wouldn't let him out and about working for you.”
In response to questions from SF Weekly about Doe 129's lawsuit, Chicago Jesuit Provincial Edward Schmidt (the regional head of his order) said in a statement that the province was “aware” of the suit. “Because this matter involves a court action, we do not plan to make any further comment about these particular allegations at this time,” he said.
Kevin McGuire said his uncle's time as a professor in San Francisco, and his later trips to the Bay Area and around the world, were encouraged by superiors as a “pass-the-trash” strategy to keep the predator priest far from his home base. “USF was a place where the Chicago Province sent Father McGuire to get him the hell out of their hair,” he said. “That's why this guy was allowed to roam around the country. They wanted him everywhere but Chicago.”
And he said that while there's no evidence Mother Teresa herself was consciously covering up for the priest whose piety she admired, the nun, who died in 1997, should have known something wasn't right.
“I think Mother Teresa had plenty of evidence in front of her that something was wrong,” Kevin McGuire said. “When you see Father McGuire seven to nine times a year at your retreat houses or nunneries around the world, and he's constantly with teenage boys who are essentially his slaves, and to have these boys in your bedroom — yeah, I think that's plenty of notice to anyone with oxygen in your brain. I don't care how holy you think your confessor is. Something's wrong.”
While Doe 129's lawsuit moves forward in Illinois, McGuire, who according to his lawyer is legally blind and suffers from diabetes, has begun serving his 25-year prison sentence at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. His federal conviction is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. (In May, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals denied his request for a new trial in that state related to his earlier abuse charges.) Absent a successful appeal, Komie said, his client “is not going to survive this prison sentence.”
As the disgraced priest faces his earthly end, he has resolutely declined to embrace a concept at the very core of Catholicism: repentance. McGuire, the great confessor, has never admitted guilt in any of the instances of abuse for which he stands accused or convicted. He has also taken what could be interpreted as a less-than-Christian stance toward the victims who have chosen to speak against him.
“I want my accusers to be sentenced,” he said during the postconviction phase of his first trial in Wisconsin in 2006. McGuire took advantage of his opportunity to address the judge prior to sentencing to profess his innocence in a rambling soliloquy in which he compared himself to Socrates, St. Thomas More, and Jesus. “I am humbled when I think of the company of saints I'm called to join here,” he said, according to a trial transcript.
Earlier that day, McGuire said, he had meditated on his life. “I plead with the Holy Spirit to enlighten me, show me, in what way am I not living truthfully,” he said. He added that he had resolved “to be more truthful, more like Jesus. I don't know how other people live, but that's the only way I can live.” He continued, “Your Honor, I did all of this with the image of Christ crucified before me. I've never been closer to the crucified Christ, never in my life. It's a terrible experience, but it's glorious.”