Brother Stephen was born and baptized William Joseph Maguire, Jr., the second of six children born to Martha Kelly Maguire and William J. Maguire. A few years after his birth in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the family moved to Northern Virginia. Br. Stephen grew up in Falls Church. When he was the Abbey’s Bakery Manager, I remember him recalling the house he grew up in; it was a rainy day, as he reminisced, a light rain pattering on the metal roof of the Bakery. That reminded him of the metal roof back home and the comforting feel of being able to read a book to the gentle drumming above. From Falls Church he went on to education with the Jesuits at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC. After he graduated he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1948 and was honorably discharged in 1952.
The next step in his journey was spending three semesters at Georgetown University (Washington, DC) in the School of Foreign Affairs. As Br. Steve might have punned, his interests became really foreign at that point and he pursued the less conventional path of priestly ordination, joining for a while the Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut where he studied for two years. In those years seminaries had the regularity and self-enclosed atmosphere of a monastery and there he felt called to the Trappist life. He came to Holy Cross Abbey in 1962 and there he settled for the rest of his years. In the transition, he was satisfied with the simple alteration of manual work and prayer choosing the brothers vocation. He never seemed to mention the priesthood thereafter.
Following the normal procedures of the Novitiate and years in simple profession when the Abbey was at the peak of its population, Br. Stephen had some colorful stories to tell later, related to his particular needs. At that time, before we had individual rooms, the monks slept in dormitories, each “cell” being a partitioned cubicle–not unlike the precarious privacy of office cubicles. Br. Stephen talked in his sleep; for the well being of others he was directed to sleep in the novitiate. I don’t know whether he also suffered from allergies (ah! life in the country!) but he is the monk who described to me the special dormitory for those who suffered hay fever and a few colorful stories related to those accommodations. He was always keen on a story with some comedy in it!
Past that stage, he was eventually appointed Bakery Manager, a job which he held for fifteen years. From the time when he entered, he saw fruit cake baking (the cakes were sold in the monastery’s miniscule Porter’s Lodge) disappear as an industry but remain as a one-bake event in November. Those cakes were used as gifts for benefactors and to provide three cakes for each member of the monastic community to mail out as Christmas gifts. But before he ended his tenure in the Bakery, he saw the industry revived as a source of income to replace gradually bread baking.
When Fr. Mark Delery was Abbot, a new Retreat House was built and soon after it was opened, Br. Stephen became the Guest Master in 1986. Anyone who knows Br. Stephen, knows that he did not come out of a cookie cutter but was a unique character with a style all his own. I remember his habit on the evening of the Fourth of July to climb a ladder to the Bakery roof and from there watch the fireworks display from the direction of Winchester. The rest of us were in our beds conserving our energies for Vigils. I recall him saying once that when the fireworks ended the show put on by the fireflies was even more spectacular. He enjoyed science fiction and Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz was a favorite he read again and again. He was always the person to ask about which bright planet was appearing near the horizon at sunrise or sunset and I’m pretty sure that he hoped to spot a UFO some day. In some ways, Br. Stephen was my living link with the free-wheeling Celtic monks of yore. And it was precisely those unique, independent–dare I say non-Trappist?–qualities that made him an unparalleled Guest Master at our Retreat House. His quiet manner, unrushed style, gentle wit and corny humor was a breath of fresh air and helped many a retreatant to enter into the quiet and peace of the place and the serenity of a silent retreat. The testimony of many whose lives were deepened through contact with him is impressive.
Suffering a number of ailments and, eventually, battling dementia, Br. Stephen had to retire as Guest Master after some twenty years in the job. Though he could be stubborn and display a temper, even in a disoriented sate, he became amiable and co-operative. When someone else might feel panic, Br. Steve remained calm and witty when he could no longer remember his name. Finally in 2009, needing care around the clock, he retired to Carroll Manor on the campus of Providence Hospital in North East Washing, DC; even there, it is said, he sometimes believed that he was at Holy Cross Abbey Retreat House, greeting his neighbors as newly arrived retreatants…More recently, Brother had been bedridden and he peacefully slipped away this past Tuesday.
Abbot Robert described Brother’s decline in the past weeks as his “going home to God” which struck a personal note for me. In the solemn profession ceremony, after a monk professes his vows, he is greeted by each monk in seniority, from Abbot on down. The newly professed monk is supposed to ask the prayers of each community member, but usually they are busy congratulating the newly professed. When I made my solemn profession, it was Br. Steven who came to me and said, “Welcome home!” It couldn’t have been said better. And I imagine that is how the good Lord is greeting him now.
His remains will be received by the community at a short ceremony this Monday, 1 June, at 8:30 AM. A Vigil of Psalmody will be prayed over him by two individuals in thirty minute watches. Friends and neighbors of the Abbey are warmly invited to join the monks in these prayers for Br. Stephen. The Psalms will conclude at 1:55 PM, and the Mass of the Resurrection will be celebrated at 2:00 PM by Abbot Robert. We expect the burial to begin around 3:30 PM in the monastic Cemetery east of the monastery (not the green Cemetery by the front gate).