Just before Mass at St Mary of the Angels on a Wednesday night in 1974, I first met George and Leslie McGirr. The time and place were fitting because, as I was to learn, Leslie always had a deep love for the liturgy and whenever possible she was at daily Mass.
It’s hard to talk about Leslie without also speaking about George. They were in the first Catholic Charismatic Prayer Group in Wellington. At that time they were also a big part of an unofficial ground roots ecumenism which included people from mainline churches, evangelicals and pentecostals. Some of their Catholic associates were concerned about this and they asked Father Eddie Condra if the pair were likely to leave the Church.
‘George and Leslie leave the Church?’ he replied. ‘The Pope himself will leave before George and Leslie do.’ They were radical Catholics.
The McGirrs had a well developed social conscience. In the early 1970s they were managing a post release hostel for men just out of prison. Some time in late 1975, they agreed after much prayer that George should take a reduced salary in the IRD so they could transfer to Nelson to work for Catholic Social Services. Their brief was to look after Garindale, a home for dysfunctional family members. In early 1979, no longer at Garindale, they launched the Light of Christ Covenant Community. Their primary concern was to foster family life but from the start they took a strong practical stance on justice issues. The unborn child was a major concern.
Many men and women who give themselves to the social gospel become solemn and look grim. I suppose it happens because they are deeply affected by the needless poverty and pain they witness in their struggle against injustice. Leslie was never like that. She always radiated joy.
For years George and Leslie invested a lot of time in people who sought their advice and prayer. On a few occasions, when I happened to be around, and always with the client’s approval, I joined them for these sessions. Leslie always amazed me because of her sensitivity, her insight into human nature, her discerning of spirits, her wisdom and her commonsense. She was perceptive. She was a down-to-earth, straight-from-the-shoulder, no-nonsense kind of personal qualities that didn’t endear her to some.
Leslie was renowned for her hospitality, for being extremely generous, and for her keen sense of humour, for her forebearance towards those who injured her, let her down, or were ungrateful. She readily forgave and made excuses for those who hurt her. All this was a spin-off of her love for life and her love for people. At times the love she expressed to others was tough love and this wasn’t always understood or appreciated. Yet another side of this remarkable lady was her gifting as an organiser and administrator seen best publicly in the national charismatic conferences held in Nelson, healing services hosted by the Light of Christ, and the term she spent on the national service group of Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
In the context of organisation and administration she often challenged people to act beyond what they thought were their limits. As far as I know she never erred when she issued these challenges although she did have some of us sweating at times.
Leslie was a prophetic kind of person, like Deborah going off to do battle against evil or Miriam supporting those in authority; like Huldah, wise and perceptive. Since she lived the life of a prophet, may she now enjoy a prophet’s reward.
And John Rea says a post-mortem on Leslie McGirr showed no trace of the cancer with which she was diagnosed.