Monsignor William T. McGuirl was one of the greatest church-builders in the history of the Diocese of Brooklyn when he died in 1933 as pastor of St. Joseph church on Pacific Street. But few now remember this capable cleric who in fact celebrated his first Mass in our parish church on April 3, 1885. In his priestly lifetime he erected five churches, a convent and two schools. Born in County Leitrim in Ireland, his family emigrated to Far Rockaway in 1863 when young William was four years of age. His father James opened a grocery store in the town. He had been one of the first six graduates at St. John’s College (later University) on Lewis Avenue in Brooklyn, and at his death his sister Mary bequeathed a scholarship to St. John’s University in his name. Young William then attended the seminary of Our Lady of the Angels in Niagara, and the Far Rockaway newspapers would report his occasional vacations at home with his family. He was the first one to celebrate Mass in what is now the parish of St. Sebastian in Woodside in 1894. In 1895 he became pastor of Visitation parish in Brooklyn, but after one year there, the church burned to the ground, leaving him the unenviable task of rebuilding. What he built there, however, is a gem of Gothic architecture. (An interesting point is that another son of St. Mary’s, Monsignor John Waldron, would be pastor of the Visitation from 1986 to 1998). Monsignor Mc Guirl also was responsible for the church buildings at St. Rita in Queens and St. Michael and St. Joseph in Brooklyn, as well as a new school at the latter. He served as police chaplain to the NYPD from 1906 until 1919, and was Vicar Forane in the diocese. Another claim to fame is that he sponsored the young Thomas E. Molloy to the seminary, who was to become Bishop of Brooklyn from 1921 to 1956. He was given a police inspector’s funeral to which over 1,500 people came. One of his obituaries noted the following:
The pastor of St. Joseph’s was a truly remarkable character, loved by his priests and revered by his people. He was a companion of the great and a true friend of the lowly. Fair and square in all his dealings, he played no favorites. He was a man of rigid honesty whose word was his bond. He was a tender, fatherly pastor to his flock and a forceful, energetic and withal prudent leader in civic affairs. He was a princely host and a clever toastmaster, renowned for his wit and humor. He was a very able preacher and a highly competent executive. He was a kind and generous patron of the poor. Monsignor William T. Mc Guirl is buried with other members of his family in our parish cemetery in Lawrence.