IT WAS SAD DUTY for a priest.
The Rev. Neil J. McGettigan had the wrenching task of celebrating funeral Masses for seven of his siblings.
After presiding at the service for brother Donald in February 1999, having already buried two brothers and a sister, he said to the surviving two brothers and one sister: "Please take care of yourselves. I cannot face another time like this."
But he had to. His remaining four siblings died one after the other, and Neil was the celebrant at their funerals.
On Nov. 18, Neil Joseph McGettigan, the last of the nine children of Joseph McGettigan and the former Mary Quigley, died Nov. 18 at age 88.
Neil McGettigan, an Augustinian priest for 62 years, most recently taught English at Villanova University and was a resident of St. Thomas Monastery at Villanova, where he died.
Neil previously taught at Monsignor Bonner High School, now Monsignor Bonner and Archbishop Prendergast High School, in Drexel Hill, and at colleges in Ottawa; North Andover, Mass; Orlando, Fla.; and Troy, N.Y.
Neil also presided at numerous happy occasions involving his large family - weddings, baptisms and confirmations.
Kathy Krattenmaker, wife of Neil's nephew Michael McGettigan, insisted that it be known that her uncle "knew how to hold a baby."
Not surprising since, as a priest, Neil got to hold many a baby for baptisms.
But Kathy's reminder illustrated the family's knowledge that Neil was not only a priest who showed up to preside at ceremonies, but a man who took part in many of the ordinary activities of a crowded family.
Ruth McGettigan, 96, Michael's mother, said that Neil was expected to help out in all sorts of matters. "When I was getting ready to go to choose some furniture at a store downtown, Neil's mother said, 'Take Neil along. He knows.' "
She recalled how Neil was often called on to offer his wise counsel on problems and concerns of family members, spiritual and mundane.
He presided at those happy times "with authority and a quiet wit," Michael said. "His sermons nearly always mentioned love, and especially love of family, hardly surprising given the many nieces and nephews he helped raise."
Neil McGettigan was born the seventh of nine children. He attended St. Francis de Sales Parochial School and West Philadelphia Catholic High School. In 1945, he was admitted as a postulant to the Augustinian Academy in Staten Island, N.Y. He was received into the order as a novice on Sept. 9, 1946.
At the completion of his novitiate year at New Hamburg, N.Y., he professed first vows on Sept. 10, 1947. He then attended Villanova University and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy.
He then pursued theological studies at the Augustinian College in Washington, D.C., until 1954. He also earned a master's degree in English literature from the Catholic University of America.
Neil professed solemn vows on Sept. 10, 1950, and was ordained a priest on Sept. 8, 1953, at St. Thomas of Villanova Church by Cardinal John O'Hara, archbishop of Philadelphia.
After teaching for a year at Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, he was assigned to St. Joseph Friary in Drexel Hill and taught at Bonner High for the next nine years, until 1964. During that time, he pursued graduate studies in English literature at the University of Pennsylvania.
There followed teaching assignments in Massachusetts, Florida, Canada and New York. He received a master's degree in pastoral counseling from St. Paul University in Ottawa, and later a doctorate in pastoral counseling from the New York Theological Seminary.
Neil was the province's director of communications from 1988 to 1990, while serving as residence life minister at Villanova University.
One of Neil's brothers, John "Jack" McGettigan, was killed on Dec. 23, 1944, in World War II while flying a combat mission.
Neil presided at the funerals of siblings Thomas "Tuck" McGettigan, who died March 23, 1963; Gerard J., March 7, 1976; Agnes "Polly," Nov. 20, 1988; Donald F., Feb. 3, 1999; Mary "Molly," April 21, 2001; Joseph E., Jan. 2, 2007; and Richard J., March 21, 2012.
He is survived by nieces and nephews.
Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. today at St. Thomas of Villanova Church. A wake will begin at 9 a.m. Burial will be at the Augustinian plot at Calvary Cemetery, Conshohocken.