When Brother Raymond Meagher, F.S.C, Ph.D., passed away on July 18, Manhattan College was overwhelmed by its loss. Although we may not witness such an emphatically compassionate and lighthearted figure again, there are aspects of his humanity that we ought to preserve.
As their grieving wanes, students and friends honor his memory by celebrating and continuing the values for which he stood.
Born on Oct. 21, 1942, Meagher was raised in the East Bronx by his parents, Jeremiah Meagher, a New York City police officer, and Ann Carney Meagher, a stay-at-home mom. He had two brothers, Donald and Stephen.
As a one-income family, they struggled to make ends meet, but Meagher was the first in his family to attend college. As a young adult, he decided to become a Christian Brother, a capacity in which he would serve for 55 years.
Brother Brian Carty, F.S.C, who spoke at Meagher’s funeral service on Saturday, reminisced on their 60 year friendship, which began when they were just teenagers.
“The Brother Ray you all knew was the same one that I got to know sixty years ago. Of all of the things I could say about Ray, let me share with you the one aspect of Ray that I believe truly defined him and made him the person we came to know and love,” Carty said. “Ray was a fierce competitor, so losing was not an option.”
He reflected on their years in college when the two of them, both biology majors, would challenge each other academically and engage in friendly rivalry over who was the better student. This competitive nature also translated to Meagher’s athletic life as well. In basketball, Carty recalls how Meagher was “all over the court, seemingly inexhaustible”, how he played three-wall hand ball “ferociously” and how he excelled on the football team as a fullback.
“This quality of hating to lose and never giving up defined him,” he said.
After college, he and Meagher would remain companions, both of them hoping to become Christian brothers, both of their careers parallelling each other’s.
Meagher earned his master’s degree in counseling psychology at New York University in 1971, and later attended Columbia University where he received a master’s in social work in 1978. Carty points out that Meagher earned both of these degrees while working full time, a feat which he attributes to his unflinching determination to do his best.
As Meagher’s career unfolded, he would serve at a variety of schools and organizations, including St. Peter’s High School on Staten Island, a residential treatment center at Lincoln Hall in Westchester County, and St. Raymond’s Parish in the Bronx, where he started the Family Outreach Program.
In a 2015 interview with The Quadrangle, Meagher spoke about his assignments as a brother and said, “I loved everywhere I went. I never wanted to leave.”
His Ph.D. in educational leadership from St. John’s University in 1996 accredited him, as Carty puts it, “to have an even greater impact on the world by allowing him to train the people who would be the next generation of caretakers.”
“If someone needed him, he was there. He couldn’t say ‘no’ to anyone who needed him. He set a high standard for himself,” said Carty. “He tried to take care of everyone else. He just forgot to take care of himself.”
Carty urged listeners to carry out the memory and legacy of Brother Ray, too: “The story of Brother Raymond needs to be told and each of us here is a story-teller. […] Let the world know that there are people who truly care about others and who dedicate their lives in humble service to God, and to the people for whom God asked them to care. That is how we change the world.”
Meagher taught at MC for 24 years, retiring only two months ago at the age of 74. For 10 years, he was the advisor of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honors society for educators which hosted events at the college such as Safe Halloween, and Winter Wonderland, inviting hundreds of students from local schools to participate. They also traveled to Africa, Palestine, Turkey, Spain, and Italy, to help families and children in need.
Brother Ray was popular for his very festive classrooms, which were filled with odd but comforting objects. Beach balls and hula hoops were sprinkled about the floor. Butterflies hung from the ceiling. Where there weren’t lobsters, elephants, and teddy bears hanging on the wall, there was some kind of inspirational or enlightening quote. Meagher would sit behind his untidied desk, which was home to his well-known ear sculpture.
“The amazing thing is he made sense of all of this,” said Brother Dennis Lee, F.S.C., in a speech following Carty’s.
“Twice a year, I looked forward to hearing from him. Christmas greetings, which would usually arrive in late January, and his graduation message to recent Manhattan graduates, which usually arrived sometime in June. This year, it came in July. I received that message this past Sunday, the day before he was hospitalized.”
“He wrote about his captivation with trapeze artists, who must let go of one trapeze bar, for another one that is swinging towards him, and he asks the graduates if they are ready to let go, and grab the new bar that is coming their way,” he said.
Meagher’s random, whimsical approach to life is also admired by his students. Faith LaRock, a sophomore education major, took Meagher’s class as a freshman.
“We are all crazy. Anybody who has taken any of Brother Ray’s classes will know how much he loved that phrase. Brother Ray was one of the professors that truly embodied our education department. Entering Manhattan College, he had a personal mission to touch hearts, challenge minds, and help transform lives; all of which he achieved, especially for me,” LaRock said.
LaRock acknowledges that Meagher’s very unique teaching methods helped bring her out of her shell.
“As someone who was always shy and extremely self-conscious, I normally remain quiet in a classroom. However, in Brother Ray’s class that was nearly impossible. He encouraged the participation of all his students and made it a goal to make every student feel special. Rather than using textbooks and flow charts to teach lessons, Brother Ray used weekly demos and told daily stories to teach unforgettable life lessons,” she said.
LaRock also treasured Meagher’s ability to teach complex life lessons in simple ways.
“Throughout the sixteen-week semester, he was able to instill the importance of knowing, believing, and loving yourself to all his students. Starting from the first week of class, he used a U.S.A puzzle to represent how, just like each state, each student in a classroom is unique and has something different to bring both into a classroom and to the world. Brother Ray’s demo using a three-dollar puzzle helped me realize that I am more important to a classroom then I think,” she said.
Meagher was skilled at pinpointing the invaluable qualities that were exclusive to each of his students, perhaps even before they recognized them on their own.
“He emphasized how each student is unique and brings a little color to a classroom in their own way, helping me realize how I should let my color shine. For the majority of the semester, we would start each class by standing up and saying ‘I am awesome. I am amazing. I am great,’ allowing us to remind ourselves that we need to recognize our own importance and embrace our greatness,” LaRock said.
Meagher was also famous for incorporating his life motto into his class: “MOOMBA”, which means “let’s get together and have fun” and gave out MOOMBA bracelets to every class.
“Brother Ray wanted all his students to have their own celebrations each day. The three MOOMBAs written on the bracelet each represent the celebrations of life, learning, and community. He stressed to his classes that we need to acknowledge how important our lives, education, friends and families are,” LaRock said.
As an ode to Meagher, LaRock is committed to making her future students feel as amazing as he made his feel.
Carly Telesca, a current education student, refers to Meagher as “one of the kindest souls I’ve ever known.”
“Brother Ray exemplified everything a teacher should be. There was not one day I went to his class where it felt like work, and yet he taught me more about teaching, learning, loving, and living than anyone ever has,” Telesca said.
In the days following Meagher’s passing, an outpouring of heartfelt posts about him from students and colleagues flooded social media.
“The immense sadness at his passing speaks to the immense happiness he brought to the lives of so many people. However, no words could ever truly do justice to just how amazing it was to be a part of one of Brother Ray’s classes, and having the chance was truly a gift. I’ve said before that every single person at Manhattan should have to take a class with Brother Ray, regardless of their major, because every single person could benefit from his wisdom,” Telesca said.
Telesca was apprehensive prior to taking Meagher’s class, but that soon changed.
“When I heard about all the sharing and personal components his class entailed, I thought I would hate it. However, what I soon learned was that I don’t think there is a person in this world who could feel afraid to open up to Brother Ray,” she said.
What made it so easy for even the most quiet students to communicate with Meagher and with each other was, Telesca says, the fact that he cared so much.
“He made it his job to be involved in the lives of every single one of his students and he cared in a way that was so genuine it made me feel sorry for every single person that hadn’t met him. His impact on my life and the lives of so many people stretches far beyond the classroom. Every moment I spent with him this past semester was a constant reminder that I am in the right place,” she said.
Having Meagher as a professor also made Telesca even more passionate about becoming an educator herself.
“The best part about being a teacher is knowing that the little time you spend with someone can positively impact them for the rest of their lives, and that is exactly what I hope to do. If I could influence even one of my future students the way that Brother Ray has influenced hundreds, then my goal will have been accomplished,” Telesca said.
R.J. Liberto, a 2016 education graduate who spent last year teaching social studies in the Bronx, reflected on Meagher’s devotion to his students.
“Brother Ray was a really great educator and truly loved doing it with all his heart. He tried to instill the passion he had for his students in his students. The best thing I’ll take away from his class was the Beauty Prayer: ‘There is beauty above me, there is beauty below me, there is beauty in front of me, there is beauty behind me, there is beauty to my left, there is beauty to my right. There is beauty all around me, forever.’ He was a sweet guy,” said Liberto.
Seema Shah, an education major, also spoke about Meagher’s inspirational persona.
“As a professor, Brother Ray changed lives. He taught you to not only love the profession of education but to love yourself. There has never been a teacher that emphasized the importance of mental health and positivity as much as he did,” said Shah.
Shah highlights Brother Ray’s impact as well, affirming that “because of him, there are now hundreds of phenomenal teachers. His students were lucky to have a professor like him, because they know what a great teacher is truly like.”
When Shah envisions herself as a teacher someday, she is comforted by the thought of Brother Ray: “I don’t know much right now, but I do know that I will always have an angel watching over my future classroom.”
Megan Heaney, who graduated in May, said that Meagher effectively created a loving, supportive atmosphere in his class, despite students being from different schools, majors, or class standings.
“Once we knew each other’s stories, we couldn’t not like one another and form a community. One of his teachings that will stay with me is that it is proven that most, if not all of what you worry about, never comes true. He wanted everyone to be there for one another and always live in the moment, and not worry about things that will never come true,” Heaney said.
Heaney also shares her favorite memory of Meagher.
“He was such a loved professor because he would do anything for anyone at any time. This past semester Brother Ray came out to Horan Hall to help me with an R.A. [Resident Assistant] program about diversity late at night. Even though it was late for him, he knew it would be the time when most students could show up and the program would be the most effective,” she said.
Meagher also befriended students who never even took his classes. 2017 graduate Dorian Persaud met Meagher on the first day of his freshman year. What connected the two was that Persaud had attended St. Raymonds High School in the Bronx, where Meagher had once served as principal for 12 years.
“I was completely lost in what seemed like a huge campus, and he made sure I knew where everything was when I ran into him,” he said. After this, the two would meet up occasionally.
“He would give me guidance, or I’d talk to him about what was going on in my life and he was always willing to listen without judgement. He was part of my inspiration for running for student body president last year,” Persaud said.
Diana Boyadjian ’17, remembers stories and lessons that Meagher shared with her.
“He was an incredible professor who made every single student in the classroom feel special every single day. Each story he shared with us always had a very important lesson behind it. He didn’t teach us from a textbook, but instead from his heart,” she said.
There is no doubt that Meagher was aware of the beauty of life, and worked hard to impart this awareness on his students. Boyadjian expresses that he helped students see the beauty of “life, others, and ourselves” and that she hopes to do the same in her own classroom someday.
“He taught us how to come together to make not only our future classrooms a better place but instead the world as a whole a better place. One of my favorite poems that Brother Ray introduced in one of his classes I had with him was ‘I’ve Learned’ by Omer B. Washington, that I still keep a copy of in my desk drawer today. It is a beautiful poem that is a list of all the different experiences we have in our lives and what we learn from them,” Boyadjian said.
The poem that Boyadjian mentions seems to echo the exact message of learning and loving that Meagher taught.
Its first two lines read,
“I’ve learned that you cannot make someone love you.
All you can do is be someone who can be loved.”
And Brother Ray was loved.