Father James F. McNiff, MM
Born: April 4, 1917
Ordained: June 11, 1944
Died: December 19, 1987
Father James Francis McNiff died on December 19, 1987 in Clearwater, Florida.
James was born in Peabody, Massachusetts on April 4, 1917, son of James F. and Alicia Barry McNiff. He had 5 brothers and 2 sisters. His early schooling was in St. John’s Parochial School. He graduated from Peabody High School and then attended one year at Boston College. As a boy in grammar school he developed an interest in being a missioner while listening to the Sisters’ stories about the foreign missionaries in their community. He entered the Venard in 1936 and was ordained at Maryknoll on June 11, 1944.
Father McNiff’s first mission assignment was to Talca, Chile, where he engaged in pastoral and teaching work for 8 years. He was excellent in both spoken and written Spanish and served for two years as assistant Pastor in San Luis Cathedral, Talca. Next he was appointed Assistant Director and then Director of Fundacion Gonsalvez Correa, an agricultural school for poor boys in Molina. He taught there for 6 years. His superior wrote that “it is evident that he likes his work immensely… and that he is very well liked by the Chileans and admired for his intelligence.” After a visitation, the Superior General wrote: “Fr. McNiff is outstanding. I consider him perhaps the most outstanding man in Chile. He is inspiring in his work and in his outlook.” He was appointed 2nd Consultor to the Society Superior for a 3-year term in 1949. In March of 1953 he was appointed Group Superior of the Bolivian Dioceses and Local Superior of the Cochabamba House. While on furlough in 1954 he enrolled in an advanced course in Spanish and a special course for priests at the Staley College of the Spoken Word in Boston.
As Group Superior in Bolivia he gained the respect of fellow Maryknollers by being very solicitous of their needs and taking an interest in each man and his work. Father McNiff was elected Chapter Delegate for the South American Group at the 1956 Chapter. That same year he was reappointed Bolivian Group Superior. However, in 1957 he was transferred to the Venezuela Unit to work in Bogota with the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM). He was commissioned to set up national offices for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in each country of L.A. Before he began this work there was practically no organized catechetical apostolate in Latin America. When he turned his position over to Fr. John Gorham, the catechetical movement there was well established. He remained in that catechetical apostolate for 7 years.
While on a trip to Talca in 1963 he fell ill and soon returned to the States. During recuperation he as assigned in 1964 to the Faculty of the Hingham Novitiate, as assistant to the Novice Master. Two years later he went back to Venezuela and was assigned to serve as Executive Director of the Larrain Inter-American Center at the Catholic University in Puerto Rico. In May, 1968 he returned to Bogota to work in the Catechetical Office of CELAM. He returned to the States in 1969 to celebrate his 25th Anniversary of Ordination and to receive medical treatment. He also attended St. John’s U., Brooklyn, New York where he earned a Masters Degree in Sociology.
In June, 1977, while serving at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, S. Ozone Park, he again fell ill and after his recovery he was assigned to the U.S. Region in 1971. He served as Assistant Pastor at St. Pius V Parish, Lynn, Massachusetts and other parishes in the area for six years. Father James was enrolled in the Special Society Unit in June, 1977, with permission to do pastoral work in his home area near his family and friends. The last years of his 43 years of priesthood were spent in St.Thomas the Apostle Parish, Peabody, Massachusetts.
Wake Service, with body present, was held at St. Thomas Apostle Church in Peabody on Monday evening, December 21 with Mass the next day in the same place. Bishop John Rudin, his classmate, was principal Celebrant. All his family attended those services. Father’s body was brought to Maryknoll on Tuesday afternoon, with wake service in the evening and Mass of Christian Burial on the 23rd. Fr. Thomas McDermott gave the Homily and Fr. William Boteler was principal Celebrant. Graveside service conducted by Fr. Raphael Davila in the Maryknoll cemetery.