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Rev. Thomas P. McGourty, 81, a pillar of Niagara University for past 46 years April 25, 1926 -- July 15, 2007

The Rev. Thomas P. McGourty, a Vincentian priest who became an institution at Niagara University over the past 46 years, died Sunday in Buffalo General Hospital of complications from heart surgery. He was 81.

"He was one of the pillars of the university," said Brother Martin Schneider, a Vincentian Order colleague and friend, who noted Father McGourty served the school not only as a priest, but as an administrator and a teacher.

"He was an extremely warm, kind, generous person who was interested in people and always ready to go out of his way to help anyone. What was nice about him was he had a unique Irish witty streak in him. He's going to be very missed."

Sharon O. Watkinson, professor and chairwoman of the school's department of theater and fine arts, who had Father McGourty as a teacher in the 1960s, said, "He was an extraordinary human being. I would like to grow up to be just like him. He was into his 80s and never stopped learning or living life. He was planning his next cruise" before he died.

Watkinson knew Father McGourty well. "He was my Christian marriage teacher my senior year at Niagara. When I came back, he was my colleague and treated me like a professional from the get-go," she said.

A native of Boston, Father McGourty went to elementary and secondary schools in Boston and then entered St. Joseph's College in Princeton, N.J., a Vincentian seminary. He was ordained as a priest in 1953 after he had continued his studies at Mary Immaculate Seminary in Northampton, Pa.

He held a master's degree in guidance from St. John's University and a master's degree in religious education from the Catholic University of America. He was an instructor and guidance counselor at St. John's Preparatory School in Brooklyn from the time of his ordination until 1961, when he was assigned to Niagara University.

He served Niagara in many capacities over the years, initially as a campus minister, a religious studies teacher and as co-director of the orientation program for new students. Later, he was student a residence director, during which time he was instrumental in bringing about policy changes that encouraged more independence and responsibility among the student body.

In 1969, he was named school registrar and held that post for six years until he opted to be a full-time teacher in the religious studies department. He taught for 21 years, serving three times as department chairman. During that time, he helped develop a religious studies major and minor for lay people.

He also served over the years as a moderator of the university's club football team, ski club and glee club, and was moderator for the Class of 1970. He retired from full-time teaching in 1996, but continued teaching on a part-time basis while working in campus ministry.

He was honored twice by the university, receiving the President's Medal -- the university's highest honor -- in 1994 for his many contributions to academic and campus life, and, in 2003, the Medal of Honor for his long dedication to the school.

Father McGourty was a fan of the Boston Red Sox.

He is survived by a sister, Helen Murphy, and a brother, Paul.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Friday in Alumni Chapel on campus.

-- Paul Westmoore

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