Fr John Santos Gaynor SAC
Nov 1, 1905 - July 10, 1963
Argentinian Pallottine John Santos Gaynor sac was descended from the Co. Westmeath Gaynors who, in the 1800’s, engaged in dairy farming, sheep-rearing, and the growing of wheat and oats. During the Great Famine of 1847 the Gaynors provided thirty people a day with milk and oatmeal.
Thomas Gaynor, John’s grandfather, is believed to have emigrated to Argentina circa 1849. News had come that one could quickly become prosperous in that country by raising sheep. An additional reason was Thomas’s youthful flirtation with an anti-establishment agrarian society through which he had come to the attention of the authorities. After his arrival in Buenos Aires Thomas found employment in the sheep trade. He married Mary Murray, the niece of his employer. They had only one child, Miguel, John Gaynor’s father
John was born in San Andrés de Giles on 1 November 1905. Following private tuition at home, he was later educated in Mercedes [Argentina], Thurles [Ireland] and Rome, being ordained in the Eternal City on 1 November 1928.
Appointed back to Rawson in 1929, he immediately saw the need for Irish-Argentinian vocations to the priesthood. He extended the presbytery and turned it into the Pallottine Preparatory School. Soon he had a little company around him. His teaching and training of the young boys he recruited eventually resulted in the ordination some years later of several Irish-Argentine priests.
Transferred to Suipacha and later to Belgrano he continued submitting articles to “The Southern Cross”, becoming its editor in 1939. Fluent in Spanish, English, and Italian, he preached and lectured in various places on a wide variety of subjects.
The Argentine National Government decided in 1951 to allow religious instruction in state-run schools. In 1953 Fr Gaynor was given the post of National Inspector of Religious Education, causing him to travel continuously to various parts of the Republic.
In 1954 the Perón administration suppressed religious education in state schools and put an end to state subsidies for private (mainly Catholic) schools. Although he knew that it would probably mean his own imprisonment, John Santos did not hesitate to strongly condemn Perón’s attitude from the pulpit. He was now a marked man and he had to go into hiding for a time. In the rounding up and imprisonment of priests, which took place a short time afterwards, Fr Gaynor, though sought by the police, managed to evade arrest for a brief time until the coup of 1955 in which Perón was overthrown. After the coup he never took up a government position again but continued to preach, teach, and give lectures.
Gaynor was a born archivist. During his four years (1959-63) as a General Consultor in Rome he searched about in old archives, typing in his San Silvestro room in the early morning, then off to the Generalate to begin his day’s work as a Consultor. Returning he would often go seeking further information in some library or archive or bookstall. He wrote a history of the English-speaking Pallottines and memoirs of the priests and brothers who had fashioned the Society and the Irish Province. He collected old books relevant to Pallottine history and had them bound. Having given a retreat to the priests of the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly in July 1963, he died suddenly in Dublin on the 10th of that month.
A genius, he successfully married his Irish background to his Argentinian culture. The totality of his work will never be known; in another place this writer has listed seventy books and publications written by him. John Gaynor is remembered for his great humility – a kindly, simple, unassuming priest who never boasted about himself but delighted in giving all glory and honour to God.
Fr Donal McCarthy SAC [IRE] – Thurles – IRELAND