By Amy Rabideau Silvers
Posted: Nov. 18, 2009
Before John D. MacGillis became a father - the biological kind - he was a Catholic brother working in Peru.
"He was with the Marianists religious order for about 15 years and had taken vows of celibacy and poverty," said his son, Alex MacGillis. "He met a woman who was a Canadian and was working there as a nurse."
When she left Peru to return home, they began corresponding, writing letters for several years.
"And he fell in love with her," their son said.
In 1968, MacGillis was released from his religious vows, marrying the former Louisette Poulin the next year. She died in 1975, following the birth of their third son.
MacGillis raised his young sons and kept working for Milwaukee Public Schools, teaching the Spanish he honed as a brother in Peru.
He died Saturday of complications of heart disease. MacGillis was 75.
The youngest of five children, MacGillis grew up in Milwaukee, graduating from the old Don Bosco High School.
"He was an outstanding athlete," said one of his brothers, also named Alex MacGillis. "He was a popular guy, but humble as well."
Inspired by the Marianists at Don Bosco, he entered the order and the religious life right after high school. He continued his education, including a master's in Latin American studies and work toward a doctorate.
MacGillis first taught in Lima, Peru, then helped to establish a new school in northern Peru. He received training in basic medical work, helping at a summer clinic in the Andes Mountains.
That was where he met his future wife, a nurse who was a lay missionary, in 1961, brother Alex said.
"She was one of 17 children," he said. They married and settled in his hometown.
In the late 1960s, there was a certain stigma to leaving the religious life and starting over. Someone with one company even told MacGillis that he lacked stability because he had left the order, according to his brother.
In 1969, MacGillis began teaching with the Milwaukee schools. He taught for more than 25 years, last at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts.
"Students from both his Peru years and his Milwaukee years stayed in contact with him," son Alex said.
MacGillis also found love again. Years after his wife's death, he married the former Marguerite Ceolla.
"She, too, was a nurse like my mother, and formerly a nun," his son said.
MacGillis remained a man of faith, active with St. Mary's Catholic Faith Community in Hales Corners, including on the church council. He was long involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, even serving as a volunteer manager for local stores.
"He believed in charity and forgiveness and humility," his son said. "And he was non-materialistic, probably from life as a monk."
In addition to his wife, son and brother, survivors include sons James and Pierre; sister Mary Capelli; brother Paul; and grandson Ian.
Funeral services were held Tuesday.