NEW YORK —The Rev. George J. McMahon, S.J., affectionately known to generations of alumni, students and staff as “Father Fordham,” died Wed., Nov. 30 of heart failure after a long illness. He was 82.“Father McMahon was a great educator, a compassionate dean and a wise and visionary vice president,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University. “Above all else, however, he was an exemplary priest and model Jesuit who touched the hearts of all students and alumni whose lives he shaped. Fordham is the poorer for his loss but immensely rich because of his legacy of care and concern.”
In a biographical report that all faculty and administrators are asked to complete, Father McMahon once described his areas of expertise as paratus ad omnia, which can be loosely translated as “ready for anything.”
During his distinguished, 40-year tenure at Fordham University, Father McMahon served as dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill from 1962 to 1974, vice president for administration from 1975 to 1987, vice president of Lincoln Center from 1987 to 1995, and alumni chaplain from 1995 to 2002.
He was also one of the great benefactors of the Fordham University Band, and became a familiar figure in New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, each year leading the Fordham contingent up Fifth Avenue.
Through his many professional roles, Father McMahon was known for his legacy of cura personalis, the Jesuit care of the individual, not only for students, faculty and staff while they were at Fordham, but in many instances throughout their lives: he performed countless weddings, baptisms and funerals for members of the Fordham family.
“Service,” Father McMahon has said, “is the rent we pay for our space on earth.”
Fordham University presented Father McMahon with an honorary degree in 1998, citing his dedication and commitment to students and alumni. The Lincoln Center campus’ first residence hall on West 60th Street is named for him.
A consummate New Yorker, Father McMahon was born in Harlem on June 20, 1923, and attended St. Margaret Mary grammar school in the Bronx and Xavier High School in Manhattan. He began his career in education in the late 1940s as a physics and Latin teacher at Regis High School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He also taught philosophy and served as assistant dean at
Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City prior to joining Fordham in 1962.
His appointment as vice president of Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus proved to be a good fit, and Father McMahon brought his usual exuberance to the position.
“My read of Lincoln Center was that people come here from all walks, working people, people with families,” Father McMahon said. He enjoyed walking through the lobby of the Lowenstein Building as students who attended school after work came into the building.
“I would look at these students and think, ‘These escalators are the only free ride they get,’ “ he said. “It lifts you, you know? The variety of people who come in and out of that building – it’s extraordinary.”
Father McMahon held a B.A. and M.A. from Woodstock College, an M.A. from Fordham University, and a Ph.D. from Laval University, Canada. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1940 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1953.
Father McMahon is survived by his brother, Joseph McMahon of Wayne, New Jersey, and by nieces and nephews. Condolences may be sent c/o Fordham University Office of Alumni Relations, 113 West 60 Street, New York, NY 10023.
Gifts in memory of Father McMahon may be made to the Rev. George J. McMahon, S.J., Endowed Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support to Fordham University students who demonstrate both exceptional academic merit and financial need. Members of the Fordham College Class of 1966 and other friends of Father McMahon established the scholarship fund in 1990. Checks may be sent to Heather Malin, Fordham University, Office of Development, 113 West 60th Street, New York, NY 10023.