Less than five years after leaving the priesthood, he'd managed to purchase a house, get married and have three children.....
The Sydney-born McGirr says he's not quite sure what drew him to the priesthood, straight from school, in 1980.
''It was an impulsive thing. My father died at the end of September and I joined in the following February. It was a difficult time in my life and I suppose I was very vulnerable. I'm just glad I didn't join anything destructive.''
He spent 14 years training, then seven years as an ordained priest working in the Melbourne-based Jesuit Publications, including editing Australian Catholic and publishing Eureka Street magazine.
For a priest who loved English and writing, it was a dream job. But, at the end of 2000, McGirr left the Jesuits.
''I was nearly 40, I loved the work, I loved the community but I just wanted a nest,'' he says. ''One of the things about being a Jesuit is you go anywhere they send you ... But I knew that for my own wellbeing I needed to be with someone. I had to follow that inner voice.''
His friends in the order seemed relieved he'd chosen to leave. '
'They said: 'We're very fond of you but we can see you've been struggling with this for a long time.'''
He has not, however, abandoned the church altogether; his job for the past three years has been head of faith and mission at a private Melbourne boys' secondary school. It's priestly work - but he's not allowed to say the Mass for the boys, a church rule he describes as ''incomprehensible".
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