Interview with Fr. Richard McGrath, O.S.A.

Anne Russell: Hi. I'm Anne Russell from the Province Office, and I would like to thank Father Richard McGrath, who is President of Providence High School, and is also Superintendent of [Augustinian] Schools, for allowing us to interview him today. My first question to Father would be, what was it that called you to be an Augustinian?

Fr. Richard McGrath, O.S.A.: I was interested in the priesthood as a young child, and repeatedly served Mass very frequently when I was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. I think we started as early as fourth grade, as a matter of fact. I was attracted to the Church. The priests were good role models in those days, and were looked up to in the community. I wanted to do something different in my life. I didn't want to be like everybody else.

I had almost applied to Quigley Seminary when I was in elementary school, but then got cold feet, and changed that and went to Mendel High School. At Mendel Catholic High School, the Augustinians were running the place, as you know. They started talking to me about priesthood. Once, during senior year, a priest called me in and talked about it. I said I wasn't interested, but then I started thinking about it more and more. About six months later, I went back to see him and said, "I'd like to give it a try."

That's an odd story, in a way, but that is what happened. After high school, I went to summer school in Holland, Michigan for six weeks and then entered the novitiate in the fall of 1964.

Russell: Father, how long have you been an Augustinian priest now?

McGrath: About 150 years, I think, sometimes. No, actually, I have completed 41 years of priesthood. I'm headed toward 42. My anniversary is in March every year, March 23rd.

Russell: I know besides being the president of Providence, which you have been for quite a while, and also superintendent of the [Augustinian] schools, I know you taught school. Where did you teach at?

McGrath: I began teaching as a graduate student at Mendel. Theologians were stationed there from 1969 to 1971. I completed my graduate studies at Catholic Theological Union and was ordained in 1973. In 1973, I was first sent to St. Rita High School in Chicago, where I was from 1972 to 1979. I taught Religion and English there. I was the athletic director and assistant athletic director. I also coached freshman football for five years there.

I was able to get the job as principal at St. Edwards Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Illinois, in 1979. I went up there with permission of the Augustinians. I was on my own there. I was working at a diocesan high school, and was there from 1979 to 1983. When the new provincial was elected, he recalled me to St. Rita High School, where I was once again athletic director and teacher. I did that until I completed my doctorate in 1985 in January.

Then we began looking for another high school. As it was, we decided upon Providence Catholic here in New Lenox in 1985. I had to interview for the position four times, but I did get the job, and I've been here since 1985. This is my 30th year going into being Principal or Headmaster, head person at Providence Catholic.

Russell: Very good. My next question, Father, what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today? How are the Augustinians still relevant in today's society?

McGrath: The role today is similar to what it always has been, but it has certain, I think, certain greater clarity. The role is to provide leadership which is based in our faith, in our belief in Jesus Christ, but also to provide academic excellence and a great experience of faith community and kindness to all of our young people and their families. We strongly emphasize our values of truth, unity, and love in everything we do here at Providence Catholic and among the other high schools, which I'm connected to. That remains what we do. We teach people about Jesus Christ and how He can change their lives. That's our first and last mission, and I think it's quite relevant to a society today which doesn't have many values, and seems to be totally self-absorbed and self-centered.

Russell: Now that we know that you're at the high schools, how many years have you been superintendent of the high schools?

McGrath: Ma'am, that is a tricky question. I've been superintendent three different times in the last thirty years, to be honest with you. I've had a couple of terms under different provincials. I'm not sure which ones, to tell you the truth. When Father Brecht was provincial, he was superintendent the last time, so I wasn't. When Father Bernie was elected provincial four and a half years ago, then he asked me to be superintendent again, since I both have the license and the doctor's degree. I know it's been three different times.

Russell: Thank you. Our next question is, as you know, Continuing Our [Journey of Faith] capital campaign hopes to build a Father Ray Ryan trust for men in formation and vocations, and the Journey of a Lifetime Trust for the retired and infirm Augustinians. Why do you think this campaign is particularly important at this time?

McGrath: As I think everybody knows, the cost of healthcare is exorbitant and continues to rise annually. We have a number of elderly friars, excuse me, who need good medical attention and are receiving it. In order to do so, they're using much of our savings in doing so. The two trusts are set up to enable us to support both the sick and elderly, and the young men in formation on their training to the priesthood in the Augustinian life, so that we do not deplete all of our savings, but rather build up a corpus or a body in those endowments in order to use the interest from them and to help support the young men in graduate school and the elderly friars, wherever they may be.

It's important now, because many men have given their whole lives to the Order and now need the Order to take good care of them. That is what we need to do.

Russell: One of my other questions is, do you have any advice for those currently in formation, or those discerning a religious vocation?

McGrath: My advice would be to not hesitate, but rather to go wholeheartedly into that process, to see whether or not it's suitable for them. It's not obviously for everybody, but you cannot hold back. If you have the idea or the interest in giving yourself to the Church or to the Lord, don't be afraid to pursue it. Go after it and see how it fits. I did, and I haven't regretted it. I've been in there, now I'm closing in on 50 years professed. In another year, I'll be 50 years professed. I do know, I think I know what I'm talking about when I talk about making a commitment and staying with it.

Russell: My last question is, why should others go the extra mile to make a special gift to this capital campaign?

McGrath: I feel that the Augustinians have made significant difference in the lives of many people. I ask those folks to reflect on the influence of Augustinians and how they are better people or have been formed or have been directed at channeling their energies into productive areas because of the influence of the Augustinians. I think that there's many folks out there who are a lot better as people because of the Augustinians. I ask them to reflect on that, and see if they could give back to the Augustinians to help support us when we need their help.

Russell: Father, I wanted to thank you for taking the time this afternoon to answer these questions for me. Hope you have a wonderful the rest of your day. For other people who would like more information about the capital campaign, they can go to Thank you, and have a wonderful afternoon, Father McGrath.

McGrath: Thank you, Anne.

Russell: Bye-bye.

McGrath: Bye. 

Posted on November 19, 2014 and filed under Richard McGrath O.S.A..