Interview with Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A.

Patrick Murphy: Hello everyone, this is Murphy. Today I have the pleasure of speaking with Bishop John McNabb. Bishop McNabb was the first Bishop of the Diocese of Chulucanas in Northern Peru, where he served there for many many years. Bishop McNabb right now is retired living in Rockford, Illinois. Bishop McNabb is also one of the attendees to the Second Vatican Council. Bishop McNabb, it's a pleasure to speak with you today.

Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A.: Thank you.

Murphy: One thing that I'd like to ask the Augustinians is, what was it that caused you to be an Augustinian, Bishop?

McNabb: I studied with them in St. Thomas High School here in Rockford, and I saw how they enjoyed one another. They had only one car, they didn't divide their classrooms. They came to enjoy one another, and I didn't want to live alone as a priest. The fact that these men taught us and cared for us, attracted me to consider entering their community.

Murphy: OK, so it was really their spirit, their friendship with each other and your experience at that high school then, am I correct?

McNabb: That's right.

Murphy: Well before you went off to Peru, which was most of your ministry, I know that you also served in a little bit of education, is that correct?

McNabb: I did.

Murphy: Where did you serve?

McNabb: I served 12 years at Mendel Catholic High School. My first assignment as my priest after my ordination. Then they asked me to start a school in St. Louis, Missouri. It probably was the hardest thing I did, because at that date we had nothing to begin with. We were going into a vacant building, old building. At any rate, we succeeded in opening it, and I think we had 10 or more successful years there educating the boys.

Murphy: That must be challenging to go into a place where you've got to start from the ground up. You know there's a need, but you have to start from the ground up. Was that the same scenario when you were assigned to Peru?

McNabb: Well I think my experience in St. Louis having nothing to begin with might have attracted them to consider me and send me to Peru. It probably was the closest thing in my life before I went to Peru to have nothing, and to build, and be creative in building something.

Murphy: Well in those experiences that you had, the many years that you served in Peru, and Augustinian Academy in St. Louis, and Mendel Catholic. I know you’ve had other ministries beyond that, but what would you say the role is of the Augustinian Order today, from your own experience?

McNabb: What's the question?

Murphy: What is the role of the Augustinian Order today, in today's society?

McNabb: Well I think the role of the Augustinians is what it's always been, to preach and live the Gospel, and attract people to the faith by personal commitment to the Church and to the doctrine of the Church, and to be a part of the environment that we find ourselves in, and to do the best we can to announce the Gospel more than ever by what we are and how we treat one another. I think that's been done.

Murphy: Yeah, and I think many people would agree that our society is becoming much more secular every day. For that reason, would you say that the Augustinians are still relevant, even in this secular society?

McNabb: Even more so, because they're more important. Being fewer men in the vocation of the Church today and in our country. It is a vocation that used to attract young people, and isn't so today because of the environment in which we live, which promotes personal advancement in education. By the time somebody starts college, they've pretty much decided what they're going to do with their life.

Murphy: Well since we're talking about vocations, one of the other things I wanted to talk about today was the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign, and one of the causes in that campaign is to build funds for the Father Ray Ryan Trust, which is the fund for vocations and formation. Would you say that building that trust is particularly important at this time?

McNabb: I think it is, not only for the Order of Saint Augustine, it's for the Church that they serve.

Murphy: The other trust, as you know, is the Journey of a Lifetime Trust, and that's to care for the retired Augustinians. Do you think that that is also important right now?

McNabb: Well of course it is, I wouldn't be able to live where I am, and to enjoy the retirement of my years of work in Peru, which were 36 years. When I came back, for the first time in my life I was assigned a parish to work in in 4 years. I think it's most important the vocations of the priests in our day, and we need to understand that there's so many other things. Interesting people, young people at that age, to distract them from perhaps a calling to the priesthood or the religious life.

Murphy: There is one other thing as well, since we're talking about vocations and the Father Ray Ryan Trust. I think it's safe to say that you knew Father Ray Ryan well, correct?

McNabb: He was a personal friend of mine, yes.

Murphy: Well for those people that might not have had the opportunity to meet him while he was still alive, do you think it's relevant that the trust for vocations was named after Father Ray?

McNabb: Well I didn't have anything to do with that, but I am glad the name is attached to that important work now, yes.

Murphy: Well do you have, as a Bishop of the Church, do you have any advice for anybody that might be listening that is discerning a religious vocation?

McNabb: Well I think it calls for people that prayed about their future, and deciding, looking for help to make the decision about their future. In the world in what they live is so demanding of time of a person, it seems to me that people need perhaps to take time out. Even a weekend retreat is confine. Could be helpful, but it certainly is not a vocation. People were expected to consider one time more than they are now, and yet it's the vocation that is responsible for people in the religious life and the priesthood to set an example of how important it is to be of the mind of Christ.  After all, no matter how long we live, what matters is how we live it, and how we've considered the message of Jesus Christ and helped to promote it.

Murphy: Bishop I know that you've been a huge promoter of vocations, not only in the U.S., but particularly in Peru. Do you know by any chance offhand how many men you've ordained to the priesthood?

McNabb: 90.

Murphy: 90 men? Wow.

McNabb: No that's including Augustinians in the States, down in Peru in includes Franciscans as well as diocesans and the Augustinians in Peru.

Murphy: I know that our current Prior Provincial, Father Bernie Sienna, he often speaks quite fondly about you, because I know that you ordained him as well.

McNabb: That's right.

Murphy: He has some good stories about what was it, a rag that you gave him as a gift?

McNabb: Oh yeah, that's something I never did. I only did it once, and I don't know why it moved me to do it on that occasion, but I had a dish towel embroidered with their names, the date of the ordination I think, and wrapped beautifully by somebody. I presented that to them as a sign of what they were entering into, a service to others. I think Bernie and all the other men, Tom McCarthy particularly, Tom McCarthy still uses it. He tells me. In his retreats, he pulls it out and shows it to people. It must be pretty old by now.

Murphy: Oh really. Oh wow wow, well you know, I think that the message of Augustinians being of service really comes across. Many of our listeners don't also know that Bishop McNabb has a book of memoirs called, Led Where I Did Not Plan to Go, correct Bishop?

McNabb: That's right.

Murphy: I know that that took some time to write as well, didn't it?

McNabb: Pardon?

Murphy: That took a lot of effort and a lot of time to write, correct?

McNabb: Well I had a monthly newsletter from our benefactors, and I followed that pretty much in writing. It took a couple years to put it together because I couldn't stay with it. I had a good secretary who would translate what I left on the disk of my recollections.

Murphy: Well it's a great insight into your service as an Augustinian, and as a Bishop, and as a missionary. All those things that have--to where you're called. Like, you said, you were called to St. Louis when there was pretty much nothing there, and then you were called to Peru to help build a diocese, that's no small task.

McNabb: There wasn't much there either.

Murphy: Well the last question I have here, Bishop, is:  going back to the campaign, the Continuing Our Journey of Faith campaign, that helps to support the vocations and the retired Augustinians. Why should others make the extra mile to make a special gift to the campaign?

McNabb: Well, everybody's called as the doctrine of the Vatican II indicates, to participate actively in the work of evangelization, not to be just a spectator. Part of that is the work of the Church, and the work that the Augustinians do is part of that work of evangelization. I don't think anybody to be free of accepting the obligation to support the means by which evangelization is done, it's done by men and sacrifices by people supporting them in their education and later on in their vocation to serve the Church, and to serve the religious life.  Samples of what can be done when one does without forgetting about self enough to know that it's all the religious life or priesthood to do something tremendous that Christ had done for us, and to try to live up to that example of giving our self to others in his name, and helping his teaching to be spread.

Murphy: Thank you very much, Bishop, that's very well put. We all have a call to action on this planet, and I think you articulated it very well. Well, if there's, if anybody wants to know more about the campaign, there's plenty information here at, or you can contact campaign director Michael Gerrity at 773-595-4035. Bishop McNabb, thank you again, it's been an honor as always to speak with you, it's been a delight.

McNabb: OK, have a good day. Thank you.

Posted on October 31, 2014 and filed under John McNabb O.S.A..