Fr. Tom McCarthy Returns to Helm of Vocations Outreach

This post originally appeared in the Fall/Winter Special Issue of "The Midwest Augustinian"



For those of you who have followed the rise in Augustinian vocations over the past decade, we have what should be welcome news. Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A. has now been reappointed to the position of Provincial Vocations Director, which he previously held for nine extremely fruitful years. Fr. Richie Mercado, O.S.A., who has held the position since July 2017, will focus on his ministry as Province Secretary and continue to study towards his Licentiate in Canon Law.


Fr. Tom still resides at the Augustinian Community at Marylake Shrine in Ontario, while he works through the central Augustinian Vocations Office based at Villanova University. He is always on the move, of course, touring the country giving his renowned parish retreats, celebrating weddings, and making appeals on behalf of our Peruvian missions.


We were excited to meet up with Fr. Tom on one of his stops through Chicago and ask him about his approach to vocation work and his hopes for the future of the Order.


What forms of outreach have been most effective for you as vocation director?


I think the key to vocation work is in encounter, invitation, and welcoming. Not just me as vocation director. I should be just the one who helps coordinate it, but the local friars, our lay collaborators, and our lay friends, they are all serving as vocations outreach. There’s the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s the same with vocations. Yes, I am the face of vocations outreach. I am the one who will be out meeting people one-on-one; however, the main way people come to us is through the website, where they come to our website and choose to give their information to us. That’s probably the most serious of candidates, because they found us. Often, they find us through their interest in St. Augustine. They read The Confessions and they do some searching, and they find there's an Order of Saint Augustine. When it comes to social media context, that’s the best. Then we get inquiries through VisionMatch.com. It’s like those dating match sites, you fill out a survey, and you see who you're compatible with.


Then they also come through the personal encounters of friars and the lay people who know and love us. Here is a perfect example: I had a referral from one of our benefactors about a young man who was his caddie and was interested in joining religious life. An alum is out golfing, and he’s talking with a young man, and suddenly he becomes an advocate for us. But imagine if every parishioner did that, if every parishioner looked at people they know, their children, their grandchildren, the neighbor down the street, even our young people, our students.


What do you think are the differences now, in terms of how vocations are coming in, versus when you came in 30 years ago?


I think when I came in, everything was pretty much what I would call “cookie-cutter.” You came in, you went through a pre-novitiate program. In our case it was a fouryear program. Then it started going into a one- or two-year program. And then everyone was kind of the same. They came. They knew their faith. Where now, people are coming in, and do they all do the same formational things? Yeah. But everyone is different. Cookie cutter is smashed. We threw it out. We sold it at a garage sale. You can’t do it anymore. Augustine, in the rule, talks about each according to his need. And every single person that comes in is unique. They’re unique in their educational background. They’re unique in their situation of where . . . their work experience. They’re unique in their ages, unique in the cultural background.


If a man contacts the Augustinians, what are you looking for in your first conversation with him?


I'm looking for someone who I feel is authentic. A lot of times people are nervous. They don't know what to do. Sometimes I'm the first vocation director they’ve spoken to. Some of them have opened to many. Not everyone who comes, not everyone who’s recommended to us, is a fit. I must see whether there is a comfort level. I ask myself two questions. One, would I let this man minister to my mother? And two, would I want to live with them? Now that doesn't mean every single person I encounter, we become best of friends. In religious life, you're not best friends with everyone, but you’re a brother in community. I don’t want to get clones of Tom McCarthy. It’s a matter of saying, I know the Province, would he work? Would he fit in? And you know what I’ve learned, you can’t change people. You can change some outward . . . We can teach table manners. But you can’t teach or change someone who has a deep-seeded issue or way of doing things.


People like our parishioners and donors they only know the men I bring in. Who you never know are the ones to whom I have said “No” to. Nobody knows those. Over the nine years that I did this, nobody knows the people I said “No” to. If you wanted, we could fill our houses. But then you're going to have people that just don't fit. I tell the candidates, I say, “I’m here to walk with you. That’s my role.”


What do you find are the most common hesitancies men have that may hold them back from beginning formation?


We have a fear of commitment in today’s culture. There’s this overarch attitude that says, “If this doesn’t work out, I can change to something else.” People choose to live with each other before marriage and think, “Well, we’ll test it out. And if it doesn’t work out, I can get out.” So, I always tell people, don’t think you’re starting a six, seven, eight-year commitment. Commit for one year. Break everything down into one year. If you’re going to join, join for one year. And experience the year. Live it out. If it is good at the end of that year, you discern, should I do another year? Or is it time to maybe discern out. So, I always say, “Look at it in pockets of a year.”


But there’s also the problems with the church, and some of the scandals. And now that issue I think is brought up more by the family members of a young man, and not necessarily the young man. I always look at the church as local. Yes, we have the scandal, but if I personally have had good experiences with church, with priests and religious lay ministers, that’s going to be more of a focus for me than what I read in the news. The cover-ups have been horrible. I'm not trying to, in any way, whitewash it. But it’s amazing, even considering these, that people are still saying, “Well that’s not my experience.”


View the original article here.