Mass of installation Father John McCartney signs an oath of fidelity during his installation Mass as pastor of St. Matthew Church, Dix Hills, Nov. 19, 2006.
When I moved to St. John's Parish, seven years ago, Fr. McCartney was just beginning his priesthood. He told this story of how he answered the call to become a priest.
The only son of a doctor, John McCartney had a promising future. His law degree had led him to the coveted position at a Park Avenue law firm, where he stood poised to take over when the senior partner retired, every lawyer's dream. His heart was restless, however, as St. Augustine said, "our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee". His search to deepen his Catholic faith led John to the stately old churches in Manhattan, and to Catholic bookstores.
Once, while reading the back of the famous conversion story of Thomas Merton, "The Seven Storey Mountain", the words jumped off the page at him, startling him, " a successful young man in Manhattan, with the world at his feet, leaves everything to find his vocation as a monk". He dropped the book, and began walking quickly away, with the Hound of Heaven at his heels, till his walk led him to the East River at the UN building, where he could run no longer. Always the lawyer, he decided to negotiate with God, "All right, Lord, I'll consider the priesthood for one month only, if I haven't decided by then, I won't be a priest.
And so, the Park Avenue lawyer left it all to become a priest. What surprised Fr.John the most was his family's lack of surprise at his radical decision to leave a life that so many would envy. "We always knew you had a vocation," said his father."then why didn't you tell me?" an amazed Fr. McCartney asked, "we didn't want you to feel pressured", his father replied.
The seminary was in a terrible state when Father entered. Those seminarians who were traditionally inclined were persecuted, and forced to pray the rosary in secret. They were considered repressed and rigid, and the professors tried to force them to accept aberrant theology or risk being expelled. But Father McCartney stood strong, thanks to like-minded fellow seminarians and Irene, the local Catholic bookstore owner, whom some call the "Mother Superior of the Seminary". She heard their horror stories, and encouraged them to pray and never give up hope. The Church on Long Island owes so much to her support of these men during the dark days of confusion and crazy liberal theologies after Vatican II.
Monsignor McDonald, my pastor at St. John's at the time, saw the potential of Fr. McCartney, and requested that, after his ordination, he be assigned to his parish. He hired a bus and brought his parishioners to Fr. McCartney's ordination, and acted as a mentor as a truly amazing priesthood began.
Father took us homeschoolers under his wing, saying First Friday Mass and Benediction especially for us, always fascinating the children with his stories of the saints. My post on Blessed Miguel Pro is based on his homily for the Feast of Christ the King. Father understood the power of visuals to bring a point home, and his impressive collection of saint's relics and photographs of his travels to Rome enhanced his powerful homilies. He recommended good books for spiritual reading, and led many groups in the parish to spiritual growth. Once, at the youth Mass, Father told a lovely story of how a baby was saved from abortion by Mother Teresa. To his surprise, he received a standing ovation from the young people. Another time,he bravely gave the only homily I have ever heard a priest give about the Church's teaching against artificial contraception. He told the above stories about his trials in the seminary, and about his call to the priesthood. He never shied away from speaking the truth with love.
Was Father rejected for his refreshing honesty and dedication to preaching the beautiful truths of our Catholic Faith? Was he mocked for his reverence saying Holy Mass? NO, he was beloved far and wide in our parish and well beyond.
Fr. McCartney served as the chaplain for the burgeoning order the Sisters of Life, started in New York City by the late Cardinal O'Connor. People from far and wide travelled to St. John's to hear his homilies and to go to confession to him. My daughters Isabella and Gabriela received his gentle advice in their first Confessions, and he said a beautiful Mass in Spanish for my Bilingual
catechism class where Isabella's received her First Holy Communion.
When I was still in the hospital after giving birth to Christina, my little one with Down Syndrome, Father McCartney called, giving me the phone number of Marge Peters, a loving mom of ten children whose youngest, Christa, has Downs as well. Our conversation was so helpful at allaying my fears of what the future held, that I asked Father to Baptize Christina.
He is sorely missed at St. John's, but a great new day has dawned for him as pastor of St. Matthew's. He can truly shine there, teaching the youth and old alike the timeless truths of the Faith, by his outstanding homilies and reverent Masses.
Godspeed, Father McCarntney, we are praying for you!
St. Francis Xavier,great missionary of the Church, whose feast we celebrate, pray for him.
A Postscript about the Seminary. Since Fr. McCartney's ordination, Bishop Murphy was installed and wisely chose as seminary rector Monsignor McDonald, who has cast out those who teach contrary to Catholic Doctrine, encouraged the seminarians adoration of the Holy Eucharist, and Marian devotion. He is responsible for 7 seminarians entering, and will bring about a new Golden Age in our diocese. But that's another story. . .