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  • Writer's pictureAugustinian Vocations

Building a Culture of Vocation: Father Tom's Interview on Relevant Radio

On Friday, July 29, 2016, our Vocations Director Father Tom McCarthy, O.S.A., was interviewed on Relevant Radio. He discussed his work on parish retreats and missions, his "Culture of Vocation," and the professions of 11 men joining the Augustinian Order. This audio and transcript used with permission from the Morning Air Program of Relevant Radio.

Relevant Radio: Well, we talked about New Evangelization that was begun by St. John Paul II, we talked about New Evangelization. Here's somebody who is really the face of New Evangelization, it's Father Tom McCarthy, a brand new voice here on Morning Air on Relevant Radio. He's a very experienced teacher and retreat director, and he does a lot of parish missions all over the country.

Father Tom entered the Midwest province of the Augustinian Order in 1987, and made his solemn vows as a friar in 1993, ordained to the priesthood in 1994. He is currently assigned to Villanova University. Good morning. In Philadelphia, where he is the vocation director for the Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians, and we say he is the face of New Evangelization because, you have a real touch, thanks be to the Holy Spirit, to get vocations and to inspire young people at retreats, Father Tom. It is a joy to have you on. Welcome to Morning Air.

Fr. Tom: Good morning, John, thank you for having me.

Relevant Radio: There also has to be something in the water in Philadelphia, because yesterday we had, we were talking about vocations in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and we had Bishop Senior on from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. He's expecting an incoming class of seventeen young men, it's that vocation boom in Philadelphia, but let's talk a little bit about your mission work and your vocation work. You have been out there all over the country, just inspiring so many souls, and an interesting fact that I'd like you to share, that is something that's going to happen on Sunday.

Fr. Tom: That's right, John. We will be professing our first class of eleven novices for the three provinces in United States, and we have not done this in over forty years.

Relevant Radio: Thanks be to God.

Fr. Tom: Amen. Amen. I couldn't agree more. We are just so excited, and really, it's just been something we've been trying to do is, just promote our culture of vocation among young people, among everyone we minister to, among anyone we encounter, to say, "How are all of us promoting vocation? To the married life, the single life, the religious life, and priesthood."

Relevant Radio: You're planting those seeds by going into a lot of grade schools and high schools, and now, also, in the collegiate level, right, Father Tom?

Fr. Tom: That's correct. Yes. Through confirmation retreats, through confirmation talks with parents, with sponsors, with confirmandi, parish missions, I've now been doing them. I've done them now on five college campuses. At first, I was a little nervous. Would a parish mission model that I do on a parish work on a college campus? It's been unbelievably successful.

Relevant Radio: What happens in that model?

Fr. Tom: Well, what I do is I go in and I preach at all the Masses on the weekend, and then do three nights on a topic. I usually start with the seven sacraments, the basis of our faith. It's just been absolutely phenomenal. You know, I tell people, "Expect to be surprised with God." That's why I'm never surprised, because I know it's coming.

The Holy Spirit is just alive, and people are just hungering, they're hungering to hear our faith, the beauty of the faith, the beauty of the sacraments, and for many people, just the whole idea of not getting catechized. This is just a great way of giving them our faith in an everyday manner. How do the sacraments affect us every day? It's not something that's out there, but it's something that I can actually live in my life.

Relevant Radio: Father Tom, we always talk about hope. Where we, in fact, hoping for hope, especially when you look at the news headlines over the last six weeks, where that's really the thread for many of us, is hope. Do you find when you go on a college campus to do a mission, that those young men and women who are coming to see you are looking for that hope, are looking for something? God is calling them way in the distant part of their life, calling them to become more involved in who they are as people and as Catholics.

Fr. Tom: I would agree, a hundred percent. Most of them would not know anything about what a parish mission is. A lot of them wouldn't know what a retreat is, and they certainly don't know who I am. That's why the encounter through the Sunday Eucharist, through the homily of really inviting them, and also, I'd like to say knock them in between the eyes with great love. Get them there. You've got to give them something that attracts them, that will catch their attention, and say, "Yeah, this is going to be worth my while to come." Then, you let the Holy Spirit take over.

Relevant Radio: Are they devoid of love?

Fr. Tom: I think some could be, yes.

Relevant Radio: Or do they have a secular image of what love is, and not ...

Fr. Tom: Oh, well, definitely, definitely, definitely the secular. Yes. I think these young people are just thirsting and hungry. No one's been more surprised than me, even though I say I'm expecting to be surprised, but never in my life did I think I'd ever go this route. That's the beauty of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit just guides us, but we have to be open. If we're not open to accepting, or if we think we know it all, or we have our plan, you know the old saying, "Tell God your plans, he'll get a good laugh."

Relevant Radio: It's so true.

Fr. Tom: Yeah. That's in my own ministry as an Augustinian. Never in my life did I think I'd be doing parish missions, although our Augustinian, my Augustinian brothers have had a long tradition of doing this, but I never thought I would do it. You know, vocation director, never in my life. I'd say, "Oh my goodness, I don't want to do that." I'd get people tell me I'm the vocation director, they say, "Oh, my condolences." I said, "Well, no condolences needed, because I'm as happy as can be. I think I have one of the best jobs in the province." I get to talk all day about what I love.

Relevant Radio: You know, it's interesting that you mention that. I've shared this story with my spiritual director, where I keep saying, "I feel like I'm ready to go to the next lev- there's something there." He just, "Whoa, slow down just a minute here." He said, "Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait." He said, "Now, look at it this way. Look at it this way. Would you want the Holy Spirit to come in this room right now? Holy Spirit's with us, but would you want the Holy Spirit to appear and just kind of unroll something, and just say, 'All right, John. Here's the rest of your life.' You don't want that."

Fr. Tom: That's right.

Relevant Radio: He said, "God is a God of surprises. Just relax, trust in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will take you there." I guess we're all control freaks to a degree.

Fr. Tom: Yeah.

Relevant Radio: Where we just say, "Okay, well, show it to me now, God. I'll be a good steward of every, for the rest of my life. Just show it to me now, and I'll just take out little bits and pieces every single day."

Fr. Tom: Yeah.

Relevant Radio: It doesn't work that way.

Fr. Tom: "If I don't like what you show me, I'll change it to the way I want it."

Relevant Radio: Yes, exactly. Father Tom McCarthy is joining us this morning. We're talking about missions and vocations. He is currently assigned to Villanova University, where he's the vocation director for Midwest and Eastern provinces of the Augustinians, and thanks be to God, the great news the Father shared with us, on Sunday he will be professing eleven novices, and it's the largest class in over forty years, thanks be to God. When do you go on college campuses?

Eleven Novices professed their first vows in the Augustinian Order in 2016, the largest group in over 40 years.

It's interesting that we're having this conversation, Father Tom, today, given the fact that we've got two million souls half a world away at Krakow just filled with joy, and the Holy Spirit is working through them at World Youth Day. That's our next generation. That's the way the planet is going to look, at least we pray to the Holy Spirit. That's going to be the demeanor of the planet in the next generation. Are you feeling that on college campuses? You've been to five college campuses right now, are you feeling that same joy?

Fr. Tom: I am. I am. The Church is alive, and anyone that says the church is not alive needs to get into these places. We just sent thirty people to World Youth Day from the Augustinian of Chicago province. We had an international Augustinian Youth Camp Conference for Augustinian students around the Augustinian world. We always connect it to World Youth Day, and they just had five days, with the Augustinian portion of it, and talking, and getting all the emails and the blogs from these young people, they are alive. They are alive. I've gone to seven of them, actually.

Relevant Radio: Seven? Wow.

Fr. Tom: Over the last twenty-one years. They're just unbelievable. I wish we could somehow capture it for everyone to see what goes on. Our Church is so, so alive. The young people, they want it. I see it. I've been, my whole ministry as a priest has been in the educational system of the Augustinians, especially campus ministry. I see what these young people want. Never, ever say they are the future of the Church. They are the Church. They're the future leaders of the Church.

Relevant Radio: Right. Right. Better way to put it.

Fr. Tom: They're our sisters and brothers in Christ, and they are hungering for this, and they're responding. I think that's what, as the Augustinians, we're doing with this culture of vocation and working with everyone. I don't care how old you are, I don't care how young you are.

I'd like to share a little story. One of those friars at the Villanova Monastery, ninety-seven years old, we're having lunch with two or three of these discerners that we had on a discernment weekend. Father FitzGerald said to these young men, seventy years younger than he is, seventy-five years younger, he said, "This is a wonderful life." He did not say, "This was a wonderful life, I'm ninety-seven years old." He said, "This is a wonderful life," because he's still living it. That was so profound in its simplicity.

Relevant Radio: Wow. Wow.

Fr. Tom: It's an invitation, and young people, people of all ages, we all want to be included, we want to be invited, we want to be welcome. The ministry of encounter, the ministry of presence, and invitation, and people will respond, and we're seeing that this Sunday with these eleven men that have said yes. God's in charge. As long as we're open, and as long as I'm willing to say yes to Him, and not me, but to be open to follow, we'll be surprised, and nobody can say that better than myself, because I had to believe it myself.

Relevant Radio: Father Tom, when you hear what Father FitzGerald said at age ninety-seven, "This is a wonderful life," how many of us, even right now, listening to this broadcast, say listen, have fallen into that trap where you just say, "My life would be better if..." or, "God, if you give me this, my life would be..." as opposed to living in the moment, and living the wonderful graces God has given me right now, the wonderful gift of time that God has given me right now, that we're alive to have this conversation?

Fr. Tom: Right, and we miss it. If we're always looking to the past, or always saying, "What's going to happen in the future," we miss the present. I see that, and sometimes when I encounter people at a vocation talk, and they think they have to have everything settled, and I said, "You're missing the moment," or they're looking for a sign, I said, "Well, you're sitting here talking to me." Said, "Isn't that a sign enough?"

Relevant Radio: You know, it's funny you mention that. We were at World Youth Day earlier today, and we had Father David Bloom on, and he's the vocations director in the Archdiocese of St. Paul, Minneapolis. We were talking about how many vocations are born, thanks be to the Holy Spirit, at World Youth Days.

Father David said, "You know, it's funny you mention that. I was sitting across from a young man last night. We were having dinner, and I just happened to strike up a conversation, saying, 'Well, what do you want to with the rest of your life?' He said, 'Well, you know, Father, I'm thinking of being a priest.'" He said, "Well, the first thing I did was give him my number, but we then had this conversation."

Look at all of those times when we're in the position of Father David Bloom, when we see somebody, and just say, "Hey Tom, you would make a great priest." Maybe that's all they need.

Fr. Tom: That's right. The invitation. You know Henry Ford, the car maker?

Relevant Radio: Yeah.

Fr. Tom: At the end of his life, he was interviewed. This reporter said, "Mr. Ford, it's been said that you have never bought life insurance. Is that true?"

He said, "Yes, it is."

He said, "May I ask why a man of your stature would never buy life insurance?"

"Oh," he says, "that's very simple. Nobody ever asked me to buy life insurance."

If we're not asking our young people, maybe they can't respond or they won't respond. We have to ask. We have to invite. Every single on of us is a vocation director.

It's our duty and our obligation as Catholics, to continually invite, encourage, and I'm talking not just the priests and religious life, but to the married life, to the single life, it's our Church, vocations come from us. It's our responsibility, whether you're a young person, old person, anywhere in between, to encourage, to invite, to pray. It's a culture of vocation, the culture of the call.

Relevant Radio: That's great catechesis for moms and dads who are not only those great examples of marriages we've heard, and we've learned, as great witnesses for their children to have great marriages, or well, or if they see their son, who may be gravitating to the priesthood, is to have that conversation. It's almost a moral obligation of parents, if they see that in their son, to have that conversation. I'm sure you've had that conversation, Father Tom, with parents, when you've gone into grade schools and high schools.

Fr. Tom: I certainly have. I certainly have. I think some parents, they're afraid. Even when I've encountered young men whose parents, maybe, are not totally on board yet, you see, all your life, your mom and dad have said what you're to do. They knew what was best for you, and they want what is best for you. This might be the first time you're making a decision that they're not sure of, and maybe that's whey they're not on board. The minute they start to realize how happy you are, how at peace you are, they're going to support you. John, I'm at a hundred percent, of any parent that at first has been leery, I'm at a hundred percent of total support.

Relevant Radio: Wow. That's wonderful.

Fr. Tom: They want their child to be happy. Isn't that what every parent wants?

Relevant Radio: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Fr. Tom: They have to let go and say, "This might not be what I thought I wanted my son or daughter to do, but if I trust that this is where God is calling, then I have to support it." I get one hundred percent of parents that have come back, and have supported.

Relevant Radio: One hundred percent of that trust in the Lord, both for their son and their daughter experiencing that trust in the Lord, to follow that call, and for mom and dad as well. Father Tom, I'm sure you've seen this. We had the conversation a couple of years ago when Bishop Bering was still the rector at Mundelein Seminary outside of Chicago, and again, yesterday, with Bishop Senior, over at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia.

When you look at, and I'm sure you're seeing this among the eleven novices who are professing vows on Sunday, these young men could have anything in the secular world. They've chosen God, but they can have anything, because they're uber-talented on so many different levels, but they've chosen God.

Fr. Tom: That's right. When so many people say, "They give so much up," I think you can ask most priests and religious, we almost are embarrassed to say, "Well, okay, we're giving some things up, but boy do we receive so much more in return." If people knew how happy I am as a religious, as an Augustinian, as a priest, and I think I can talk for the vast majority of priests and religious, if people knew how happy we were, there would be lines out the door.

The Vocations Team for the Augustinians, building a "Culture of Vocation" across the United States in Canada includes (from left) Fr. Thomas Whelan, O.S.A.; Fr. Jorge Cleto, O.S.A.; Fr. Tom McCarthy, O.S.A.; Fr. Richie Mercado, O.S.A.; and Fr. Joe Murray, O.S.A.

Relevant Radio: We pray, Father Tom, that there's someone hearing our conversation right now who may be having that conversation with the Holy Spirit, and discerning a vocation in the priesthood. What would you say to them right now?

Fr. Tom: Be open, be open, pray, pray, and then act, which means you've got to pick up the phone, which means you have to send the email, which means you have to go on the internet searches. You have to talk. You have to talk to people, and don't be afraid, and just by talking doesn't mean you're signing up for nine years. I always say, with anyone I work with in discernment, "If you're going to even try something, try religious life, try the seminary, you're doing it for one year. You're not making a commitment of seven to ten years. You're making a commitment to discern for one year."

It's like going on a date. When you go on a date with someone, it's not like, "Well, I'm going to go on a date and then get married the next day." You're going on a date to see if there's a second date. It's the same in discernment. I always say it's like dating, when I talk to someone who's looking at the Augustinians, I say, "You are now entering a process of dating the Order."

Relevant Radio: That's an interesting way of putting it.

Fr. Tom: They understand, and it's true.

Relevant Radio: That's great. Online at,, Father Tom McCarthy, who is currently assigned at Villanova University, he is the vocation director for the Midwest and eastern provinces of the Augustinians. Again, the website is Please come back on the radio. This has been a fun conversation. We'd love to have you back on, Father Tom. Thank you.

Fr. Tom: I would love to come. Thank you, John. God bless you.

Relevant Radio: You, too. Father Tom McCarthy this morning from Philadelphia. Eight minutes before the hour, and we head back to World Youth Day next on Morning Air on Relevant Radio.


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