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It's Been a Busy Few Months for Father John McCusker ’02

Father JohnFather John McCusker, O.S.B. ’02, has had a very busy few months. He returned to the monastery after studying in Washington, D.C., began teaching Theology, was recruited to the Priory Admissions Team, and was ordained a priest.

Father John grew up in St. Louis, attending Ste. Genevieve du Bois School with his two brothers and one sister (he’s the third child). His oldest brother Pat’s class had very few boys in 6th grade, and his teacher recommended Priory. He loved it here, and eventually Father John followed. The place made quite an impact. “I actually thought about becoming a monk in 7th grade theology class with Father Gerard,” he said. “I never told anyone. I just had a feeling that this would be a really neat way to live. There was a strong sense of peace and excitement at the same time. Looking back, it’s clear that it was a moment of grace.” Father John, like many young men who feel called to the religious life, tried to ignore what he was feeling. “I just kept pushing it away, but it was an idea that kept coming back,” he said. Even then, he was busy. He wrote for and served as editor of The Record. He served in TREND, at the time a popular club for students who promoted a drug-free lifestyle while being involved in positive leisure-time activities with peers. He was involved in the Priory Outdoors Club and the Guild, and played football (offensive line and outside linebacker) and golf, and worked on the construction crew for the plays. Ironically, he eschewed the religious clubs.

After his (self-described) typical Priory experience that included adolescent insecurity and striving and focusing on college, he matriculated to Notre Dame. He studied business, and decided that he wanted to be a military pilot. He was in Air Force ROTC for two years, eventually scoring a ride in a trainer jet. “It wasn’t as exciting as I expected it to be,” he said, “I also passed out a couple of times because of the G-forces, so I decided that flying fighter jets wasn’t for me.” Father John changed his majors to history and theology, all while still considering his vocation. He didn’t quite feel ready for monastic life when he graduated, so he taught for a year at a Catholic grade school in Chicago. “I had kind of always wanted to be a teacher as well, along with being a doctor and an astronaut. Typical things all kids think about,” he laughed. While in Chicago, Father John taught, continued studying theology, abstract and speculative thinking, and reading about the saints. He listened to country music, seeing Alan Jackson in concert. He also began listening more, as Saint Benedict wrote, with the “ear of his heart.” He decided that he wanted to come home and join the monastery.

His novitiate was hard at first, as he felt he was missing out on family events, but he says this time of solitude and separation is needed. “I loved my novitiate here. On a profound level I had been waiting for a long time to embrace and explore this vocation, so I had prepared myself. It’s a great life and a great community,” he said. He continued reading about the lives of the saints, learning what they did and why, and using them as inspiration for his own spirituality and faith formation. Then it was time to leave the monastery for further study. He spent three and a half years at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. “It was hard but also very challenging in good ways. That experience helped me to look at what I’m doing in different ways. It was an ideal intellectual and Christian atmosphere, so it was a very good fit for me there.” Father John also experienced living in a different monastery, and learning more about monastic life. He explains, “It’s such a rich and privileged life, and it’s neat that there are so many different ages and temperaments and personalities but we’re all united in seeking God, praying together, and serving the Church and the School. Living in a monastery brings a profound commonality and unity; it’s very powerful.” At the same time, he admits that following this calling isn’t necessarily easy. “I wouldn’t have chosen this because it’s so counter-cultural, and because of the unknown quality, the lack of control, the sacrifices that are required to follow God exclusively. However, I knew it was something that I couldn’t get away from, and ultimately that I wouldn’t want to get away from.”

Now he’s back at Priory, teaching freshmen and sophomores in theology, and enjoying being busy. “I really enjoy even prepping for class to a degree, and trying to communicate some of the faith to Priory boys who are so curious and have such good questions. It’s such a privilege to be a teacher at Priory.” He’s learned that he enjoys working in Admissions, admitting “I think it’s exciting because there are a lot of deadlines and pressure, which I like. I’m kind of a nerd because I liked exam times…it’s an intense time where you have to make decisions, like it’s the playoffs or something. Every 15 minutes I have something going on, and that’s how I like to live. I also love sitting back and being with God. It’s very English Benedictine to do both: be super busy and also have time for prayer.”

Despite everything on his plate, Father John does find spare time to enjoy his hobbies. Father Augustine taught him to make rosaries, and he also dabbles in painting, an art he first learned as a student at Priory and then continued in his senior year at Notre Dame. He enjoys running, maintaining the guest wing salt-water aquarium, and said, “I have a funny desire to live on a farm, so I like to help out with the monastery gardens.” He also likes to spend time praying and reading, which he says is “the ordinary monastic stuff.” He still enjoys reading about the lives of the saints, along with systematic theology and philosophy. He prefers articles over books, enjoying hardcopy and online periodicals such as Nova et Vetera and The Thomist, which is published by the Dominican friars he studied with in D.C. He enjoys celebrating the Latin Mass, seeing it as a service of the Church. “I find some of the prayers – especially before the Eucharistic prayer – to be very dense and powerful.”

His favorite monastic duty is being “Hebdom,” who begins and says all the prayers for the week for the Divine Office. “It only comes once or twice a year, and I was out of town last time so I missed it,” he said ruefully. His least favorite duty is being the caller, who is responsible for arising early to wake up the other monks; he sheepishly admitted that he forgets a lot.

We asked him what he’d tell a Priory boy who might be feeling the call to a vocation like he did all those years ago. He said, “Don’t be afraid. It sometimes takes awhile but you’ll realize what a tremendous gift it is from God. If you’re quiet and you listen to Him and allow Him to get to know you and you to get to know Him, you’ll realize what He wants from you and how what He wants will make you truly happy.” Then he smiled, “And read good books.”

You’ll find Father John teaching in the classroom, sharing an Admissions office with Mr. Bobby McCormack, puttering in the monastic garden, or filling one of his many duties as a newly-ordained priest (he was ordained September 12 with Fathers Aidan and Cuthbert), or you can reach him at or ext. 394.

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Prologue, 1

“This is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.”

Prologue, 1

“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”

Prologue, 4

“If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. (Ps 33[34]:13)”

Prologue, 17

“Clothed then with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide, that we may deserve to see him who has called us to his kingdom (1 Thess 2:12).”

Prologue, 21

“If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds.”

Prologue, 22

“What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace.”

Prologue, 41

“Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service.”

Prologue, 45

“The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”

Prologue, 47

“The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.”

Chapter 3, 3

“Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else.”

Chapter 4, 20-21

“Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” –Chapter 4, 25-26

“Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue.”

Chapter 4, 27-28

“Place your hope in God alone.”

Chapter 4, 41

“Respect the elders and love the young.”

Chapter 4, 70-71

“Pray for your enemies out of love for Christ. “

Chapter 4, 72

“If you have a dispute with someone, make peace with him before the sun goes down.”

Chapter 4, 73

“The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience, which comes naturally to those who cherish Christ above all.”

Chapter 5, 1-2

“Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen.”

Chapter 6, 6

“The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (PS 35[36]:2) and never forgets it.”

Chapter 7, 10

“Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices.”

Chapter 19, 6-7

“On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”

Chapter 22, 8

“Every age and level of understanding should receive appropriate treatment.”

Chapter 30, 1

“Above all, let him be humble. If goods are not available to meet a request, he will offer a kind word in reply, for it is written: A kind word is better than the best gift (Sir 18:17).”

Chapter 31, 13-14

“Let all the rest serve one another in love.”

Chapter 35, 6

“Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

Chapter 43, 3

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading.”

Chapter 48, 1

“The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”

Chapter 49, 1

“All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35).”

Chapter 53, 1

“Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”

Chapter 53, 2

“(B)ecause wherever we may be, we are in the service of the same Lord and doing battle for the same King.”

Chapter 61, 10

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10).”

Chapter 63, 17

“We wish this rule to be read often in the community, so that none of the brothers can offer the excuse of ignorance.”

Chapter 66, 8

“Trusting in God’s help, he must in love obey.”

Chapter 68, 5

Never to do another what you do not want done to yourself (Tob 4:16).”

Chapter 70, 7

“No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.”

Chapter 72, 7

“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

Chapter 72, 11-12

“What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?”

Chapter 73, 3

“What book of the holy catholic Fathers does not resoundingly summon us along the true way to reach the Creator?”

Chapter 73, 4


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Saint Louis Priory School

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