Father 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 email@example.com or ext. 394.