Profiles in Catholicism
 

An Interview with Hugh J. McNichol IV, M.A., K.H.S.


by
Gordon Nary




(Photo Edmund Cardinal O’Brian, Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and Hugh J. McNichol IV)

 


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Gordon:  

When did you join Saint Anthony Parish and what features of the parish have helpe enhanced your and your family’s spirituality?

     
Hugh:

















 

 

 

Officially my parish is Saint John the Beloved in Wilmington, DE. Throughout my daughter’s primary school education, we attended Saint Johns for our sacramental needs. When she attended Padua Academy for high school, we began to attend St. Anthony of Padua Parish, which is the parish that ministers to Padua Academy . Now that my daughter is a freshman at Loyola University in Maryland, I alternate parishes for Mass and other functions. I also have a third parish, Saint Brenden the Navigator at our vacation home in Avalon, NJ. During the summer months, we attend St. Brenden the Navigator Parish.

Unfortunately, all the parishes mentioned are deficient in their enhancing roles towards spirituality and deeper development of the Catholic faith. St. John the Beloved is a parish that was built in 1975 and has a church that is a terrible hybrid of pre-and post-Vatican II innovations in both liturgies and spiritual methodologies. The priests of the parish are ineffective as homilists and weak leaders in the parish community. Saint John the Beloved is the largest parish in the Diocese of Wilmington and has a school as part of the parish. The mentality of the parish is the equivalent to the efficiency of a fast-food drive through. The parish sorely needs an infusion of good theology and even better attention to the proper and appropriate celebration of the Sacred Liturgies. The parish tends to be more of a hybrid Protestant approach, with a large choir, visible in the sanctuary, which detracts from the Eucharistic celebration.

Saint Anthony’s on the other hand is an older parish established in the 1920’s by Italian immigrants. The church is large and is adorned with multiple shrines of various saints that are important to the Italian community. The liturgies are well planned and the priests are excellent homilists at Saint Anthony’s. I grew up in the Gray’s Ferry section of Philadelphia and my parish was of Irish immigrants, so I prefer the granite structures of Saint Anthony’s that are like my home parish of Saint Gabriel in Philadelphia. On that note, I do attend St. Gabriel in Philadelphia for Sunday Mass so I can keep in touch with friends still in that area and most importantly because the Norbertine Fathers (O.Praem,) staff the parish. They were my primary educators at Bishop ishop Neumann High School in Philadelphia and I have an affection for the special charisms of their community.

St. Brendan the Navigator Parish is my vacation parish, it is a consolidation of the former Saint Paul’s Parish in Stone Harbor and Maris Stella in Avalon. As a resort parish, it is occupied to capacity during the summer season, but virtually empty in the winter months. It is a natural place for me to celebrate faith when visiting my home in Avalon, it is part of my spiritual heritage and journey. As a young child spending summers at the New Jersey shore I became very familiar with the parish priests that ministered to the transient summer crowds in Avalon and Stone Harbor. During my seminary years at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, I attended the parish each summer when I went to our summer home for the season and worked at the A & P for my summer job. During those years, Bishop James Schad D.D., the Auxillary bishop of the Diocese of Camden was my pastor. He welcomed me into his parish and taught me many things regarding ministry and life itself. During his tenure, there a new church was constructed and he kept me involved in assisting in the planning of the new parish church every step of the way, including serving as his master of ceremonies when he confirmed or celebrated the Sacred Liturgy during my summer hiatus from the seminary. His episcopal motto was, “Renewal through love, “which I firmly believe is the most concise explanation of what life in Christ and the Church means to me as I attempt to share that vision with others in my life

     
Gordon:   What universities did you attend and what was the most interesting course that you took at each school?
     
Hugh:




































 
 

My undergraduate studies were at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary  in Philadelphia. The course of studies was directed towards a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. Throughout those studies we also had studies directed towards preparation for theology studies on the, “Upper-side,” as it is called at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. I enjoyed courses that were taught by Msgr. Francis Carbine, he taught introductory College English and Humanities. His courses were difficult because they required ancillary work that involved research in the Ryan Memorial Library, the Archives of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, (which was housed at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary until last month,) and qualitative abilities to solve problems with learning how to use the proper resources. Today, the card catalogue is an antiquated piece of the past in libraries. Frank Carbine’s courses taught me the value of learning the details of all studies because we learned how to find the details through intense research that included browsing through old library stacks, crawling around dusty archives and truly comprehending the subject matter because you worked hard to find the answers to his complex library projects. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about my Biblical Greek classes. I suffered for years to master koine Greek and relied on the tutoring of a lifelong friend who is now an appellate judge in New Jersey. Often many of us in our seminary years often complained that, “Latin killed the Romans and now it is killing me!” I had that issue with the Greeks, not the Romans. However, today now that the pressure of academic performance is gone, I can easily read biblical Greek and even pray the Lord’s Prayer as part of my spiritual exercises in the language that almost killed me, Greek.

During my college years at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary there was no resident professor of German Studies, so I attended Saint Joseph’s University for two years for German Studies. I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Hertha Stevenson, a war-bride who was my German professor. Each year we were obligated to preach at Philadelphia parishes for the Annual Seminary Appeal. I somehow drew St. Hedwig’s Parish which was a German national parish. Dr. Stevenson worked with me to perfect my German so I could preach that appeal and I am forever thankful for her assistance.

When I crossed the lawn to the, “Upperside,” my studies were in theology in preparation for our priesthood careers. I enjoyed Moral Theology classes with the late Msgr.Francis Meehan, because he focused on moral theology as a reflection of the love that Christ expressed to his Church. Msgr. Meehan had been educated by the late Rev. Bernard Haering, the author of, The Law of Christ and Free and Faithful in Christ, which was our primary textbook for the class. Fr. Haering was a professor at the Alphonsianum in Rome and Msgr. Meehan’s mentor. Moral theology was without question one of the best experiences in the graduate school at Overbrook.

I left the Seminary with ninety graduate credits in theology with no degree in 1985. In those days, the degrees were withheld until after ordination. If I had remained I would have earned a M.A. and a M.Div. in academic theology and pastoral theology. To this day, I often comment to the Rector of the Seminary, (who entered with me in 1978,) that Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary made me the most highly educated, “Nothing!” Today, my longtime friend from those days is a bishop and rector of the seminary we both attended and affectionately call our, alma mater!

Years later I attended Neumann University in Aston, Pa. to attempt to complete my master’s degree with so many graduate school credits dangling out there from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. I studied pastoral counselling at Neumann University for two years and did not finish the course because it seemed the curriculum was too secular for what my aspirations were at the time.

I also during my seminary years was part of a program that educated me to be a hospital chaplain, the studies were in clinical pastoral education. The course work was part of our weekly apostolates that provided us with practical applications of our theological studies. I was fortunate to have spent a year as a student learning pastoral application at a psych-ward at Misericordia Hospital in Philadelphia. It was a locked ward and provided an immense opportunity to understand the great necessity for improvements in treating mental health patients and those that were also victims of substance abuse. Additionally, as part of the clinical pastoral education program, I spent two years learning to be an effective ER and Trauma Care chaplain at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Darby, Pa. The role of the Catholic chaplain in hospital ministry is of such importance because it illustrates the suffering that all peoples experience as patience. Gunshot wounds, knife wounds and physical abuse are all part of the daily routine for the Catholic hospital chaplain. This assignment was my most enjoyable because it allowed me to experience Catholic ministry with pumping adrenaline.

A few years later, I began theology studies at Villanova University   in Villanova, Pa. I was welcomed there with open arms and the University of Villanova accepted some credits from Overbrook, unusually enough, it was the first time I ever attended class with females! I completed the M.A. course in three semesters and concluded what for me was a haunting sense of personal failure when I left Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary without my graduate degrees and ordination as a priest.

Since my M.A. completion at Villanova, I have taken courses at The Catholic University of America  in Washington, D.C. and have completed the certificate course of social justice. Ultimately, my goal is to achieve my doctorate in theology, however as a husband and father, it is quite difficult.

This year I began M.A. studies in communications and M.B.A. studies in international economics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is an online M.A., M.B.A. program. With my schedule of writing and sometimes lecturing, the online program was my most viable choice.

     
Gordon:
 
 

I didn’t know if I should address you as Sir Hugh since you hold the rank of Knight at Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem  What  are your responsibilities as Knight?

     
Hugh:



 
  Gordon, We Americans had that little skirmish called the American Revolution, so titles such as, Sir,” are prohibited for American citizens as indicated in the Constitution. So, I am Sir Hugh, only to the mailman when he delivers mail from the Order, and I suppose anytime I am outside of the United States. It would be nice occasionally to be addressed as, “Sir,” but my wife thinks it is superfluous! Membership in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher if Jerusalem is an honor that the Holy See has given me. As a papal knight, we are responsible for the protection of the Holy Land and the preservation of sacred sites that are crucial to the continued existence of the Catholic faith in its contextual birthplace. It involves a financial commitment of contributions to the Grand Master of the Holy Sepulcher and a spiritual commitment to enhance the faith in the land of Christ’s life, ministry, death & resurrection. Most importantly, my commitment also involves attending the Investiture ceremonies each year in my vicariate, which is New York City, and participating in local events when invited by the Ordinary.
     
Gordon:

 
  You are a member of the Catholic Press Association, The Society of  Professional Journalist, The Catholic Historical Society and the Sons of the American Revolution . and we welcome you as  a member of Profiles in Catholicism’s Editorial Advisory Committee  What, in your opinion, are issues that Catholic publications should consider in addressing more frequently and why?  
     
Hugh:


















 
 

My professional affiliations for some odd reason continue to grow, without any plausible explanation on my part. I have recently been made a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts in London in addition to the cited groups above. While participation in these various groups provides a sort of, “professional credibility, “they do not always address the real concerns that should be addressed by the Catholic press. The message of the Gospels and the life of the Church root themselves in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. His entire existence transformed all human history. I firmly believe that the role of Catholic publications should be a message of radical conversion that leads to a total transformation towards Christ and His Church. The Gospels and the Church are living entities and invite or rather compel us a journalist to effectively communicate what a life in faith entails. Unfortunately, in my observations, we are doing a collectively terrible job of evangelization in the Church. There are so many factions that are interfering with the primary mission of the Church, namely evangelization that have distorted the realities of what Catholic journalism is and should be in the 21st century.

Most importantly, we need to revisit the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and reclaim the vitality of their teachings as they pertain to the Church today. Gaudium et Spesh, The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, promulgated by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council is indeed prophetic and is best interpreted today, fifty years plus since the close of the Council. Catholic press organizations unfortunately have adopted the methodology of Protestant evangelists and have often misused the media because Catholics have not properly utilized traditional media formats and the emerging social media outlets like Facebook, Skype etc. The Catholic media need to carefully and critically use various forms of media as an effective tool that promotes evangelization to both Catholics that are floundering in the faith and to those that want to experience Christ through the life and ministry of the Catholic Church. If there is no critical utilization of the media by the Church, our faith will become entertainment and not a valid transmission of the Word of God, which is the entire reason for our faith existence.

Additionally, there are Catholic media outlets in the United States that have effectively grown into global communications entities. However, some of them inappropriately depict a Church that no longer exists. A Catholic broadcast network that constantly looks to the past, filling air time with hagiographic tales, pious platitudes and daily broadcasts of the Eucharistic celebration that is not consistent with the contemporary rituals of the Church is deficient in their seminal understanding of how the institutional in the modern world truly exists.

If we as journalists are going to use television and emerging mediums as the methodology of spreading the Church’s message it needs to be a message of realism and not one of ecclesiastical nostalgia.

     
Gordon:   You are a featured writer with the Catholic News Agency, Catholic OnlineThe Irish Catholic, Dublin , the British Broadcasting Company London,   Blogger News Network  & The Catholic Business Journal T. What inspired you to becoming a writer?
     
Hugh:









 
 

The Prologue of the Gospel of Saint John clearly indicates that we are a Church of the Word. John 1:14: …”et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis,” is the most elegant instructional phrase in all of salvation history. As a faithful Catholic, I am a follower of the Word, namely the Incarnate Christ. This is the reason for my occupation as a writer. My convictions of faith compel me to use my learned talents as a theologian through the written words to coax people to a deeply rooted faith in Christ and His Church.

I don’t know what compels me to write on a regular basis, but it is I am certain a form of ministry that draws me to my computer daily.

I write on a variety of subjects, Catholic theology, the arts, history, architecture and so on, but my primary focus is editorial writing on the events of the contemporary Catholic Church in both the United States and throughout the world.

John’s Gospel elevates the Incarnate Word to a magnificent proclamation of our Catholic faith. My words are in no way as significant as the inspired Evangelist St. John, but none the less proclaim a message and a point of view that hopefully inspires others to aspire towards a deeper understanding of their faith in Christ and the ministry of the Church.

     
Gordon:   You have a strong interest in Catholic art and are planning  an exhibit of an important Catholic artist. Please share with our readers who he is and why should we know more about him.
     
Hugh:








 
 

My interests in Sacred Art and Architecture date to my days as a student at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. My professor of liturgy was Msgr. John Miller, S.T.D. who was and is my mentor in understanding the Sacred Liturgies of the Catholic Church. His classes in liturgy always emphasized the critical point that as Catholics we have an obligation to give God the highest quality of art as our accessories towards the celebration of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. Qualitative art does not mean the most expensive pieces of art to adorn our Catholic Churches, but art works of the highest quality available to the local community, the parish so they might give their best to God. Through him, I have been graced to meet great artists and artisans that are often unknown and unsung because we have become a Catholic Church that relies on religious supply houses and statues and other artistic pieces that are mass produced, often in China for an inexpensive price, thus ignoring the works of local artists and artisans. The local artists and artisans are often members of the local Catholic parish and they are neglected because imports of inferior art are easier for our priests to purchase, because they pick it out of a catalogue and have no interest in celebrating the artists that are indigenous to our local Catholic communities.

I am engaged in developing an exhibition called, The Faces of Christ, of individual pieces of art that are owned by Mr. Steen Heidemann  of the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom. This process is nascent, while I seek to develop sponsors for the project and an appropriate exhibition space, with a relevant professional conference as the main anchor for the exhibition.

     
Gordon:   We discussed your concern that American churches may want to consider using -non-European art in remodeling and rebuilding  their churches, please share your reasons for this recommendation.
     
Hugh





 
 

The Catholic Church in the United States is blessed with a multitude of qualitative artists and artisans that deserve an opportunity to have their services commissioned for artistic works in our Catholic parishes. Priests and bishops need to cease and desist their reliance on liturgical supply houses that utilize mass produced pieces of art that are duplicated and displayed at hundreds of Catholic Churches in the United States. Sometimes, the neighboring parish has the identical statues of Mary and Joseph (which I amusingly call, the salt and pepper shakers,) within blocks of each other. Why are we collectively as a Church settling for cheap imported pieces of art as representative of our faith and our beliefs?

Local parishes need to cultivate an understanding of what it means to provide the highest quality available to a local parish as the norm and not the exception when considering making a purchase of art or liturgical renovation of their Catholic Church. A few years ago, I wrote a piece for The Institute for Sacred Architecture at Notre Dame University. The link might provide a better insight into my thoughts on the subject:

     
Gordon:   What social media resources do you recommend more parishes use to evangelize and attract younger people and why? 
     
Hugh:  

Parishes and dioceses need to reach the faithful through the most prevalent social media of the day. YouTube, Facebook & Twitter are the most prominent social media that come to mind. For the Church of the 21st century to effectively evangelize it needs to effectively communicate. Guttenberg’s innovation of the printing press in the 15th century transformed the world through books. The Church needs to transform the faith in the modern marvel of social communications, which link us instantly and globally in a Catholic Church that is not just global, but instantly digital in our interactions.

     
Gordon:   Please share with our readers your accidental meeting with Mother Teresa and what is tour favorite quote by her?
     
Hugh:











 
 

The 41st International Eucharistic Congress was held at Philadelphia, Pa. in 1976. Part of the venue of the Congress was an exhibition of liturgical arts at the old Philadelphia Municipal Convention Center. As a high school student, I was very interested in attending the events of the Eucharistic Congress and was a reader at a Mass for Youth.

One afternoon during the Eucharistic Congress, I was at the exhibition of sacred and liturgical arts, when immediately to my right, a diminutive religious was standing next to me. Having no idea who she was, I didn’t think about it. The crowd pressed to view the exhibition in the display case, and I awkwardly turned and almost knocked the poor woman over, and I had to grab her to keep her from falling. It was, much to my ignorance, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary that were with me gasped at the scene as it unfolded, and they told me afterwards who it was I almost knocked over. Her acclaim now apparent to me made me feel terrible, but there might indeed be an upside to the story: I now consider myself a third-class relic. :)

    "Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love."
    Mother Teresa

This is indeed my favorite quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta simply because it illustrates to me clearly and succinctly that both faith and love are an ongoing process that is continuously striving towards achieving greater intimacy and deeper understanding of ourselves, our faith and ultimately the Father, who Himself is love.

   
Gordon:   Thank you for a great interview I encourage our readers visit   http://verbumcarofactumest.blogspot.com for more information on your beautiful writings.