Father McCauley’s gift connected the Rochester community – Post Bulletin
ROCHESTER — Father James McCauley had a gift.
Some parish priests are good at teaching, others at fundraising and building schools, and still others at preaching and holding a spellbound congregation. McCauley’s gift was less a skill than an inner quality: his humanity. He had an ability to listen and connect with people. He loved people, warts and everything.
And it was from this heightened sense of empathy that the Pax Christi Catholic Church was founded and built in the 1970s. Many people connect to a church through a priest, not a a building. And that is how many have found their way to Pax Christi.
“He was a man of compassion,” said Reverend Jim Fogal, senior priest and former pastor of Pax Christi. “He really liked people.”
McCauley died June 5, 2022, after serving 66 years as a priest. He was 91 years old.
McCauley had been commissioned to build a new parish in the growing Rochester. Before there was a church building called Pax Christi, McCauley held mass on weekends at an ice rink called Skate Country in Rochester. On weekdays, when the roller rink was not available, he performed services in people’s homes.
Home services became so popular that even after Pax Christi was built in northwest Rochester in the mid-1970s, people were unwilling to give it up, said Bishop Gerald Mahon, pastor of the Co-Cathedral of Rochester. Saint John the Evangelist.
“It was a great way to create a family and units of people knowing each other,” Mahon said.
He developed a sense of family within the parish, in part because his church was welcoming to parents, their children, and the weaknesses, indiscipline, and disruption they can bring to a church service.
Mark and Ann Oldenburg and their children became members of the church after moving to Rochester in 1979. Mark described the nature of McCauley’s theology as “comfortable”. He described the church as “very family oriented”.
The design of the church reflected the values he personified. The building was not “old school”. The interior of the church was round and open with people on all sides. The music did not emanate from behind but was “front and present”. The barriers that traditionally separated the sanctuary from the assembly have been removed.
“It was more inclusive,” Mark Oldenburg said. “As far as the way he preached, it was really the Second Vatican Council, a kind of evangelization of love for our neighbour. He established this as the character of the parish and it evolved throughout his life.
This ability to put people at ease and accept them on their own terms had a practical side. He knew how to talk to people and use his persuasiveness to get people more committed to, say, a new church.
“He was practical, but he was also a very human and compassionate guy,” Oldenburg said. “He didn’t make assumptions about people. And, at the same time, he was quite spiritual.
McCauley’s empathy for others was exemplified in a story told by Mahon at McCauley’s funeral on Monday. It was a story about McCauley’s dog, Shannon, and it produced the strongest emotional punch in the service.
McCauley was deeply attached to the dog, an Irish Setter, and took the dog everywhere. The dog would be with him all the time, in the office and on walks around the church grounds. He went hunting with the dog. The only exception was when McCauley said mass in the sanctuary.
McCauley went on vacation and left the dog with a friend who owned a farm near Byron while he was away. When he returned from vacation, he went to the farm to pick up Shannon. On the driveway, McCauley met a little girl who asked him why he was there. McCauley said he was there to pick up his dog, Shannon.
The girl said, “That’s not your dog. It is my dog.”
McCauley returned to his car, started crying and pulled out of the driveway, Mahon told the congregation. The dog stayed with the girl.
McCauley taught at Cotter High School and served as Principal at Cotter and Lourdes High Schools. He was athletically gifted. He was an outdoorsman. Pax Christi Church was built in the middle of a cornfield, and McCauley could walk into the backyard of the church and go pheasant hunting with friends and other priests. He was a Golden Gloves champion in the Upper Midwest and excelled at golf.
“He could have been on the PGA Tour, I’m sure. He was so good,” Fogal said.
Fogal recalled that McCauley was the first priest to take him in after he received his first pastoral assignment at St. Pius X Catholic Church in the late 1970s. Fogel was able to observe how McCauley worked as an administrator and parish head.
“He worked in collaboration with people. He was not a dictator. And I know he taught me how to relate to people and work as a team with the people in his parish,” Fogal said.
McCauley’s spirituality was not an insular world cut off from the practical side of things. He contributed not only to the church, but to the community. He has been active with the Knights of Columbus, the Rochester Exchange Club and the Human Rights Commission.
Mahon said many people view faith and humanity as being in tension. They believe that “if you’re going to be” in a church-centered Christian world, “you’re not going to be fully human.” McCauley showed throughout his life that not only can faith and humanity co-exist, but “the more we surrender to Christ, the more human we can become,” Mahon said.
“When you have someone who is such a believer and yet was so fully human, that’s a characteristic he had and desired for others,” Mahon said.