Meet Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC

EDITOR'S NOTE: In the following, Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC, reflects on his current duties as novice master and prefect of formation for the Marians in the United States. He lives at the Marian house of studies in Washington, D.C.

By Fr. Jim McCormack, MIC

In August 2013, I became the novice master for our province in the United States. The novice master is in charge of the formation of the men who are in their first full year of religious life. The novices enter on Aug. 14. Those who persevere and discern to continue with the Congregation make their first vows a year later on Aug. 15. So the novitiate lasts an entire calendar year. During that time, the novices don't usually go home, although sometimes family members may come for a brief visit.

The novitiate is designed to be an intense spiritual experience. We might call it "spiritual boot camp." As novice master, I am responsible for the total formation of the men. That makes me a professor, a spiritual director, and a slave-driver. Well, I'm just joking about being a "slave-driver," but I do put them to work since manual work builds character, and the men have to learn to cooperate and work together.

It can be a tough year. Very often, one's fellow novices have completely different personalities and interests, so a novice has to learn to accept and to love his novice brothers. That can make me a part-time referee, too.

I'm also the prefect of formation for our province. As prefect, I don't work directly with the seminarians. The prefect's role is to be an advisor to the provincial superior on matters of formation. The prefect coordinates meetings with the provincial and the other formators of our province and also makes recommendations to the provincial regarding various initiatives and concerns regarding our formation program. However, since I live at our house of studies in Washington, D.C., along with many of our seminarians, I also function informally as an advisor to our men studying theology.

For me, it's a great joy to see our men grow in maturity and confidence from novitiate through their seminary years. In many ways, this work of formation has made me appreciate my role as a "spiritual father" to our men in formation, even though some of them are about the same age as I.

Being away from our men in formation for the two years I was in Rome (2011-2013) presented a bit of a struggle for me. Although I loved being in Rome and all that I was learning, at the same time, I found myself longing to continue accompanying our men in their formation. Now that I'm back, I can see that a lot of growth has taken place in those two years. Several of our men are getting close to professing their final vows. If all goes well, we could see as many as eight men make their final vows this coming September. I very much look forward to that day.

Father Mark Garrow, MIC - who died of cancer in 2007 - was my novice master. He had a profound influence on me and was truly like a father to me. He was a model of gentleness, compassion, and humble service. He himself would often take on the most difficult or most distasteful tasks instead of asking others to do them.

I remember him single-handedly lifting a heavy TV out of the basement of one of our houses because only one person could fit in the hatchway, and he was stronger than I. On several occasions in the kitchen, he cleaned up spilled food in out-of-the-way places that others, myself included, were tempted to leave behind.

But the ultimate example was on the night before my first vows, when I opened the package containing the clerical shirt that I would put on for the first time the following day. To my horror, it was hopelessly wrinkled. Knowing that the sisters were our laundry experts, I asked him whether they might be able to iron it in time for the ceremony. "No problem," he said. The next morning, to my delight, I found my clerical shirt perfectly ironed. "Oh, the sisters ironed my shirt!" I exclaimed with gratitude. "Well, no, they didn't," Fr. Mark said with a smile. Then, I realized that he had done it himself.

I provide these examples as a witness to his genuine charity and as a reminder to myself of the kind of "father" I want to be for our men in formation. Though I know I have a long way to go, I ask Fr. Mark's intercession in this and in being able to listen patiently and compassionately to all who come to me, just as Fr. Mark did for me and for so many others.

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