From Methodist Kid to Catholic Priest

Father Andrew McNair, LC, of North Carolina, entered the Legion-aries of Christ novitiate in Cheshire in 1985 and was ordained a priest on December 24, 1997. His account of his vocation follows.

I recall, when I was a child, staring at a priest in a supermarket. Dressed in black and wearing a Roman collar, he stood out. No one else in town wore clothes like that, not even the pastor of my Methodist church. The priest nodded at me and said, “Hello!” This made a strong impression on me — after all, he stood for God.

This encounter set my young mind to thinking. For example, the fact that priests don't marry sets them apart. The Methodist ministers had wives; so did all the other Christian pastors in my North Carolina town. And the Catholic priests — why were they different? Why didn't they have wives like everyone else? I figured there had to be a reason.

God cleared up this question for me during a Sunday-school session in my Methodist church. Our teacher asked if we had questions about the life of Jesus. I raised my hand and asked, “Why didn't Jesus ever get married?” The teacher paused, looking perplexed.

After a few moments she said, “Jesus didn't marry because he wanted to dedicate all his time and energy to the service of God the Father with an undivided heart. If Jesus had a wife and children, how would he have been able to dedicate all his time to God and serving others?”

I thought, Catholic priests are like Jesus. This must be why they don't marry. It seemed to make good sense.

The Sunday-school teacher had out-done herself with such an excellent answer. Little did she know her answer gave me a big push toward the Catholic Church and the priesthood.

Then, another question arose: Was a Catholic Sunday service similar to the Baptist or Methodist services? My curiosity got the better of me. I decided to approach one of my best high-school friends, who was a Catholic. At lunch one day, I asked “John, how do Catholics worship on Sunday?” John threw me a strange look as he bit into his Big Mac. A 6-foot, 3-inch, 215-pound football player, he was unaccustomed to answering questions about religion, but understood what I was getting at. With his mouth half-full he uttered, “Well, Father celebrates Mass. If you like, Andy, you can come with me to Mass on Sunday. No problem.”

Even though years have passed since I attended that first Mass with John, I remember very well what impressed me most: the way the priest prayed the words of consecration over the bread and wine. He prayed very slowly, with reverence and intensity. I don't know why, but when the priest said, “Take this, all of you, and eat it; this is my body,” I felt what he was saying had to be true. Why? The priest seemed totally convinced, and identified with what he was doing. It is the only explanation I could find for the fervor I experienced in that Mass.

How I wanted to receive Communion that Sunday! But I could-n't. John had told me beforehand that only Catholics should receive Communion. Yet, I wanted to be like that priest whom I saw. This desire pushed me to study Catholicism, and the more I studied, the more I felt drawn toward the priesthood. One evening, I read a magazine article about a bishop who was a convert to the Catholic faith. I thought: “Why not write to him?”

In my letter, I explained my situation and asked him how a Methodist becomes a Catholic priest. To my surprise, I received a prompt response. The bishop wrote, “To be a priest, you have to be a Catholic first. Being a priest means living like Jesus Christ. This means praying like Christ, sacrificing yourself for others like Christ, and doing the will of God like Christ. Above all, the priesthood means giving the body and blood of Christ to others. No one can do that but a priest. I had a long road to follow to arrive at the priest-hood, but it was well worth the sacrifice.” This convinced me to take the big step toward being a Catholic and a priest. I saw it as a green light from God.

A few weeks before I left for the seminary, one of my friends accused me of having an idealistic and unreal vision of priests. He asked, “Andy, why do you want to be a priest, when there are many priests who abandon their priest-hood and set a bad example?” I replied, “Because priests are not the priesthood; priests are ordained to live the priest-hood that comes from Christ. Priests have to work at holiness through prayer and sacrifice like everyone else.” At the end of our conversation he said only, “I hope you don't regret this later.”

Now, more than 12 years later, I can say I have not regretted anything. My long journey from the Methodist church to the priesthood is complete. Like the narrow road of the Gospel, this journey has not been easy. At the same time I have never been happier, because being a priest means living like Jesus Christ, the first priest.

Reprinted with permission of Sacerdos, a magazine for priests.