From his birth, Fr. Andre McGrath was dedicated to God. The family never wanted to put pressure on Fr. McGrath, but they were pleased when he entered the seminary. Now, 50 years later, Fr. McGrath is celebrating his jubilee year as a Franciscan priest.
“My father’s father had a belief that the first born son of a first born son should be ordained,” Fr. McGrath said.
Fr. McGrath was heavily influenced by the spirituality of the Franciscans early in life. His mother and father were working for the Franciscan sisters in Albuquerque, NM, and one Sunday a month, a Franciscan priest would come to say Mass. After extensive training at the Franciscan’s Cincinnati seminary, Fr. McGrath was ordained in June of 1967. Fr. McGrath then earned a master’s degree in English literature.
He taught for a year in Indiana and was then sent to study for a doctoral degree in moral theology. He studied at Catholic University, then went to Germany and studied at Tübingen University.
“We had a professor there by the name of Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI,” Fr. McGrath said.
In 1973, Fr. McGrath returned to the United States and taught once again. That teaching experience then led him back to Catholic University where he studied the philosophy of John Donne Scotus. He completed his doctorate degree in 1978. For several years, he taught at the seminary.
The next stop for Fr. McGrath was Cleveland, OH, and that decision would change his life in a dramatic way. That’s when he met Bishop James Lyke, who would serve as Fr. McGrath’s mentor, friend and spiritual director.
“Bishop Lyke was the first true African American friend I ever knew,” Fr. McGrath said. “Before he became an auxiliary bishop in Cleveland, [then Fr. Lyke,] was a pastor at Saint Benedict’s at Grambling.”
Fr. McGrath and Bishop Lyke met under most unusual circumstances. Fr. McGrath became quite ill during a time when the seminary was empty during a semester break, and Bishop Lyke was the only other person there at the time. Responding to Fr. McGraths need for help, their first encounter would lead to six years of a growing respect and admiration between the two men.
“I would make popcorn and sit with Bishop Lyke many evenings,” Fr. McGrath said. “He would give me books to read and tell me his thinking. I would help him with his writing, and that is what we did for the next six years.”
On the 800th anniversary of Saint Francis of Assisi, Fr. McGrath made a decision to serve in Africa. It was there that Fr. McGrath, and others, established the Lyke Community in Nairobi, Kenya. That was 1993. Named for Fr. McGrath’s good friend, the Lyke Community is a Catholic congregation of priests and brothers that follow the spirituality of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Fr. Francis Kamau and Fr. Mike Thang’wa are two of the priests from the Lyke Community currently serving in our diocese. “God brought this great man into my life when I needed him most,” Fr. Kamau said, “and I am the person I am today because of that association with him.”
Fr. Thang’wa agreed, “Fr. McGrath has been a shining example to me and to all the brothers who have encountered him. From the get go, I really admired his wisdom and spiritual guidance. I took, and still continue to take, every opportunity to learn from him.”
Eventually, Fr. McGrath came to Shreveport to work with the Greco Institute. And for the past 17 years, he has served as pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Shreveport. “Since he became pastor, I have witnessed his love for all the parishioners and our church, and the love our church family has for Fr. McGrath,” Deacon Charles Thomas said.
For the last 41 years, Fr. McGrath has kept a journal. He has never missed a day—that’s almost 15,000 entries. As he moves forward to his 51st year, Fr. McGrath has not written the final chapter of his life. And for that, we are blessed.