By William Bole
September 11, 2018 — During the late 1990s, Tim McCabe was in his thirties and running a service agency in Detroit when he began feeling a call to the Catholic priesthood. It was not altogether shocking for a lay person in his position to sense a religious vocation: The organization that McCabe directed was the Midwestern regional arm of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and he had become well versed in Jesuit spirituality. But one thing didn’t fit into this vocational picture — McCabe was already “Father.” He was a dad.
At the time, he was raising his daughter, Mary. “My vocation was raising her,” McCabe said.
Some years later, after going on retreat in Oregon, he felt pulled to the priesthood more than ever. By then, Mary was a college freshman, and he called her up to ask what she thought of his discernment. Her reaction: “You know, Dad, it makes perfect sense.”
That was in the spring of 2005. Today, Fr. Timothy McCabe, SJ, is serving as executive director of the Pope Francis Center (see sidebar), which offers life-saving services to the “chronically homeless” of downtown Detroit (see sidebar). But the two vocations of his life have not drifted far apart from each other. Father McCabe spends his days at Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church, where the Pope Francis Center is headquartered, and across the hall from him is the center’s director of institutional advancement — his daughter, Mary McEvoy.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” said McEvoy, who spent her college years at one Jesuit school, Loyola University Chicago, and went on to receive her law degree from another, Fordham University Law School in New York.
Priest and Parent
For Fr. McCabe, an early point in that journey came during the mid-1980s when he was a young humanitarian worker in Detroit, helping to resettle refugees who had fled civil strife in Central America. At the time, he traveled to El Salvador and spent time with Jesuits who were ministering to, and advocating for, victims of violence and oppression in that country. Their example of courage and conviction led him to resume college studies at a Jesuit institution, University of Detroit Mercy.
Fr. McCabe with a guest at the Pope Francis Center in Detroit, where he currently serves as executive director.
In 1993, he took the job as executive director at the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Detroit, coordinating long-term volunteers who lived together in community and worked at a refugee resettlement program. He threw himself into all things Jesuit, taking inspiration from official documents that articulate the social, spiritual, and pastoral visions of the Society of Jesus.
“It became how I prayed, how I understood the world,” Fr. McCabe recalled. “I was really set on fire by the social ministries, the commitment to the poor and marginalized.” McEvoy, who was seven years old when he began this work, absorbed everything.
“I grew up aware of what was happening in Central America, in a way that was different from most of my peers. I knew about children carrying around weapons in civil wars. That certainly changed my view of the world,” she said. “Our family life and our spirituality had a more global focus.”
Near the end of her father’s 12-year stint at the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, McEvoy went off to Loyola. And, in the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, her dad entered the Society of Jesus, beginning his decade-long formation as a Jesuit priest.
From then on, college life for McEvoy was a little unusual. She formed a close, enduring bond with Loyola’s Jesuit community, spending much time at their residence, often going back to her dorm with a care package assembled by the Jesuits. McEvoy says they became her extended family in Chicago, helping her to better understand the changes happening in her life and her father’s, and to discern where God was, in the midst of it all. The Jesuits there liked to call themselves her “spiritual uncles.”
In June 2015, at age 52, Fr. McCabe was among eight Midwestern Jesuits ordained to the priesthood in a ceremony at Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago.
One of the more affecting moments in such a ceremony comes during the “vesting.” That’s when someone close to the ordination candidate — very often his mother — helps bestow upon him the stole and chasuble that serve as symbols of his new office in the Catholic Church. On that day, there was a small flock of mothers performing this role and they spoke of McEvoy as an “honorary member of the mom’s club.” When Fr. McCabe took his turn, it was the daughter who vested the father.
A Ministry on the Margins
A month later, Fr. McCabe was directing the Warming Center at Saints Peter and Paul, later renamed the Pope Francis Center in honor of the Jesuit pope’s commitment to ministry among the marginalized and destitute. McEvoy, who had graduated from Fordham Law three years earlier and was working in the field of international law and human rights, was at a turning point herself when the job of development director opened at the center that summer. Father and daughter have been working ever since as full-time collaborators in Jesuit social ministry.
Among the other staff members at the center, he is referred to simply as “the father,” with appropriate ambiguity.
Fr. McCabe also lends a pastoral hand at Saints Peter and Paul, although he is not currently on the ministerial staff there. He recalls that during his very first homily at the church, he introduced himself in part by mentioning his daughter — which met with what he described as “confused laughter.” Some knew about his family situation, some didn’t.
“This is my reality. I’m not hiding anything,” Fr. McCabe explained in an interview. “And the laity have been so supportive, so affirming. They feel that I have a unique perspective because I’ve raised a child. I’ve had the same hopes and fears they’ve had, as parents.” He said, “People are really curious, but they love the story.”
For her part, McEvoy said she has never doubted for a moment that her father’s first vocation is to be her dad, but she added that his parental role has “become enveloped in a wider vocation.” Both she and Fr. McCabe say they know they won’t be working together forever, but they’ll always share a common calling — “to find God in a broken, wounded world,” in the words of the father.
William Bole, a journalist in Boston, writes frequently about the Jesuits.
Do you want to learn more about vocations to the Society of Jesus? Visit www.beajesuit.org for more information.