Bishop-elect Scott McCaig celebrates Mass at the St. Therese School. Photo/ Courtesy Companions of the Cross

Scott McCaig dared to be a priest

By 
  • April 14, 2016

OTTAWA – Bishop-elect Scott McCaig traces the beginning of his priestly vocation to a chance glimpse of a sign on the side of the road.

McCaig, who has served since 2006 as the Superior General of the Companions of the Cross, was then 13 and travelling by car on vacation with his parents. He doesn’t remember the exact location, possibly Northwest Ontario, but he glanced up to see the sign showing a picture of the crucified Christ with the caption, “Dare to be a priest like me.”

“It pierced me to the heart in a way I could not explain,” he said. “At that time, I was religiously very ignorant. I could not have told you the difference between Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed or any other religious figure.”

Though he discovered later this was part of Fr. Sean O’Sullivan’s bold and controversial advertising campaign in the 1980s to recruit young men to the priesthood, McCaig set this religious experience aside because he had “no vocabulary for it” and “never told a soul about it.”

Since then, McCaig has journeyed far along the path of the priesthood. He was named by Pope Francis April 8 to head the Military Ordinariate of Canada.

His journey to the Catholic faith began years after seeing the sign with a “significant existential crisis” while he was attending university in Kamloops, B.C. He was asking all the big questions about life, and even dropped courses to pursue the answers. The questions he pursued were threefold: “Does God exist? Is Christ who He claims to be?” And if He is, “Where do I find Him?”

It was a study of the early Church Fathers that convinced McCaig to enter the Catholic Church in April 1987. He was also moved by the revelations of Fatima, Lourdes and St. Faustina’s Divine Mercy, and had read about the life of St. Padre Pio and his miracles. The example and authenticity of St. Pope John Paul II also attracted him.

He did a year of youth ministry with NET Ministries USA that grounded him in faith, prayer, service and outreach. McCaig said he fully expected to return to British Columbia to finish his studies and marry the devoutly Catholic woman he had been dating once the NET Ministries year was up.

“But God had different plans,” he said.

Enter the late Fr. Bob Bedard, the founder of the Companions of the Cross, a 30-year-old priestly order based in Ottawa. While travelling with NET, the bishop-elect met Bedard at a charismatic conference at Notre Dame.

“At that time I thought I had no interest in a vocation but we had heard about him,” he said. “I knew he was beginning a new community in Ottawa, and we were very excited about that. So he took four of us Canadians who had been on NET that year out for beer and pizza with a few of his seminarians.

“Lo and behold, three out of four of us ended up Companions of the Cross,” McCaig said.

The turning point in answering the call to the priesthood came while he was in St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria, B.C., praying in front of the tabernacle and acknowledging the Lord might be calling him.

“If you really, really want me to be a priest, then I need you to speak to me in a way I will really understand,” he said. “And I left it there. I got up, walked to the back of church, flipped open a copy of the B.C. Catholic newspaper and there right in front of me, a full page spread of that same campaign I’d seen 10 years earlier (on the road sign). There was the crucified Christ and the words ‘Dare to be a priest like me.’

“Within weeks I was visiting Fr. Bedard in Ottawa and within a few months I had moved to Ottawa and become an applicant to Companions of the Cross.”

Ordained to the priesthood in 1995, McCaig has served as an associate pastor, a hospital chaplain, a parish administrator and director of formation for the Companions. In 2006 he was elected General Superior and re-elected in 2012.

He describes his call to the episcopacy and the challenge of the Military Ordinariate as a “poignant moment.”

“I’ve poured my life into the development of the Companions of the Cross, my whole priesthood, and now the Lord is giving me a new challenge, knowing however, I am always a Companion, it’s still my spiritual family, but I have a new apostolate, a new mission given to me by the Lord through the Holy Father and I take it up with a lot of enthusiasm.”

McCaig said he has already met and known a number of military chaplains and found them impressive. He was raised with a deep respect for the Canadian military and many of his family members over the generations have served, including in both world wars.

“It’s a crucial necessity to support the troops and support those protecting our freedoms and upholding human dignity,” he said.

He recognizes the Ordinariate is in a similar place to many dioceses that have challenges in finding men with the right vocations and bringing them into ministry.

McCaig will be consecrated to the episcopacy at Notre Dame Cathedral on May 31, on the Feast of the Visitation.

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