Wednesday, May 24, 2000

A scholar and a teacher

Father McGrath reaches a milestone

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

(Michael Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        WILDER — Aspirations to act and perform magic tricks occasionally distracted Richard McGrath, but his desire to become a priest only strengthened over the years.

        The son of a strong Catholic family first considered a religious order as a second-grader at St. John the Baptist School in Wilder, where he now leads Sunday services and, this year, celebrates his fifth decade as a priest.

        This year, the Diocese of Covington is recognizing only two others for marking 50 years. They are the Rev. Louis Brinker of Cynthiana and the Rev. G. Robert Witt, a former Northern Kentucky priest now living in Florida.

        “Fifty years in any profession would be a major milestone,” diocese spokesman Tim Fitzgerald said. “It's quite significant.”

        Known for his quiet ways, scholarly bent and archaeo logical passions, Father McGrath recalls challenges he faced while providing religious guidance. He has no regrets about the profession he chose.

        “If I had to do it over again, I'd still be a priest,” he said. “I'm happy with it. I've enjoyed saying Mass. I've enjoyed teaching. I've enjoyed preaching and feeling like I can help people. It's just the way things kind of came together.”

        Father McGrath, 73, of Southgate, is most proud of his reputation as a teacher.

        He retired from Thomas More College's theology department last year. He taught there 49 years.

        His colleagues say it's not his way to brag, but believe he has every right to do so.

        “He was always rather meticulous,” said the Rev. Ronald M. Ketteler, chairman of Thomas More's theology department. “He was always well prepared. He was very judicious. He's a priest through and through.”

        Philosophy professor Gerald Twaddell remembers Father McGrath being energetic and generous with his time when dealing with students. He also credits the professor emeritus with rarely letting his health problems get in the way.

        A few years ago, Father McGrath's strength wasn't up to par, but he still went on an archaeological dig abroad.

        “Someone else would have canceled that trip,” said Father Twaddell. “But he believed it was useful for his scholarly background.”

        Teachers at St. John the Baptist had exposed him to stories about the Roman catacombs, where the first Christians were buried; and his passion for both religion and archaeology were sparked.

        These loves would grow as he attended Covington Latin School; St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati; and Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

        On June 3, 1950, he was ordained at the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption. He then studied three years in Rome. Theology and archaeology were his concentrations.

        While teaching at Thomas More, he often has shared his archaeological experiences. He has been on digs in Greece, Turkey and Israel. He speaks Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German and French.

        Throughout his career, Father McGrath has been motivated by a desire to share his love for the Bible — “to love it (and) see it as a beautiful communication from God and great work of literature, too,” he said.

        On June 3, Father McGrath will celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest on the Knights of Columbus grounds in Alexandria. There will be an outdoor Mass.


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