Bryan pastor enjoys bringing people to Christ
By Mary P. Walker
Msgr. John McCaffrey has been the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bryan for 28 years, and it is hard to imagine him as anything other than a priest. However, it took the love and advocacy of his mother to get him to the seminary.
Growing up in a military family as the third of four children, Msgr. McCaffrey learned the value of sacrificial service. He credits his father, Robert, with leading a strong, religious family, and his older brother who was a seminarian in Rome. With his father’s career came the opportunity to live in Europe and Asia, and he attended 13 schools before high school graduation.
He too wanted to become a priest, but with one son already on that path, his father would not give him permission to enter the seminary. Msgr. McCaffrey explained that he had such great love and respect for his parents that he could not go against his father’s wishes.
With his natural desire to help people, he attended Florida State University and earned a degree in social work. He wanted to join the Peace Corps, but again, his father did not support this. Instead, Msgr. McCaffrey became a social worker for the American Red Cross and went to Vietnam for 13 months, finding fulfillment in helping the soldiers and their families.
While he was in Vietnam, Msgr. McCaffrey’s brother in the seminary died suddenly. When he returned home for the funeral, his mother, Yvette, having just buried one son, was fearful of another returning to Vietnam. Msgr. McCaffrey did not want to cause her distress, and through the Red Cross, transferred to Fort Hood.
However, he did not find the work there as fulfilling. He decided to go to graduate school –– and the school he wanted to go to was the seminary. During that time, if a young man wanted to enter the seminary, his father was asked to write a letter of support. Msgr. McCaffrey explained that just as Catholics ask Mary, our spiritual mother, to ask Jesus for what we want, he asked his mother to ask his father to write the letter.
His mother, knowing that becoming a priest was her son’s deepest desire, prevailed upon her husband. Msgr. McCaffrey attended St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana and St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston. On June 5, 1976, he was ordained a priest for the Austin Diocese, and his father was extremely proud.
His first assignments were at St. Julia and Cristo Rey parishes in Austin. He then served at St. Anthony Parish in Bryan for five years and became pastor of St. Joseph Parish 28 years ago. Along with his responsibilities as a priest and pastor, he also served as Vocations Director for the diocese for 11 years, and was instrumental in founding St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Franklin, serving as the first canonical pastor.
Msgr. McCaffrey’s pastoral care and tireless work ethic are almost legendary in the large and busy parish. His love and concern for others have touched countless lives. To keep himself fit, he strives to live a healthy lifestyle and gets up early five days a week to run 8 to 10 miles.
“Being able to help people and bring them to Our Lord,” is what Msgr. McCaffrey finds most rewarding about being a priest.
His greatest challenge is finding the time the do what needs to be done.
“You just do what you have to do. God gives you the strength and blessings to accomplish it,” Msgr. McCaffrey said.
For much of his time at St. Joseph, he was the only priest. Now he enjoys serving with and mentoring associate pastor, Father Ryan Higdon, who was ordained in 2012.
“Msgr. John has taught me that translating a love for the people of God into concrete actions isn’t impossible, nor does it mean being lost in a mountain of paperwork. Basically, he’s taught me to always place the people first,” Father Higdon said.
During his time at St. Joseph, Msgr. McCaffrey presided over a large expansion of the parish school. The school now includes three campuses with extended nursery care, and pre-Kindergarten through 12th grades. He praised his parishioners, families of students and the area parishes for supporting the school. He is also proud that his parish is the only one in the diocese to sponsor a high school. With the school administration, he works to keep the tuition affordable for many, and the demographics of the students reflect the community.
His love for children compels him to get them involved in the faith. When the school children can read, they learn to be lectors at Mass. After the children make their first Holy Communion, they are encouraged to become altar servers. Young adults participate in music ministry and are extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.
Another love of Msgr. McCaffrey’s is scouting. The parish sponsors Boy and Girl Scout troops, and last year, the community celebrated his 50th anniversary as an Eagle Scout.
Msgr. McCaffrey’s stamina and work ethic have also helped him fight infirmity. In 2004, he had a herniated disk, numbing his leg and making it almost impossible to walk. Re-learning how to walk led to running. Less than a year later, he completed his first marathon at age 58.
He has also suffered three bouts of skin cancer, requiring facial reconstruction and forcing him to take off two months last summer. His face lit up with joy when he celebrated his first Mass back, and the parish responded in kind.
Father Higdon reflects the esteem that Catholics and the community have for Msgr. McCaffrey, stating, “Msgr. John is a man who cares deeply for his people, and we all have benefited from his pastoral care. He’s a great blessing to the Brazos Valley, the church, but most of all to the people of God he’s been called to shepherd.”
Today, Msgr. McCaffrey hopes to serve God and his people for many more years.
“I used to hope God was on my side. Now I hope that I’m on God’s side,” he said.