By Agnieszka Ruck, The B.C. Catholic
[Vancouver – Canadian Catholic News] – When Brian McGuckin first suggested to his son that he consider becoming a priest, Mark laughed it off, telling him “not in a million years!”
But, thanks in part to the faithful and selfless example of his dad, Mark McGuckin ended up leaving his career in the film industry and pursuing a vocation as a priest in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. He was ordained in 2016.
The B.C. Catholic reached out to two priests to hear about the good influences of these “Fathers of Fathers” just ahead of Father’s Day, June 21.
“Good fathers make good families, and families make good vocations.” – Fr. Pablo Santa Maria
“[My dad] is by far the biggest male influence in my entire life, and has been from day one,” said Fr. McGuckin, assistant pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Chilliwack.
“It’s hard to encapsulate in words the influence people have on you, and his is so all-encompassing. Certain words come to mind: self-giving, hard-working.”
Before he became a dad, Brian McGuckin spent a few years discerning a vocation with the Trappist Monks at Our Lady of the Prairies near Winnipeg. Though he would eventually become a teacher and father instead of a monk, that experience would have a profound influence.
“It was good for me, as it was good for anyone who goes into religious life and spends a couple years,” Brian said. “You have a tremendous resource to draw on… it was a foundational period of time for me.”
Fr. McGuckin said his dad always seemed to have a monastic side to him. The man went to daily Mass, prayed the Rosary, and seemed to have a deep trust in the Lord. As a child and a young man, Mark didn’t fail to notice his dad’s passion for his faith.
Mark remembers the Friday nights he would invite his friends for sleepovers in his parents’ living room. They would lie in sleeping bags watching one movie after another into the wee hours of the morning. “Inevitably, my dad would wake up, because he was waking up to shave, brush his teeth, and open up the church. I knew this, and my friends kind of knew it,” said Fr. Mark.
“He wouldn’t be imposing, telling us we should go to sleep, or go to Mass with him, but he was just this influence. There was something that gave him life. He was pursuing something good, and it just rubbed off on me. Moments like that, at the time experiences we would label insignificant, were anything but in the long run.”
Other moments might have been the Rosaries his dad prayed as he drove Mark to and from visits at home and his studies at the University of British Columbia, or when his dad would call on weekends to check if his son had been to Mass on Sunday.
Mark graduated with a degree in film production in 2004 and threw himself into his career with little thought for his faith.
It wasn’t until he was in his late 20s when Mark experienced a dark period in his life and a dramatic “reawakening” of his faith. He became suddenly interested in the faith of his father and spent six months at Madonna House in Ontario, a Catholic community of lay men and women and priests, before entering Seminary of Christ the King.
“He surprised me one night,” said Brian, recalling the moment he learned his son was considering a vocation as a priest. “I was flabbergasted, to tell you the truth, but I wasn’t surprised.”
Little did Mark know, his father had consecrated him to Mary many years earlier and made it a daily petition that God guide his son. “It became a constant prayer every day, allowing him to live the life God gave him to live, and for me not to interfere but only ask for God’s grace in everything he did.”
Fr. McGuckin said his father’s influence has inspired him as well as the many young men he has taught at the Seminary of Christ the King.
“For my dad, our Lord is so central. When we describe our Lord as a rock and our firm foundation, we can say it with words and it can be an intellectual thing and we keep it in our minds, but to really own it, to really learn it, there comes this stability and self-assuredness from our Lord. It’s something that my dad just carries with him,” he said.
“It comes with his athletic sensibility, too; he grew up playing football and he has that fighter’s spirit of engaging in the battle and not backing down. To do so in life in general, trusting in our Lord, and taking those steps forward – that has greatly influenced me.”
Another Vancouver priest, Fr. Pablo Santa Maria Watson, says his father and grandfather also had great influences on his life and faith.
“I was very close to my grandpa,” said Fr. Santa Maria on the phone from Spain, where he is studying at the University of Navarra.
Emilio Watson “was a man of very deep spiritual life,” a daily Mass-goer, and the man who taught young Pablo how to drive, use tools, and develop an appreciation for Gregorian chant and classical music.
Pablo loved staying overnight at the home of his grandparents, which they allowed under one condition: he would have to attend Mass with one of them in the morning. His grandmother would go early in the morning, so he would sleep in and go to Mass later in the day with Emilio.
“My grandpa had an immense love for the Eucharist. When he was 90 years old, he could not contemplate the idea of not kneeling at the consecration,” said Fr. Santa Maria. “I remember hearing him pray, how deeply he would pray. I was almost moved to tears with his deep love for Jesus.”
Though Emilio was not the kind of man to talk about his feelings or urge his oldest grandson to become a priest, Fr. Santa Maria could tell he was moved at his ordination in 2012.
Emilio passed away not long afterward, but he left an indelible mark on the family.
“He was hugely influential, his way of being, he was a huge influence. A good man. He worked hard, loved his family. A man of integrity.”
What Emilio did not say in the form of encouraging words, Fr. Pablo Santa Maria Sr., did. The priest said his father “was the one who affirmed me when I needed to be affirmed, who would challenge me. How to make a man; that’s what I learned from my dad.”
One day, while Pablo was away at boarding school, struggling to keep his grades up and getting in trouble, his father called and told him he was meeting him for lunch.
“I was nervous. But rather than get angry, he said: ‘What’s going on?’ I was very good at sciences and I was close to failing the class … He taught me to seek excellence.”
Dates with his sons were common occurrences. Pablo Sr. would go on drives with one son at a time to the beaches of Acapulco to talk about life and “have pizza for dessert.”
“He did it with my brother, my mom did it with my sister. My dad was very much involved in our relationship. He affirmed me when I needed it, challenged me when I needed it, and had the virtue of knowing when and how.”
Some studies have found that the greatest indicator of whether or not a child will regularly attend church later in life is whether or not their fathers did.
Fr. Pablo puts it this way: “Good fathers make good families, and families make good vocations.”