The CONGREGATION of the Holy Cross Father Bill Miscamble urged Catholic institutions not to try to “blend” into secular culture, but to retain the identity of the Church and offer authentic witness to the world.
Father Miscamble taught history for 35 years at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.
He said that as he entered the classroom, there was no doubt that his priesthood was central to his vocation as a teacher.
He prayed before class for inspiration, he taught on feast days when they came, he wore his clerk collar.
“I tell them right away, ‘This is my ministry as a priest, I try to serve you by teaching you,'” he said.
“The Lord was the greatest of teachers, so it’s following Jesus to try to serve students to help them develop their own God-given talents.”
Father Miscamble feared that Catholic educational and health institutions in the United States were losing their identity.
He said Catholic schools were “nice places, comfortable places” with a “comfortable brand of Catholicism” but had struggled to spread the fullness of the gospel.
“It is part of my own efforts at Notre Dame over the years to try to improve and strengthen our Catholic mission so that our students understand that they are in a place that provides them with a distinct education that respects the dignity of each person and which makes it clear that we have a responsibility to the common good,” he said.
Originally from Rome in West Queensland, Father Miscamble went on to study history at the University of Queensland after graduation.
While studying Australian history, he discovered an interest in post-war United States foreign policy and aspired to contribute to this area of research.
This led him to the United States to complete his doctorate at Notre Dame.
During his studies there, he met men who testified to him of the vocation of a priest-scholar and were inspired to pursue the same life.
He joined the Congregation of Holy Cross and was ordained in 1988.
Since then Father Miscamble has written books on post-war American foreign policy as well as articles and biographies and he also led the seminary on campus for a time.
Lately he has been researching for a book that would compile biographies from the time of President John F Kennedy to President Joe Biden examining how Catholic politicians integrated their Catholicism into their public life.
“I’m going to look at an array of political figures and try to show a story that starts with this tension about JFK’s Catholicism,” he said.
“JFK, in my opinion, concedes too much.”
He said JFK gave a famous speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston in which he assured them that his religion was a private matter that would not interfere with his public office.
“I have some sympathy for him…there was a view pushed by a spectrum of Protestants that JFK should somehow comply with what the Pope said,” he said. he declared.
Either way, JFK started a trend for many Catholic politicians who made the same promise that their faith would not interfere with public life, he said.
“This, I think, is a disaster,” Father Miscamble said.
“If one reads Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution of the Church in the modern world, (it) basically says, ‘No, we are not a split personality, our faith informs how we lean on life, about the way we live’.
“That’s the problem I’m going to follow.”
He said there were many politicians who lived out their Catholicism and it was fruitful for them and the communities where they held public office.
He was also eager to explore their lives in the book.
The landscape of the American Church was changing and also faced many evangelistic challenges, Fr. Miscamble said.
“Participation – there are a significant number of people who tick ‘Catholic’ on the census data, but turning them into active and engaged disciples is the big challenge,” he said.
“The American Church is a large Church and quite a diverse Church; the growing percentage of Hispanic members is a major challenge for evangelism, serving these Hispanic communities is a great challenge.
“The evangelization of young people is a challenge. Bishop Robert Barron is a bit of a hero of mine for his efforts to reach out to and involve the “no-no’s”.
“There’s a loneliness crisis in America with people adrift and they can’t see that you need a larger sense of transcendent purpose; each is caught up in their own world, presumably staring at a screen.
He said these evangelistic challenges cannot be solved by adapting to the culture.
“That, based on the American experience of mainstream Protestants, is a disastrous course of action,” he said.
“You’re not trying to blend in.
“You try to stay true to Catholic beliefs and convictions; offer something to people, and the Church of course has the sacraments to offer, but also a way of looking at life from a disposition of gratitude.
Father Miscamble said that from his time working in the vineyard at Notre Dame, the answer could also be found by encouraging people to seek their vocation.
“The sense that people have this distinct calling that God gave them, who calls them, has been somewhat lost and there is a need to reclaim that sense in order to live out their faith in the world,” he said.
“There are challenges in the United States that would be somewhat similar here in Australia.”
Father Miscamble returned home to receive an honorary doctorate from the Australian Catholic University at a private reception in Brisbane this Friday.
He served on the International Advisory Board of the ACU’s PM Glynn Institute, a public policy think tank within the portfolio of the ACU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor (Ethics).
Father Miscamble said he strives to be a supporter of Catholic education around the world, including his many friends here at ACU.