Bishop-elect Scott McCaig prays with fellow priests of the Companions of the Cross.

PHOTO | SHANNON KALYNIAK, COURTESY COMPANIONS OF THE CROSS

Bishop-elect Scott McCaig prays with fellow priests of the Companions of the Cross.

April 18, 2016
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

Bishop-elect Scott McCaig, named by Pope Francis April 8 to head the Military Ordinariate of Canada, traces the beginning of his priestly vocation to a glimpse of a road sign.

McCaig, who has served since 2006 as the superior general of the Companions of the Cross, was then 13 years old and traveling by car on vacation with his parents.

He doesn't remember the 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 diff between Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed or any other religious figure."

He set this religious experience aside because he had "no vocabulary for it" and "never told a soul about it."

His journey to Catholicism began years later with a "significant existential crisis" while he was attending university in Kamloops, B.C. He was asking big questions about life.

"If there is no God, then fine, I can move on with my life. If there is, I best be taking it seriously."

In addition to reading, he visited many churches and got to know many pastors who were deeply faithful, "yet they disagreed on some extremely important matters."

He was also dating a devout Catholic woman who exposed him to the Catholic Church. He began to see the differences among the churches, but was reminded of St. Paul's saying there was one faith, one Church and one Baptism. "It was a moment of real trial."

Studying the early Church Fathers convinced him to enter the Catholic Church in April 1987. He also found himself moved by the revelations of Fatima, Lourdes and St. Faustina's Divine Mercy.

He read about the life of St. Padre Pio and his miracles and realized "miracles aren't mediaeval myths, they are real and they are here today." The example and authenticity of St. Pope John Paul II also attracted him.

The next year, he did a year of youth ministry with NET Ministries USA that grounded him in faith, prayer, service and outreach. McCaig said he expected to return to British Columbia to finish his studies and marry the young woman he met in Kamloops.

"But God had different plans," he said. "Already the seed of a vocation had been growing in me. It was just burning in my heart more and more and more. Eventually I came to a place where I could no longer ignore it."

COMPANIONS OF THE CROSS

Enter Father Bob Bedard, founder of the Companions of the Cross, a 30-year-old priestly order founded in Ottawa.

While traveling with NET, McCaig met Bedard at a charismatic conference.

"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."

Since then, "Lo and behold, three out of four of us ended up Companions of the Cross," McCaig said.

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

"I basically said, 'Thanks but no thanks,'" he said. "But, I left the door open just a crack."

"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. "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, he was visiting Bedard in Ottawa. A few months later he had moved to Ottawa and become an applicant to Companions of the Cross.

Ordained a priest in 1995, McCaig has served as an associate pastor, hospital chaplain, 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. I'm very much looking forward to it."

RESPECT FOR MILITARY

McCaig said he already knows a number of military chaplains and finds them impressive. He was raised with a deep respect for the Canadian military, and many of his family members 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 needs to find men with priestly vocations and bringing them into ministry.

Pope Francis may have picked the right man for the job for helping foster vocations. Since Bedard's death in 2011, the Companions of the Cross has grown dramatically. By next fall, there will be a total of 27 seminarians.

The order boasts 40 priests and now two bishops, including Ottawa Auxiliary Bishop Christian Riesbeck two years ago.

But McCaig takes no credit for the flourishing order. "One cannot help but wonder how busy Father Bob is in heaven," he said.