A Hidden Treasure – In Remembrance of Fr. Alfred McBride

Reverend Alfred A. McBride, O.Praem., a prolific writer and leading Catholic educator and scholar, passed into eternity on October 23, 2020. He was a member of St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a hidden treasure of the Catholic Church.

Fr. McBride at 2016 Christ Brings Hope Award Dinner
Fr. McBride at 2016 Christ Brings Hope Award Dinner

Father McBride is well known among the Green Bay community for his knowledge of the Christian faith, and he often gave talks and presentations, teaching local Catholics and religious about scripture and faith. Over the course of his life, he wrote extensively on the topics of religious education, scripture, and prayer. In total, he wrote 68 books.

Father Al gave a great deal of time to Relevant Radio®, hosting retreats for associates, appearing on The Drew Mariani ShowTM to discuss new books, and was one of the first priests to celebrate Mass at the network’s chapel. He took great interest in the Relevant Radio network, which was founded in Green Bay, and remained close to the project since its inception. “Thirteen years ago I volunteered to celebrate the Wednesday Mass at Relevant Radio. My joy is using the radio to bring Christ’s Eucharist into an ever growing thousands of homes,” said Fr. McBride in 2016.

On March 19, 2016, he was honored by Relevant Radio 1050 AM in Green Bay with the 2016 Christ Brings Hope Award. Father McBride was chosen as the second 1050 AM Christ Brings Hope Award recipient for his extraordinary dedication to bringing the good news and hope of Christ to all souls.

Alfred McBride was born in Philadelphia at the dawn of the Great Depression. He never knew his parents, but was informally adopted and raised by a widow. He attended Southeast Catholic High School, where he had his first contact with the Norbertine order, who taught at the all-boys school. Father McBride recalled in his autobiography, All I Own I Owe, that, “those four years with the Norbertines gave me what I needed for the process of maturity.”

His teachers recognized a possible priestly vocation and enrolled him in four years of Latin courses, and in his senior year, the school principal told Alfred that he would help him to become a diocesan or Norbertine priest if he wished to enroll in the seminary. In June of 1946, shortly after his graduation from high school, Alfred McBride boarded a train with one suitcase for De Pere, Wisconsin. He was accepted into the Norbertine order later that summer.

As a Norbertine novice, McBride studied and prayed at the novitiate in Madison, Wisconsin. There, he grew in faith and began to understand the existence of an inner life and the value of silence. The community in which he lived became like a family. One year later he returned to St. Norbert’s College and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and English. He was ordained to the priesthood in his hometown of Philadelphia in 1953. Father McBride spent his first years after ordination teaching high school students before being appointed as a novice master to assist in the formation of novices in Madison. In 1963, at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, Fr. McBride left to further his training and studies at Lumen Vitae catechetical institute in Brussels, Belgium.

He was later invited to be a visiting professor for the Religious Education Department at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. While at CUA, he also received his Doctorate in Religious Education with a thesis entitled “The Transcendental Themes of Rabbi Abraham Heschel and Their Value for Catholic Catechesis.” This thesis allowed McBride to study Heschels’ combination of “reverent fidelity to his Hasidic background with a respect for modern scholarship and discovery.” This 20th century rabbi, according to McBride, “has a great deal to give to our religious educators, caught as we are between the teachings of tradition and the need to find contemporary expressions of faith.”

In 1971, he joined the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) and there he founded the department of religious education. The purpose of this department was to give direction and support to educators using the new teaching methods and texts for religious education following the Second Vatican Council. Father McBride spent nine years with the NCEA, during which time he took a brief sabbatical and spent his time as a visiting student at Oxford. He was invited to speak several times at the NCEA Convention, and on one occasion, spoke just before the keynote speaker that year—President Ronald Reagan.

After fifteen years in Washington D.C., Fr. McBride decided it was time to go home. Back in Green Bay, he was appointed planner for the Norbertine community and was placed on the boards for St. Norbert College and the Orders’ two high schools, Abbot Pennings High School and Premontré High School. In 1990, Pennings, Premontré, and St. Joseph Academy for Girls merged to become Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay.

Fr Al McBride
Photo by St. Norbert Abbey

Father McBride is the author of Invitation: The Search for God, Self and Church, a Catechism for adults in RCIA. Published in 1984, Invitation is one of McBride’s four most popular books. He continued writing while he worked at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (now the USCCB) for one year, during which time he wrote the catechesis to accompany the 1987 papal visit. During Saint John Paul II’s visit to the United States, Fr. McBride served as a representative of the bishops to the media, during which time he appeared on and in major media outlets and publications such as the Today Show and the New York Times.

He never slowed down in serving the Church, and Fr. McBride began working with Aid to the Church in Need immediately following his service to the Bishops’ Conference. He was later named the American Spiritual Director for Aid to the Church in Need, an organization that seeks to help persecuted and oppressed Christians around the world. This role, says Fr. McBride, “involved preaching the cause, begging for funds in a number of parishes”, and gave him a deeper understanding of the plight of Christians who are persecuted for their Faith.

One of Fr. McBride’s bestselling books is Essentials of the Faith: A Guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was published shortly after Saint John Paul II announced the New Catechism in 1992. He is well known as the author of the popular Teen Catechism, which was widely used among students and confirmation classes. His catechesis continued when he taught courses on the Catechism, theology, scripture, and apologetics at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts. About his time at St. John Seminary, Fr. McBride recounts, “I especially loved teaching preachers, since it meant being personally involved with the students at every minute of each class…I emphasized the need to be prayerful, faith-filled and saturated in scripture.”

Father McBride has served as a contributor to many Catholic media outlets throughout his life. Following his retirement in 2003, he kept busy by continuing to write and publish books. He served on the Board of Directors for Our Sunday Visitor and Good Will Publishers. He was also greatly involved at Relevant Radio from the beginning of the network.

Throughout 67 years of serving the Catholic Church through the priesthood, Father Alfred McBride’s love of teaching remained strong. He held honorary doctorates from St. Norbert College and Belmont Abbey College and was named one of the most influential teachers of the twentieth century by The Talbot School of Theology. McBride is a treasure to the Church, and created a legacy of considerable contribution to the areas of Catholic education and catechesis. He credited all that he has accomplished “to the generosity of God’s gifts working through my loving family, the teachings and guidance of the Church, the affection of friends, and the trust and wisdom of the nuns and priests.”

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord… and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.