John McGrath Retires after 50 Years with Diocese
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
January 10, 2019
ROCKFORD—Although John McGrath retired as director of ministry formation and religious education for the Diocese of Rockford at the end of December, he doesn’t plan to disappear.
 
“My vocation has been to be an educator and a teacher,” he says. “That won’t change with retirement. I’ve let go of some of the administrative responsibilities, (but) I’d like to continue to have a presence in parishes with workshops, presentations, staff development days — to contribute as long as I can.”
 
McGrath milestones
 
1964 -- graduated from Fenwick High School in Oak Park
 
1968 - graduated from Notre Dame, majored in philosophy
 
1968-69 - St. Hugh Catholic School, Lyons, IL; taught sixth grade
 
1969-72 - Aurora Central Catholic High School; taught English and religion and asst. coach for football
 
1972 - received a master’s degree in literature from U of I in Champaign
 
1972-91 - Boylan Central Catholic High School; taught English and religion, was assistant track coach
 
1991 - Received a master’s degree in adult faith formation from Regis University, Denver
 
1991-2018 - Diocese of Rockford,
1991: - Ministry Formation;
1997: - Director of Religious Education and Formation (included Min. Form.); began Diocesan Theological Institute
McGrath began working for the Catholic Church some 50 years ago. In his first year after college, the Oak Park native taught at an Archdiocese of Chicago high school for a year, then came to teach at Aurora Central Catholic High School. He met his wife, Cynthia, there, and after three years the couple moved to Rockford where he taught at Boylan Central Catholic High School for 19 years. Rockford, he says, is where they have raised their children and made their home.
 
“When I first started teaching,” he says, “I really appreciated the students I taught. I thought that (learning) should be fun, and I tried to use every tool I had to make it an enjoyable experience.”
 
Explaining his goal to engage students in the learning process, McGrath says, “I think good education is active ... (with) lots of back-and-forth (and) learning from each other. I found that not only fun, but interesting as well.”
 
McGrath recalls how the first director of the diocesan Ministry Formation Program, which began in 1987, was aware that he was teaching classes for adults in the area, “so she approached me about teaching.” He called his first contact with Ministry Formation as “such a positive experience. People had signed up to learn about their faith; they were eager participants.”
 
When the director left in 1991, he was invited to take that role. “I accepted and I continued to teach in the program ever since,” he says.
 
“Over 1,400 have gone through and been certified,” McGrath adds. “Those people are so active in their parishes; they’re living their faith, engaging other people. I think that’s a great, great thing!”
 
In addition to growing the Ministry Formation program, McGrath began the Diocesan Theological Institute some 10 years ago. 
 
“We have had over 300 people participate in (DTI),” he says, explaining how it began in response to requests from ministry formation graduates who wanted ongoing learning and formation.
 
In 1997, McGrath was asked to take up the reins as diocesan director of religious education in addition to his ministry formation duties. He is happy about efforts the department has made to provide more personal contact with catechetical leaders around the diocese. 
 
“Three regional directors are always out in the parishes giving catechetical leaders a lot of attention and personal mentoring and guidance,” he explains. He points also to one of the three, centered in Aurora, who ministers to Spanish-speaking catechetical leaders and programs across the diocese.
 
“With the new system,” he says, “we are more equitably represented and are in contact with all people in our diocese.”
 
The department now provides an online option for catechists to be certified and also personal gatherings, which McGrath says are “appreciated” by many who “learn better when there’s a person of faith giving witness in person.”
 
The development of the annual Diocesan Youth Summit is also something he recalls as he reflects on his career. Calling it “quite an undertaking,” McGrath says it was “fascinating” to gather a big committee filled with ideas and watch the idea of a youth summit surface. 
 
“It went from an idea and sketching to a reality of 1,700 kids now, five years later ... That’s the Holy Spirit working through a lot of earthen vessels (on behalf of) young people, hopefully to orient their lives to God.”
 
McGrath calls it a “blessing to have been working in the diocesan offices for 27 years,” and “a privilege” to have worked for Bishops O’Neill, Doran and Malloy.
 
He points to something not found in all dioceses: “a wonderful working relationship between our schools and our religious education office, and between our principals and catechetical leaders.” 
 
The twice-a-year gatherings of “all our educational leaders,” he says brings them “together not only to learn but to pray together” and understand “our diocesan vision ... that’s something we’ve tried to foster, that unity of teamwork.”
 
McGrath calls teamwork “one of the great joys I’ve always had working in the diocese ... all of us are on the same team, and we’re working together as a team for the same cause (in an) environment of faith and trust and loyalty.” 
 
Faith, trust and loyalty, he notes, are “what I try to foster.”