Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A Light in Holland: Father Vincent McMahon LC

The following article from a secular Dutch magazine, explains why an Irish Legionary named Father Vincent McMahon, LC, is so loved by the people he serves.

Holland, July 29, 2008. In a secularized society, the witness of an authentic priest can shed a great light. The following article about Fr Vincent McMahon, LC, was originally published in Dutch in the July issue of the magazine "Navenant. Het beste van Limburg" (Just Right. The Best of Limburg). Limburg is a region in the south of Holland and in the north of Belgium, and the magazine presents the natural and cultural attractions of the area, as well as some local people who stand out for their work. Translated and reprinted with permission.


Father Vincent McMahon, the Don Camillo of the South

By Marlies Sobzcak-Bouwmans
From the magazine "Navenant. Het beste van Limburg"

He is probably one of the most popular priests in the Province of Limburg, though in his modesty he will never admit it. Be that as it may, he attracts many people to Church, his sermons have a special impact, and one will surely be smiling before the end of the ceremony. He is a friendly man, audacious in his expressions and very good humoured. A priest who loves life and people. A very special pastor.

Fr. McMahon is Irish, as one can easily notice from his accent. Humour is his trademark; he laughs frequently and heartily. He grew up as one of five children, in a pure environment in a beautiful countryside not far from the sea. His was a household filled with warmth, love, and simplicity. “I was the black sheep of the family. If anything was broken or missing, I got the blame. And usually I was to blame anyway…”

McMahon has great memories of his youth: the wild sea, the music, the songs. With time much has changed, but these things retain a special place in his heart. When eighteen years old he felt called to the priesthood. “I read a book about Fr. Damian who gave his life for the lepers in Molokai. I was so impressed that I wished to live my life in the service of others.”

Father McMahon is a member of the Legionaries of Christ, a congregation with many young priests. “For a time I was divided between the call to the priesthood and forming a family. Like every person, I have the normal weaknesses and impulses…” He began his studies in Ireland and continued his formation in Spain and Mexico. At the age of 26, he began his philosophy studies at the Gregorian University in Rome. “I loved life in Rome. I lived in a College and got to know the city through the windows of the bus.” He later became a parish priest in Rome and was specially dedicated to work with students. The city had a great effect on him, and he was completely taken up by the atmosphere, the churches, monuments, streets, little shops, and big football matches. He now watches the local teams in his parish, Green Star and NEC, and is one of their faithful supporters. McMahon still has many friends in Rome and he is often invited to return for celebrations (something which his duties in Holland rarely permit). He is well liked and well known in many circles. As he himself says, “I am blessed with friends in every social sphere.”

On the day of this interview we find a great number of motorcyclists lined up outside his church with their shining machines. They are tough men with elegant female companions in black leather suits. Fr. McMahon appears in a gold-coloured pluvial cape and blesses the group solemnly with holy water. Afterwards he entertains them in an amusing conversation. The bike-riders love this and they have great respect for the parish priest of St. Cornelius Church. “These are great people,” says Fr. McMahon. “Before setting out on a long ride they come to ask for a blessing so that all may run safely.” McMahon has special interest in the youth, and he has many friends in the International School of Management in Maastricht. “Last year after a hike in the country, a young Latin American student asked me if I could prepare her for baptism. That makes a priest happy,” he smiles.

The step from the great city of Rome to Chevremont (now almost twenty years ago) and later to Heerlerheide was not easy for this Irishman. He spoke English, Spanish, and Italian. But to speak and preach in Dutch and to face the difficult Limburgs dialect was more than hazardous. His Irish temperament and openness, however, soon brought him very close to the people whose joys and sorrows he shares: doctors, lawyers, travelers, the man on the street. He can be a friend of politicians of every colour, including communists like the legendary Don Camillo. In every environment he feels at home and he understands the personal situation of everyone he meets. Many of his friends reside in North-Heerlen, a zone well known for its social problems. Family tragedies, unemployment, drug-addiction, and crime are all very frequent. “We try to help each other” says the priest. “I admire the inner strength that these people have. I specially remember a man whom I buried a year ago. He had two handicapped children, and his wife was completely paralyzed. He looked after them with great affection and care until the day he died.” There are many other cases, like the vagabond who came regularly to the rectory for a sandwich. “Then one day he came no more, and I learned that they had found his body under a shrub close by, a victim of an overdose. We do our best to help these people, but at such a moment one asks oneself if one could not have done more.”

While we continue speaking over his work in the seminary in Haarlem, he picks up the guitar. Although he is no maestro, he does play a few chords. As if he doesn’t know anything else, he sings the Battle of New Orleans, and then, a variation of How Beautiful is Limburg. “I love this country. My heart lies here. I would like them to play this song at my funeral.” What a day that will be in the St. Cornelius Church.