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Jack McBride

By David M. Riley


JACK J. MCBRIDE  (born April 22, 1953-died February 1, 2007):  A Catholic religious educator, his work focused on furthering the growing field of adult education both in parishes and nationally.  He made significant contributions in his writings and in his work with national organizations such as the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership.  He also wrote and consulted for various Catholic publishers.


Jack McBride was born in Cleveland Ohio on April 22, 1953, the oldest son of John and Marie McBride.  He has a sister, Mary Beth, seven years his junior and had a younger brother, Jimmy, who died at the age of seven months of a congenital defect in his liver.  Jack hailed from a working class neighborhood and he and his family lived in a duplex house above his grandparents when he was young.  He was the classic favored son in an Irish family and his grandparents doted over him as a boy.  His father worked for a while for the local gas company and later was self-employed owning a vending machine route.  Jack would often go with him in the summers to stock the machines.  Like many women of her time his mother stayed at home to raise the children and later worked in a bank.  His father is said to have had a charming and gregarious but gentle spirit with a lively Irish sense of humor, a temperament that Jack inherited and exhibited throughout his life.  Jack’s mother was a troubled woman plagued with alcoholism which no doubt contributed to Jack’s parents’ divorce the year that Jack began graduate school.   

Jack grew up Catholic in Cleveland, attended St. Robert elementary school, and  eventually graduated from St. Joseph high school.   He went on to college at Marquette University where he majored in theological studies and political science, and where he met his future wife, Mary Hesse, who was at the time studying to be a nurse.  He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1975.  After graduation Jack moved back to Cleveland and continued to correspond with Mary as their relationship grew stronger.

Upon his return to Cleveland Jack was searching for his vocation, but unlike many of the young Catholic men of his time who eventually found their way into ministry, he did not feel called to the priesthood and never entered the seminary.   This was ten years after the Second Vatican Council had ended and the Catholic landscape was rapidly shifting.  Lay ministry and lay communities were springing up in various parts of the nation.  It is to one of those charismatic lay communities in Akron Ohio that Jack was drawn.  He lived for a short time in the community but found the rigid, authoritarian structure not to his liking and he left after only three months. 

When he returned to Cleveland he found a position as a house parent at a boarding school for troubled teenage boys.  This experience apparently prepared him for a teaching position at St. Edward high school in Cleveland where he taught religion.  It was during this time that Mary moved to Cleveland and they eventually married in the high school chapel, a somewhat rare occurrence in those days.  After they married they made the decision that Jack would go to graduate school.  Jack was accepted into the Master of Theological Studies at Harvard Divinity School and they moved to Boston. Three years into their marriage, and while in Boston, they had their first child, Andrew.  

It was at Harvard that Jack received an ecumenically rich and diverse exposure to many religious traditions.

It’s website describes the Harvard program in this way:

The master of theological studies (MTS) program is a two-year full-time degree that enables students to explore deeply and broadly the languages, literatures, thought, institutions, practices, normative claims, and structures of a variety of theological fields and religious traditions. It also enables students to think critically, with sophistication and self-awareness, about the scholarly study of these concepts and traditions.  

The impact of such an intensive, broad based program cannot be overstated and it impacted Jack’s perspective and work for the rest of his life.  While he was grounded firmly in Catholic theology at Marquette, his graduate work at Harvard and exposure to some of the finest minds in the Christian tradition, opened up his ecumenical and interfaith understanding of the principles and worldviews that undergird many of the world’s religions.  It also sharpened his critical thinking skills, a trait that he would bring to his future ministry in the Catholic community.

He received a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1980.  After he received his degree from Harvard he accepted a high school teaching job in Madison, Wisconsin and moved the family there.  It was in Madison that their two other children, Megan and Sarah were born.  

In Madison Jack taught high school in the religious studies department at Edgewood high school.  Later he moved into parish ministry and served as parish Director of Religious Education in two parishes in the Madison diocese.  In 1986 he began work in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis and served on the staff as Associate Director until his death after a long battle with cancer in 2007. 

Contributions to Christian Education

As with many Catholic laymen and women of his generation, Jack’s vocation to ministry was fueled by the tremendous energy and vitality that emerged from the Second Vatican Council.  While doing parish catechetical work with children’s programs (what was known as CCD, which stood for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine), it became more apparent to Jack that the key to renewal in the Church depended on adults knowing and living their faith.  He realized early on that the greatest area of need in the Church in the U.S. was the evangelization and faith formation of the adult population.  His insight was that the developmental and nurture paradigm needed to evolve into a conversion paradigm. With the Church so heavily invested in Catholic schools, and children’s religious education the idea of shifting priorities to adults was still new and often it met with resistance from Church leaders. 

But this became his mission, his passion, and the work of his career.  His bright, inquisitive nature and his ability to network with colleagues soon got him recognized as a leader and pioneer in this young field.  In the late 1980s he was elected to serve as a representative from Episcopal Region 7, which included Wisconsin, to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Advisory Committee on Adult Religious Education (NACARE).  The Committee existed to serve the bishops of the United States in the area of adult catechesis and consisted of representatives from all of the Episcopal Regions of the United States.  One of his first NACARE projects was to spearhead a project in partnership with the Kettering Foundation of Dayton, Ohio.  The foundation annually published discussion guides on various issues of national importance known as the National Issues Forums (NIF).  Working with key leaders of the foundation and NACARE members Jack oversaw the creation of a Catholic version of the NIF appropriately titled, National Issues Forums in the Catholic Community.  The forums utilized documents from the long history of Catholic Social Teaching in tandem with the NIF materials.  Many dioceses embraced the program and conducted training forums with parish leaders who then conducted forums with parishioners.

Jack also created a leaders discussion guide for the document, Adult Catechesis in the Christian Community. In 1992 Jack attended the International Consultation on Adult Religious Education in Dublin, Ireland, representing the United States Catholic Conference.

Jack eventually became the chairperson of the NACARE Committee and guided the group in the writing and publication of the first ever United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on adult faith formation entitled: Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us.  He also contributed to and edited an accompanying leader’s guide to the document that could be used by parish leaders to help resource parish adult religious education teams.  The guide was published in 2000.  Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us remains the definitive document on adult faith formation in the Catholic Community.

In 2001 with Jack’s leadership the NACARE committee proposed to the Committee on Catechesis (COC) a national symposium on Adult Faith Formation.  The COC termed the event a consultation on adult faith formation.   An ad hoc committee was established to develop and flesh out the proposal.  

Quoting from the minutes of the ad hoc committee:

The purpose of the consultation is to gather key ecclesial leaders with commitment and responsibility for strengthening Catholic Adult Faith Formation in the United States as envisioned by the General Directory for Catechesis and Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us.   Reflecting on key issues surrounding AFF this consultation’s proceedings will be published as a resource for dioceses and parishes throughout the United States.

As with many projects within bureaucracies, some bear fruit and others are left by the wayside.  The consultation was one of those.  Though it never came to be, the work that was done served to keep adult faith formation firmly on the agenda of the USCCB Committee on Catechesis.

Michael Steier, Associate Director of the Secretariat of Evangelization & Catechesis for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, served as staff to NACARE and had this to say about Jack.  “Jack was a wonderful catechetical leader who contributed much insight and passion to the Church’s adult faith formation ministry. I greatly admire his courage as he faced death with the confidence that only sure faith in Jesus Christ can give. I remember his counsel and hold it carefully in my heart – “Let us all lean into the mystery!”   “Lean into the Mystery” was a favorite saying of Jack’s.

As a leader Jack had a style that was both collaborative and at times confrontational.  His infectious, and playful Irish humor drew others to him and he was able to get them to work with him.  But he also had a knack for asking tough questions of those in power positions and demanded accountability from them.  His careful guidance and sometime aggressive leadership of the NACARE committee made it a relevant and active body that provided nationally a new energy and enthusiasm for adult faith formation.  

Among other projects in which Jack was involved was a video assisted catechist training series known as Echoes of Faith, produced by RCL Benziger in partnership with the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership.  Jack worked closely with project director, Ed Gordon, of the diocese of Wilmington to help design and write various components of this landmark series that is still in use in many parishes in the United States.

Jack was not a particularly prolific writer nor was he an academician.  He preferred instead the path of action, getting things done, pushing organizations to make a difference in the lives of their constituents.  To this end in 2003 he began the Adult Faith Formation Committee of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, a national organization of parish and diocesan level catechetical leaders as well as academics,  researchers, and publishers.  The Adult Faith Formation Committee, according to the NCCL by-laws exists to:

•  Explore approaches and strategies to foster the centrality of Adult Faith Formation.

•  Develop and promote resources for adult formation.

•  Communicate best practices in adult faith formation.

•  Promote the Bishops’ pastoral Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us.

Under Jack’s leadership the committee saw a need to investigate what was actually happening in parish adult faith formation.  With much of the discussion about what should be happening, there was little data on what works in AFF.  So the committee embarked on a project to conduct a national empirical study of best practices in parish adult faith formation.  Jack co-authored the study with David Riley of the archdiocese of Cincinnati and it was published by the NCCL in 2006.  The hope of the committee was that the study would isolate and identify some universal common practices which could then be replicated by others and thus improve on what was currently being done.

Jack’s leadership in the NCCL was widely regarded and appreciated by many in the organization.  In the spring of 2006 Jack received the Distinguished Service Award from the NCCL at its annual meeting.  This award “is intended to recognize and applaud the good works of someone who has spent many years in catechesis helping individuals and communities encounter the Good News of Jesus. The award recipient is not revealed until the time of the presentation and is someone who is attending the annual meeting.” (taken from the NCCL website.

In 2008 the Religious Educators of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin named an award after Jack.  It is known as the Jack McBride Leadership in Ministry Award and is given each year to an outstanding parish catechetical leader.


McBride, J. (Ed.).  (2002). Adult catechesis in the Christian community: Discussion Guide.  Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

McBride, J. & Riley, D. (2006). Best practices in adult faith formation: A national study.    Washington, DC: National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.

McBride, J.  Politics, religion, and young Catholics.  Retrieved from

McBride, J.  (1996). Echoes of faith: Getting started as a catechist (Video Companion Booklet, The Catechist).  Allen, TX: Resources for Christian Living.

McBride, J. & Chafe, J.  (1997).  Echoes of faith: I believe we believe (Video Companion Book, Theology). Allen, TX: Resources for Christian Living.

McBride, J.  (2002, March). Ten characteristics of a well-organized adult faith formation team.  Today’s Parish. 

McBride, J. (2006).  All Life is Revelatory.  In D. Riley (Ed.), Echoes of Faith: Adult Faith Formation. (pp. 15-16).  Allen, TX: Resources for Christian Living.

McBride, J. (2008). Why is the Bible Holy?  In M.Ralph (Ed.), Echoes of Faith: The Scriptures. (pp. 25-26). Allen,TX: Resources for Christian Living.

Excerpts from Publications

McBride, J. In “Religious Education Catechist Handbook, St. Mary Parish, Fredricksburg, VA. 2011-2012.


Lord God, you are the source of all love, truth, and goodness.
You are the source of my being

And your Word is the
true path for my journey.

Grant to me the courage
to live according to your Word.

Instill in me,
through the gift of your Holy Spirit, the desire and the wisdom to share Your love, your truth, your goodness with my students.

Help me to use my time
to better prepare myself for this sacred responsibility.

For I so need to offer myself in your service
with all of the patience, perseverance and love
that you have first shown to me.

I ask no more than this, Lord, In the name of your Son and my Savior, Jesus Christ.


Jack McBride

McBride, J. (2006).  All Life is Revelatory.  In D. Riley (ED.), Echoes of Faith: Adult Faith Formation.. pp. 15-16. 

 Life really is an experience of living into a mystery…living into the “WOW!”  Yet, we cannot experience-let alone claim-the mystery unless we are awake unto it…Awake unto the Lord!  All of life is revelatory.  Hence, all of life-the joyous, the mundane, the chaos, and the sadness-reveals a truth offered by God if we can only remain awake to receive it.  And we surely want to receive it!...

God’s revelation is there in a morning kiss, the morning’s shower, our first cup of coffee, even in kid’s yelling.  God’s revelation is there on our drive to work, when we get cut off, get a flat tire, or when we find the “grade A” first stall parking space.  God’s revelation is there as well when we are told we have cancer, or a loved one dies, or we are getting a divorce.  God is always there, revealing the truth of life’s mystery to us.  

McBride, J. (2008). Why is the Bible Holy?  In M.Ralph (Ed.), Echoes of Faith: The Scriptures. (pp. 25-26).

We believe that the Bible is inspired by God.  By this we mean that these writings by human authors faithfully contain what God wishes to communicate.  God did not take possession of the imagination or thought of the author and dictate to this person who, in some kind of trance, recorded it for the community.  God’s inspiration is not controlling, nor is it limited to the few to whom the books of the Bible are attributed…

The Bible is a testimony of God’s self revelation.  But it is also an account of an ancient people who were transformed as they heard and embraced God’s truth.  We believe that today the Bible continues to offer the occasion to hear and embrace the revelation of God and to transform our lives.

McBride, J. (1999).  Adult catechesis: all eyes are on the road but who’s driving the bus?  Catechetical Update, (No. 17) Spring, 5-8.

Throughout the country, one of the first concerns voiced when discussing adult catechesis is how to motivate adults to participate in various programs and catechetical learning opportunities.  In short, how do you get adults on board?  To me, the challenge has less to do with adult motivation than it does with our presumptions of how to work with adults.

First, our interest often seems to be only in adults who sit in our pews.  But do we believe we have anything to offer the broader community?  Think of it this way: if your parish disappeared overnight, would the broader community feel diminished in any way by its absence? 

Even when we go beyond the pew to the broader community, how do we try to meet their catechetical needs?  Do we ask adults about their challenges, their concerns, their religious questions? They may not be motivated at first to join our scripture study or Catholic Update series, but most adults are certainly motivated to make sense out of their lives.  Since revelation is an everyday experience, how do we help them break open the revelation that surrounds them daily?

In addition to offering seasonal liturgical programming or opportunities to grasp mopre deeply a particular doctrine, let us find ways to help adults make connections between significant life moments (dating, engagement, marriage, birth, parenting, conflict, divorce, loss, etc.) and the revelation of a loving God.  Parish adult education teams must seize these moments of meaning in the lives of adults and create opportunities for them to explore God’s revelation precisely as it comes to them in daily living.  Examining these revelatory moments in the light of our tradition can present great catechetical opportunities for many adults.

McBride, J.  Politics, religion, and young Catholics.  Retrieved from

Let's talk about the two subjects that we are taught to avoid in polite conversation — politics and religion.

Not only should we talk about politics and religion, as people of faith — we must talk about them.

And what better time to seize the catechetical moment than now, as we move closer to November and a national election. Our youth hear the chatter of public policy discourse, so why not help move this political chatter toward helpful discussion about the relationship between faith and public policy. Let us seize the moment!

In our Catholic tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue – a virtue we should be teaching in our parish catechetical programs and Catholics schools. Participating in our political process requires so much more effort than simply casting a vote every couple of years. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2105) instructs us that it is the "social duty of Christians to respect and awaken in each man the love of the true and the good." As catechists working in collaboration with parents, we are in a unique position to influence and educate our youth regarding their responsibility to become informed and active Catholics in the political process. "The social order requires constant improvement. It must be founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love." (Vatican II, The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #26). It is our responsibility as parents and catechists to instill in our youth just such a vision and then encourage them to participate in building just such a society. . "Catholics are called to be a community of conscience within a larger society and to test public life by the values of Scripture and the principles of Catholic social teachings." (Faithful Citizenship, U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops, page 7) As Catholic parents and catechists let us seize this moment in ways appropriate to the age of our youth by helping our youth better understand the following Catholic principles that ought to inform public policy and lay the foundation for a just society:

That every person has a fundamental right to life and that this right has a priority of place that makes all other rights possible.

That each person has a right to the conditions that support a decent life such as:

Food, Housing, Education, Employment, Health care

That Scripture teaches that God has a special concern for the poor and vulnerable.

As the volume on political chatter has been turned up during the last few months, let us seize the moment to catechize young Catholics in ways appropriate to their age and help them better understand what it means to be a faithful citizen.

McBride, J. (1999).  Adult catechesis: all eyes are on the road but who’s driving the bus?  Catechetical Update, (No. 17) Spring, 5-8.

Jack Bride was mainly interested in the processes of organizing needed for engaging adults in lifelong faith formation.  This brief article offers some of McBride’s key insights relative to adult faith formation.

McBride, J. (2006).  All Life is Revelatory.  In D. Riley (ED.), Echoes of Faith: Adult Faith Formation.. pp. 15-16. 

One of Jack’s key insights was that adult faith formation has to be rooted in the longings, struggles and experiences of adults if it is to have any relevance to their actual life.  He believes that spirituality should permeate all of life and not be relegated to a “religious” sphere of an individual’s life.

McBride, J.  Politics, religion, and young Catholics.  Retrieved from

Jack also had a passion for social justice and wanted to make the somewhat abstract principles of Catholic Social Teaching accessible to adults so that they could “wrestle” with their implications in their own everyday lives.

Author Information

David M. Riley

David M. Riley earned his master’s degree in Religious Education from the University of Notre Dame in 1974.  He has taught high school religion, worked as a parish Director of Relgious Education, and served for 30 years in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, retiring in 2012. The last 17 years he held the position of Regional Director in the Dayton, Ohio office.  David worked with Jack McBride on many projects over the years related to adult religious education and was a close personal friend.  In 2009 David earned his master’s degree in Community Counseling from the University of Dayton, and works as a licensed professional clinical counselor in Dayton, Ohio.