Alumni Spotlight: Al McCauley, '09
by Emily Czaplewski, Class of 2021
An often-repeated mantra of the social and professional world is the power of relationships. The genuine connections individuals make with one another – from the briefest encounters to lifelong friendships – influence how they spend their time, what they do, and who they become. For Al McCauley, ’09, the interweaving of relationships has shaped the fabric of his life in often unexpected ways.
At the beginning of his career, McCauley served as the Director of Religious Education for Sacred Heart Parish in Racine. As his family grew, he transitioned to part-time youth ministry work and accepted a position teaching Theology and History at Pius XI Catholic High School in Milwaukee. Relationships take time, and beautiful things can come from a long period of commitment, as McCauley well knows. He would spend the next 24 years of his life at Pius, helping students learn to navigate the future through the wisdom theology and history provide.
During his tenure at Pius, McCauley formed strong bonds with his fellow staff members and students, and he continues to stay in touch with many of them to this day. Several of those relationships helped shape the next steps on his journey of faith and ministry, both in his Pius days and beyond.
While at Pius, McCauley began receiving invitations to speak at local parishes about theology and faith. It was a natural fit, and he found himself speaking at around 25 parishes each year.
“I just love explaining how our Catholic faith is everywhere. It’s seeing God in all things!”
Strengthening connections at Stritch
A lifelong learner as well as an educator, McCauley began the process of pursuing his Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Cardinal Stritch University. When asked why he chose Stritch, McCauley’s list was long and, as always, relationships played a key part. Stritch came highly recommended by McCauley’s family, and he shared that he was their fifth Stritch grad in just one generation.
“I’ve had four siblings or in laws that graduated from Stritch, and my sister met her husband there.”
He has also known the Scholz family for years, having met Dr. Dan Scholz, who is now serving as Stritch’s interim president, through their mutual time in the Pius XI Catholic High School Theology Department. Once McCauley got to Stritch, the relational, personable attributes of professors and staff members alike convinced him that he had made the right choice.
“Stritch is more ‘boots on the ground.’ They’re living the faith; they’re walking the walk.”
Although some degree programs can be more distant and impersonal, he found the Stritch community to be rich soil for nurturing relationships, both with God and with other people.
“There’s something about the Franciscan way – it’s so earthy, it’s so real.”
Through his time at Stritch and his connections to Stritch’s Saint Clare Center for Ministry and Leadership, McCauley was able to share his gift for teaching through the Sustaining the Mission program – an initiative of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee which forms Catholic school educators – by serving in the initial class of presenters. He also served as a guest speaker at the Saint Clare Center’s annual “Evening with the Saints” fundraising event on multiple occasions, and the Stritch community fondly remembers his entertaining and insightful approach to sharing the lives of the saints. Although the event has been paused during COVID-19, McCauley looks forward to its eventual return.
“It’s a great event! A time to come together, have fun, and learn about our faith through the saints. I love that we can come together and support Stritch.”
In addition to connecting with Stritch to support the campus community, McCauley also served as a bridge between Stritch and Pius. He taught a concurrent enrollment course at Pius, which allowed high school students to earn college credits from Stritch. The class, “Philosophy for Theology,” was similar to a course taught in the graduate program at Stritch, and McCauley relished the opportunity to serve as an adjunct professor in Stritch’s Religious Studies department.
“That was the closest I ever came to being a college professor. If someone called me tomorrow and asked me to teach a college class, I would drop everything!”
The course had a lasting impact on students, and they credited it for helping them discern their life choices and decisions.
McCauley shared, “In 24 years, it was hands down my favorite course to teach.”
Taking the next step in faith
McCauley’s time at Pius left a lasting impact on countless lives, and he loved his work with the students, but God had something else planned for him, and another Pius connection was going to be the impetus that got him there.
Father Tony Zimmer, who had served at Pius from 1995-2000, had stayed in touch with McCauley over the years. He was assigned to St. Anthony on the Lake Parish in Pewaukee in 2010, and his parish was one of the many who had invited McCauley to give presentations on the faith to their parishioners. A few years ago, St. Anthony’s wanted to start an Adult Faith Formation program at their parish, and Zimmer reached out.
“They wanted to start this position and asked if I’d be interested. You do something for 24 years – my identity was a high school teacher. It was a difficult decision.”
It was a difficult decision, certainly, but McCauley took what he described as a leap of faith and came full circle, back to parish ministry.
“I do have a passion to teach the faith and evangelize wherever I can.”
Although McCauley has left his high school teaching days behind him, he is still very much the educator. His current classroom may look a little different than the one at Pius, but his passion to share knowledge, spark connections, and enlighten minds and hearts is stronger than ever. As the Director of Adult Faith Formation, McCauley has the opportunity to connect with many of the 6000 parishioners of St. Anthony’s through ongoing formation, a multigenerational religious education program, RCIA, adult Confirmation preparation, Bible studies and small groups, and of course, presentations to parishioners on the Catholic faith.
When asked what his favorite part of serving at St. Anthony’s is, McCauley replied, “When I can interact with people. I love it when I can talk with them, interact with them, and get to know their story.”
Ministering through relationships
As always, McCauley thrives on connecting with people, and he credits Stritch faculty with preparing him for both the intellectual and relational aspects of ministry.
“I don’t like just looking out and seeing a room full of faces. I want to make some kind of connection.”
McCauley mentioned learning about creating those connections from Stritch professor and Scripture scholar Father Steve Lampe, whose passion for teaching inspired McCauley to explore Scripture on a much deeper level.
“He was able to explain the material in such a way that I could take it and use it.”
One way McCauley is putting his Scripture studies to good use is through St. Anthony’s Bible Basics for Catholics program, which saw nearly 100 participants in just five weeks.
“A lot of Catholics my age don’t know how to look through the Scriptures, but I think there’s a hunger there.”
Finding ways to feed the spiritual hunger of local Catholics is exactly why McCauley answered the call to ministry, and another form of spiritual nourishment St. Anthony’s offers their community is through the religious education program.
In a parish of over 6000 members, there are hundreds of students receiving religious education. While many parishes have faced the challenge of connecting with students and forming them more fully through the limited scope of a typical religious education program, St. Anthony’s has been following a family program for a number of years. Their multigenerational model begins with family prayer and a group activity, and then the kids break off into their classes while the parents stay and receive adult formation, which often includes guest speakers. Among the many benefits of this program is the fact that the whole family is engaged and receiving formation, which may help them more easily integrate their faith into their daily lives.
Before COVID-19, the class met twice a month, with all students attending at the same time. Now, the participants have been divided into smaller groups, meaning McCauley is facilitating classes not twice, but four times each month. Although his schedule is busy, teaching and engaging in relational ministry continue to drive McCauley, even though they became exponentially harder after COVID-19 struck in March 2020. When the lockdown began last March, St. Anthony’s staff began to explore how they could continue to connect with and serve their community at a time when faith and hope were more important than ever.
As McCauley expressed it, “How do we live in exile?”
McCauley is proud to say that St. Anthony’s never fully shut down. When in-person ministry was not an option, St. Anthony’s turned to virtual means of connecting.
“We kept trying to engage with people.”
One of their first ministries was a virtual Rosary. (See the video here.) Different parishioners submitted videos of themselves or their families praying one of the prayers (a Hail Mary, an Our Father, a Glory Be, etc.) and then the parish joined all the segments together to create a Rosary video, which allowed the parish community to pray with each other. The result was beautiful, and parishioners shared that it enriched their prayer and sense of community to pray together in this way.
But, McCauley was not done.
Fish on Fridays
He launched another program, born of “an attempt to stay connected with people so that they had a sense of connection and belonging to their church.”
This program, fittingly dubbed “Fish on Fridays,” allowed McCauley to share his love of God, the saints, and Church history with the parish community at a time when parish fish frys, a Lenten staple of Wisconsin Catholics, had come to a halt. Fish frys are a place of socializing, connection, and good food to nourish people, physically. McCauley’s new program was created to hold on to those social connections, while nourishing people spiritually with a “bite-sized nugget of information about our Catholic Faith.”
Although McCauley’s original intent was to create a few episodes to carry his parishioners through the lockdown, Fish on Fridays took off, and a year later, McCauley is still creating new content. Some parishes have used them for small groups, and the way his simple idea has grown and impacted not only his life, but others’ lives, is both incredible and humbling to McCauley.
“It’s unbelievable what it’s done for my faith. Unbelievable the response I’ve gotten.”
Asked which episodes of Fish on Fridays are his favorites, McCauley replied, “The ones that are deep theology. They explain things in our life that have deep connections to our faith that people might be surprised by.”
He also loves the ones that are unexpected, mentioning how champagne was invented by Benedictine monks, and that Catholics were not originally permitted to drink coffee.
And, in keeping with the rest of McCauley’s journey, Fish on Fridays is not something he developed on his own. Rather, as he started working with the inspiration to create Fish on Fridays, people he knew from his Pius days began to get involved. McCauley researches and writes the content himself, and then a Pius graduate with a tech background puts the pieces together.
Likewise, his editor is a Pius graduate, the catchy theme song and music were done by another Pius graduate, and the logo was designed by a former Pius teacher. McCauley is delighted to be working with such a gifted and dedicated team, and he was also amazed to watch the project come together.
“There were people who not only helped, but asked if they could help.”
The wonderful people who rallied around McCauley with this project have helped shaped the most recent chapter of his life, and the lives of each person his videos have touched. He is also incredibly grateful to his beautiful family – his wife, Katie, and their three children – for their love and support throughout each of his endeavors.
In every chapter of his life, genuine relationships with the people he met – from Pius to Stritch to St. Anthony’s – have profoundly impacted McCauley, but he points to one particular relationship as the basis for all others.
As a graduate of Cardinal Stritch University’s Master of Arts in Religious Studies (now the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies) program, the current Director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Anthony on the Lake Catholic Parish in Pewaukee, and a devout Catholic, McCauley sees his relationship with God as the center of his life.
“Religion is relationship with God. With Christ. To that extent, we’re called, then, to live out relationship with others. Those relationships are a reflection of our relationship with God.”
Through that primary relationship, and the people he has met throughout his journey of faith and ministry, McCauley has discovered his purpose, his passion, and the Lord’s hand guiding him every step of the way.