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
Father Vincent McMahon, the Don Camillo of the
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
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.”
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
A BLESSING FOR TOUGH MEN
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
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.