An Interview with Clare McGrath-Merkle, OCDS, DPhil

Updated: Oct 13

by Gordon Nary



Gordon: What degree did you earn at Notre Dame of Maryland University and what was your favorite course and why was it your favorite?


Clare: I majored in Modern Foreign Languages. No favorite courses but I enjoyed Sr. Miriam Jude who woke me up one morning when I overslept my alarm for her 8 AM Lingustics class. I heard her voice on the loud speaker in my dorm hallway, telling me I was late for class. I went to thank her in person over 30 years later because I could not have done my doctoral research without having studied French, but she had passed suddenly. A lesson for me to always tell people how much I appreciate them.


Gordon: What degree did you earn at St. John's College and what was your favorite course and why was it your favorite?


Clare: I earned an MA in liberal studies. My favorite course was Euclid Book I - The custom is that the student who happens to present the Pythagorean Theorum correctly on the board gets a standing ovation and a t-shirt. I succeeded. Not a hard task but a fun one.


Gordon: What degree did you earn at University of Augsburg University and what was your most challenging course, and why was it so challenging?


Clare: A Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil). I finished my dissertation research there as a professor interested in my research in the US had relocated there from The Catholic University of America, where I had obtained ABD status in spirituality. The toughest doctoral course for me was an independent study. I learn best in a group environment.


Gordon: I was sad to learn of the death of your brother in-law. What was the cause of his death, and please share his name so that our readers can pray for him.


Clare: Andrew Fisher was visiting one of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. He had called from the staircase, saying he was returning upstairs to help someone who had been overcome with smoke. No one made it out from that area anyway but it makes me proud that he died helping someone.


Gordon: Where have you served as Guest Lecturer and on what topics do you lecture?


Clare: Most recently, I gave a talk to a prayer group in the Philippines who hold weekly zoom meetings. I shared a talk on the differences between Sacramental Spirituality and New Age Spirituality. Quite some years ago, I had the chance to relate my experience in the New Age on various EWTN television and radio shows. I have also lectured on Carmelite spirituality, including an online course Introduction to St. John of the Cross. I once obtained a graduate certificate in Carmelite Studies at the Washington Theological Union. I also had the privilege of lecturing twice at the John Paul II Shrine in Washington, DC on spirituality topics.


Gordon: At what organizations have you served as a Fundraiser, and in total, approximately how much money have you raised?


Clare: It's hard to estimate - it is always a group task to bring money in for important projects, and so I was never one to say "I" brought a million dollars in for this or that. I had the privilege to work as a fundraiser with St. Mary's College of Maryland, Georgetown School of Nursing, Columbus School of Law, Notre Dame of MD University, The Maryland Zoo and other nonprofits. I always used to say that it was easier to raise more money than less - and it was. Good ideas always find good support. I just enjoyed connecting the projects and people with the right supporters. I specialized in center building - from conceptualizing to writing foundational materials to then fundraising. The Center for the Study of Democracy at St. Mary's was one such venture - it has gone on to do some wonderful work over the last 21 years. That is a satisfying feeling.


Gordon: Where have you served as Academic Editor and what are the primary responsibilities of an Academic Editor?


Clare: I had the chance to work with a professor leading the Beyond Canon Project at the University of Regensburg, as well as other academics. The kind of academic editing niche I seem to have fallen into has been technical editing of theological and philosophical works penned by non-native speakers. I really enjoy wrestling with how to express tough concepts across linguistic divides.


Gordon: Where do your serve as Seminar Moderator and what are you primary responsibilities?


Clare: I serve as a moderator with the Great Books Academy. Moderators bring important questions to the table for inquiring students. In my case, I work with high school through adult learners. We never lecture or tell the students what to think, but we do try to model how to think in the way we approach the texts, which are the teachers.


Gordon: As a scholar of spiritual theology, what is your primary focus?


Clare: My work has focused on the spiritual theology of the priesthood in relation to the clerical abuse crisis. I believe the next Church Council will need to address our current official theology of the priesthood, which has depended in large measure on a skewed spiritual theology prevalent in the Post-Reformation era. With a short-term perspective, the challenges facing the Church can seem insurmountable. But, taking the longer view and scholars' pens to the problems, there are wonderful ways forward that so many scholars in the past have already pointed to.


Gordon: You currently serve as Adjunct Lecturer of Spiritual Theology at Benedictine College. What are the topics of your lectures?


Clare: At the start of the course, we studied how important our Jewish roots are to the spiritual life of the Church. Last week, we studied the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. This week, we covered the influence of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. Next week, we will focus on medieval lay movements and mystics. As a survey course, one can think of it as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy of Saints.


Gordon: You are also Moderator at Great Books Academy. What are some of your favorite great books?


Clare: I have really enjoyed discussing Shakespeare, Willa Cather, and Moliere. I feel like a kid in a candy shop almost every class actually (except for Kant). I can't think of a better way to spend one's life than reading and discussing the Great Books with the next generation of leaders, thinkers, inventors - and mothers and fathers!


Gordon: Thank you and exceptional and insightful interview.

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