Remembering Brother James McVeigh

Remembering Brother James McVeigh

On Friday, February 19, 2021 the world lost one of its most ardent followers of Saint Francis. Brother James McVeigh was an integral part of Catholic education and faith on a local, state and national level. His beginnings were, without surprise, as humble as would be the rest of his life. Born October 10, 1946 in Brooklyn, he knew at an early age that God was calling him and received the Franciscan habit on August 2, 1964 at the age of 18. After making his first vows in January 1966, he began his studies at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, which would ultimately lead to a degree in sociology. 


In 1968 his ministry in education began at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Carroll Gardens, where he would become a teacher of the 7th and 8th grade. During that time he also began his graduate studies at American University and St. Mary’s University, earning a masters in religious education. Soon after, he began teaching at Bishop Ford High School and Saint Anthony’s High School in Smithtown, where he became the Director of Religious Activities and the Chairperson of the Religion Department. It was during this time that he began the Tau Fraternity, which was a Franciscan group that helped foster students faith and spirituality with a focus on community outreach. Finding a way to help bring people closer to God was a calling that he would answer throughout his career. In 1979, Brother James became the Christian Service Coordinator at St. Francis Prep High School, followed by 10 years as principal of Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village. This particular principalship was of unique importance because it was here that he recruited a young 8th grade teacher named Mr. Adams, and fostered his eventual transition to becoming a Franciscan Brother who we all know as Brother Vincent. 


After his time as principal, Brother James was appointed as Diocesan Regional School Supervisor for Queens, which was comprised of 45 schools. He eventually came to Saint Anthony’s High School in South Huntington in 1992, where he served as the Assistant Principal, Dean of Faculty and Director of Studies. During this time at Saint Anthony’s he began the Catechetics Program and Kolbe Society, both programs are still active today and have helped foster the spirituality of thousands of students over the past 28 years.  In 1995, Brother James became assistant superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Newark. During this time, he also served as the Director of Temporary Professed and Vocation Director for the community for seven years. When his term was finished, he was asked to help out in Secaucus, NJ for a school that had lost their principal, which, unsurprisingly, he answered without hesitation. He served on the Executive Board of the National Religious Vocation for five years and was also on the Executive Board of the Continental Congress for North America on Vocations called by Pope John Paul II. Later, Brother James would return to Saint Francis Prep to assist in the Admissions Office where he also designed a program for the Franciscan Mission Coordinator and served as Moderator of the Franciscan Youth Movement. In 2007, he was appointed Co-Vicar for Religious in the Diocese of Rockville Centre while continuing his ministry with the Franciscan Mission and in 2008 he was appointed as Director of New Evangelization in Rockville Centre and there served as a member of the Bishop’s Cabinet. In 2015 he returned to his beloved Saint Anthony’s High School to serve as the Mission Coordinator and was most known for standing in the hallway every morning to greet students as they walked to class.  Brother James continued to serve in many of these roles right up until the time of this death. 



This amazing record speaks volumes about the impressive professional  accomplishments of Brother James, but anyone who truly knew him was inspired not by his record, but by his compassion, honesty, and sincerity. He approached every student and colleague that he met with an authenticity that made you believe he truly cared for you; because he did. He was able to bring new meaning and life to two words that we have all heard hundreds of times before. “Keep smiling.” A phrase so simple, that yet took on an entirely new meaning when it came from his mouth. For some it meant peace and acceptance, for others hope and inspiration; but regardless of its true meaning, the one universal effect was that it got us all to quite literally smile whenever he would utter his trademark phrase. 


Brother James dedicated his life to walking in the footsteps of Saint Francis.  He chose to live each day attempting to emulate the life’s work of someone who was granted the highest honor possible in the Catholic church.  In order for a person to be considered for sainthood they must have performed a miracle. A true, divine miracle that is unexplainable by any force other than the work of God himself – an unbelievably rare accomplishment achieved by very few. One man, through truth, compassion, and sacrifice has healed pain, celebrated triumph and brought thousands of people closer to God, over a span of 60 years, with two simple words: “keep smiling”. Two words that will live on forever, and embody our dear Brother James for as long as we all walk this earth. These words will help to get us through the worst of times and the best of times and when we hear them we will be thinking of a Brother, almost as if the two have become one. How can it be possible – that one man and two words have such a profound impact on thousands of lives that we are forever changed by them? Easy. A Miracle.