Fr. McNabb was a member of the Dominican order for 58 years and served as professor of philosophy at Hawkesyard Priory, prior at Woodchester, parish priest at St. Dominic's Priory, and prior and librarian at Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, as well as in various other official capacities for his Dominican province. Between 1929 and 1934, he lectured on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas under the auspices of the University of London External Lectures scheme. Tens of thousands of people heard him preach in Hyde Park, where he did not shy away from taking on all challengers — Protestants, atheists, and freethinkers — before vast crowds every Sunday, or heard him debate such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw in the city's theaters and conference halls on the burning social issues of the day.
Fr. McNabb was described as a 13th-century monk[by whom?] living in 20th-century London, pursuing such tasks as reading the Old Testament (and taking notes on it) in Hebrew, reading the New Testament (and quoting from it) in Greek, and reading the works of St. Thomas Aquinas (and writing his reflections on them) in Latin. Throughout his life, Fr. McNabb had little to call his own, except his Bible, his breviary, and his copy of the Summa Theologica.
Fr. Vincent McNabb's grave
Fr. McNabb was among the early Catholic ecumenists, seeking in particular to promote reunion between the Catholic Church and the Anglicans. Towards the end of his life, he wrote, "God knows how much I have striven and prayed to mend the shattered unity of Christendom." As a young priest, he came under the influence of the convert bishop of Clifton, William Robert Brownlow, who, after his reception into the Catholic Church by Newman, not only kept many Anglican friendships but made others among Nonconformists. Brownlow was the author of a work breathing a strong ecumenical spirit titled Catholics and Nonconformists: or Dialogues on Conversion (1898). McNabb regarded him as one of his "masters and heroes" and wrote his biography. While prior at Woodchester, McNabb was in correspondence with Anglicans on both sides of the Atlantic. He was host to his Cotswolds neighbour, the Rev. Spencer Jones, rector of Moreton-in-Marsh, leading Anglo-Catholic and author of England and the Holy See: An Essay Towards Reunion (1902). He also contributed to the early issues of The Lamp, a paper edited by Fr. Paul Wattson, who, after becoming a Catholic, was to promote the Unity Octave through it for almost half a century. McNabb's lifelong interest in ecumenism culminated in his book The Church and Reunion (1937), published six years before his death.
McNabb sought also to promote a vision of social justice inspired by St. Thomas and by Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum, which called upon "every minister of holy religion…to bring to the struggle [for a broad distribution of property] the full energy of his mind and all his powers of endurance", as well as to shore up both faith and reason against the perceived threat of modernism.
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"... he is one of the few great men I have met in my life; that he is great in many ways, mentally and morally and mystically and practically... nobody who ever met or saw or heard Father McNabb has ever forgotten him."G. K. Chesterton
"The greatness of his character, of his learning, his experience, and, above all, his judgement, was altogether separate from the world about him... the most remarkable aspect of all was the character of holiness... I can write here from intimate personal experience ... I have known, seen and felt holiness in person... I have seen holiness at its full in the very domestic paths of my life, and the memory of that experience, which is also a vision, fills me now as I write — so fills me that there is nothing now to say."Hilaire Belloc
"Father Vincent is the only person I have ever known about whom I have felt, and said more than once, 'He gives you some idea of what a saint must be like.' There was a kind of light about his presence which didn't seem to be quite of this world."Ronald Knox