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Marcos G. McGrath

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The Most Reverend

Marcos G. McGrath

Archbishop of Panama
Native name
Mark Gregory McGrath
Appointed17 August 1961
PredecessorTomas Alberto Clavel Méndez
SuccessorJosé Dimas Cedeño Delgado
Other post(s)Dean of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
Auxiliary Bishop of Panama
Bishop of Santiago de Veraguas
Ordination11 June 1949
by José María Preciado y Nieva
Consecration17 August 1961
by Francisco Beckmann
Personal details
Mark Gregory McGrath

10 February 1924
Died4 August 2000
Panama City, Panama
Alma materLa Salle Military Academy
Pontifical Catholic University of Chile
University of Notre Dame
Catholic University of America
Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Mark Gregory "Marcos Gregorio" McGrath, CSC (10 February 1924 – 4 August 2000), was an American-Panamanian Catholic prelate and priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross who served as the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Panamá and was a Council Father of the Second Vatican Council. He advocated for the return of the Panama Canal Zone to Panama and opposed the regime of Manuel Noriega.

Early life[edit]

McGrath was born in Ancón, Panama, on 10 February 1924, to John Thomas McGrath of Trenton, New Jersey, and Louise Renauld of Cartago, Costa Rica.[1] His father came to Panama in 1912 to work on the Panama Canal, eventually serving as the captain of a dredge boat. Louise and John had four sons—John, Robert, Eugene, and Mark—before an accident killed John in 1928.[2]

McGrath attended various schools in both Latin America and the United States, before graduating from La Salle Military Academy in New York in 1939. He briefly studied at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile from 1939 to 1940 before enrolling at the University of Notre Dame from 1940 to 1942.[3][4] During his time there, he encountered the thought of Catholic Action and the Young Christian Workers through the influence of Fr. Louis Putz CSC, who in turn had been influenced by Joseph Cardijn.[5] He also became interested in current events in Latin America, attending international conferences regarding the region and speaking on the topic frequently after becoming a member of the Notre Dame Speaker's Bureau.[2]

In August 1942, McGrath entered the novitiate of the Congregation of Holy Cross at Notre Dame and made first vows in September 1943. Continuing studies at Notre Dame, he earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1945 and then studied graduate theology at Holy Cross College, which was attached to the Catholic University of America.[6][7] Upon completion of these studies, he was ordained to the priesthood on 11 June 1949 in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Mary by Bishop José María Preciado y Nieva.[2] He also renounced his American citizenship to become a naturalized Panamanian citizen.[8][9][10]


His superiors sent him to the Theological Institute of Paris (1949-1950), and then to the Angelicum of Rome (1950-1953) for advanced studies in theology. In Rome he obtained his doctorate with a thesis qualified as magna cum laude entitled The First Vatican Council's Teaching on the Evolution of the Dogma.[4] It was also during this time that he encountered many of the thinkers and philosophies which would be of great influence to the Church in the coming decades -- Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Romano Guardini, the Liturgical Movement, Personalism, and Christian humanism among them, along with the aforementioned philosophies of the JOC and Catholic Action.[5]

In April 1953, the Holy Cross Fathers assigned Fr. McGrath to St. George College, an all-boys' school in Santiago, Chile which the religious order ran, to be dean of Theology and to teach Fundamental theology at the Pontifical University.[4] He was dedicated to the work of social justice and of raising awareness of socioeconomic inequality among students. He engaged both high school students from St. George and college students from the university in opening first aid clinics, visiting families, and operating food discount stores, as well as formation in Catholic social teaching.[11]

Also at this time, McGrath, in his role as dean of the school of theology, noticed the lack of dialogue between the theological faculty and the other disciplines at the Catholic University, as well as a lack of training of the professors of theology. To remedy this, he created the Higher Institute for Religious Culture, Theological Weeks, and the journal Teologia y Vida.[4]


Auxiliary Bishop of Panama[edit]

On 17 August 1961, Pope John XXIII named McGrath an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Panamá and titular bishop of Caeciri, and McGrath was consecrated to the episcopacy on 8 October 1961 by Francisco Beckmann in the Panama Cathedral.[1][12][13] McGrath described his time as auxiliary as a "rebirth and rebaptism into our Panamanian situation".[5] He engaged in pastoral visits and study groups regarding Vatican II, and became vicar capitular of the archdiocese upon Beckmann's death in October 1963.[5]

During the Flag Incident protests in Panama, he urged U.S. officials to "perceive more clearly the ideals of the Latin American peoples", served as a voice of support to the claims of Panamanians in the face of what he described as an abuse of Panamanian rights, and coordinated efforts among local religious leaders to serve as peacemakers.[2][5][14]

Vatican II Father[edit]

Soon after being consecrated a bishop, McGrath was named to the Committee on Doctrine, and travelled to Rome frequently for the duration of the council. He was a major contributor to Gaudium et spes, imbuing it with the thought of Joseph Cardijn in regards to the "see, judge, act" method as well as a theology of the signs of the time, and the dignity of the laity by virtue of their baptism.[4] His interventions are also observable in Sacrosanctum Concilium, Lumen gentium, and Ad gentes.[5]

Bishop of Santiago de Veraguas[edit]

In March 1964, Bishop McGrath was made the first bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas, a time which he described as "novitiate for me, my fundamental formation in the work of being a bishop," he would later recount. "It also provided daily contact with the poverty in Panama, with the poorest: the rural and the indigenous."[5] He also began work on a new diocesan chancery building.[5]

A priest serving in the diocese, Jesús Héctor Gallego Herrera, was abducted and killed by soldiers after angering landowners and military officials shortly after McGrath became archbishop of Panama.[15][4] Gallego had been ordained to the priesthood by McGrath, and came from Colombia to work in Santiago de Verguas during McGrath's episcopacy.[5]

Archbishop of Panama[edit]

On 5 February 1969, McGrath was appointed archbishop of Panama. He continued to be a strong voice in favor of the independence of Panama, especially in the context of the dispute over the Panama Canal Zone, in which he was born. The archbishop also served as an advocate for a return to democracy and a defender of human rights, especially during and after the 1968 Panamanian coup d'état and the administration of Manuel Noriega. His criticism of the latter resulted in threats and surveillance, as he was one of the few public critics of the regime.

He also assisted in negotiations surrounding Noriega's surrender following the United States invasion of Panama, and was granted permission to enter Noriega's "witch house" and other residences to "gain insight into the man's soul". He reported evidence of torture, devil worship, and voodoo.[3][16] He was also the president of the Panama Truth Commission in 1990.[14]

He also served as secretary-general and vice-president of the Episcopal Conference of Latin America, and gave important addresses at its second meeting in Medellín and its third meeting in Puebla.[4] In addition, he was a member of the Pontifical Council for Dialogue with Non-Believers, the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, and a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.[5]


Due to complications from Parkinson's disease, McGrath submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul II in 1994.[3][4] He died on 4 August 2000, in a retirement home in Panama City at the age of 76.[3]


  1. ^ a b "American Named Panama Bishop". The Catholic Advocate. Vol. 10, no. 34. Newark, New Jersey. 17 August 1961. p. 5.
  2. ^ a b c d Pelton, Robert (1965). Novak, Michael (ed.). The Men Who Make The Council Bishop Mark McGrath. University of Notre Dame Press.
  3. ^ a b c d Walters, Sabrina (5 August 2000). "Marcos McGrath, Former Panama Archbishop". The Miami Herald. pp. 4B.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Donoso E., Fermín (2000). "Marcos Gregorio McGrath, C.S.C.: In memoriam". Teología y vida. 41 (3–4): 273–276. doi:10.4067/S0049-34492000000300002. ISSN 0049-3449.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Pelton, Robert (2015). "Archbishop Marcos Gregorio McGrath, C.S.C.: His Conciliar Commitment to Lay Ministry in the Panamanian Church" (PDF). Holy Cross History.
  6. ^ Kehoe, Joseph (1991). "Holy Cross Seminary" (PDF). Holy Cross History: 4.
  7. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Congregation of Holy Cross". www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 28 January 2024.
  8. ^ "McGrath, Marcos · Joseph Cardijn Digital Library · Joseph Cardijn Digital Library". www.josephcardijn.com. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  9. ^ "LATIN AMERICA REVIEW | CIA FOIA (foia.cia.gov)". www.cia.gov. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  10. ^ "Panama - The Roman Catholic Church". countrystudies.us. Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  11. ^ Canepa, Jorge (June 1993). "St. George College -- 1943-1993 -- The Price of Commitment" (PDF). Holy Cross History.
  12. ^ "Archbishop Marcos Gregorio McGrath, C.S.C." Congregation of Holy Cross. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  13. ^ Barrantes, Mayela (19 December 2019). Ramos, Manuel (ed.). "Monseñor Marcos Gregorio McGrath Renauld: Teólogo, Padre Conciliar y Pastor, Renovador de la Iglesia" (PDF). Universidaaad Catholico Santé Maria la Antigua.
  14. ^ a b Jos\u00c3\u00a9, San (5 August 2000). "Murió Monseñor McGrath: "Amor sacerdos immolat"". Panamá América (in Spanish). Retrieved 31 January 2024.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "3 in Panama Guilty in '71 Priest Killing". Chicago Sun-Times. 22 November 1993. Archived from the original on 10 April 2016. Retrieved 7 November 2012.
  16. ^ Cole, Ronald H. (1995). OPERATION JUST CAUSE The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Panama February 1988 – January 1990 Ronald H. Cole (PDF). Washington, DC: Joint History Office Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)