Twenty years have gone by in the blink of an eye for Father Michael McCabe, who is wrapping up his duties as the pastor of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Nebraska City.
It’s been an unbelievable journey for Fr. McCabe during an association with Nebraska City that pre-dates 1998.
Nebraska City was Fr. McCabe’s first assignment as a priest from 1989-91.
He served as an assistant pastor back then and was a religion teacher for Lourdes and an assistant coach long time Knight leader Andy Fedoris.
Fr. McCabe said he remembers enjoying the experience and being comfortable with the people here during that stretch. He learned a lot and was off to other assignments that took him to Falls City Sacred Heart, Humboldt and Shubert.
It was then that Fr. McCabe got a call from the Bishop with a very special assignment. He was to go back to Nebraska City, this time to lead the St. Mary’s Church and the Lourdes Central Catholic School.
“I was excited because I knew the people,” Fr. McCabe said.
The community welcomed him back with open arms in 1998 and the results were years of fulfillment and great relationships within the parish community, with all of the people of Nebraska City and with folks from towns around the area.
At this moment of change, Fr. McCabe said he is thankful for all that has come to pass.
“I really have profound gratitude to God for allowing me to be their superintendent and pastor,” Fr. McCabe said.
Through the years, both as a pastor and school leader, Fr. McCabe said he has enjoyed being a part of everyone’s life celebrations, from the sacraments at St. Mary’s to the holiday celebrations and the school functions and graduation, it’s all been enriching.
Even in those more solemn times, when Fr. McCabe has guided a family through a time of loss, he said the opportunity to be a part of their family and within their sacred and holy circle has been a blessing to him.
It has been more than a relationship between priest and parishioner.
“These people become your friends,” McCabe said.
Beyond his church, McCabe always felt at home in Nebraska City.
He got to work closely with the public school and remembers fondly the times that he and the superintendents for Nebraska City Public School, both Dr. Keith Rohwer and Dr. Jeffrey Edwards, traveled the roads on early winter mornings while trying to make the best decision on whether or not to close school that day due to weather.
Fr. McCabe recalls fondly his connection to the Nebraska City Ministerial Association and all of the great connections between the people of all faiths here.
He is proud to have stepped in for non-Catholic families in a time of loss when asked to be the bridge and present that family’s loved one to the Lord in a funeral service.
He said the Advent Concert is something that he is really proud to have been a part of as people of all faiths came together to share and celebrate the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ.
On the golf course, Fr. McCabe was a regular player—on the Lutheran team at Table Creek.
Those Lutherans seemed to always want a Catholic priest on their side, Fr. McCabe reports with a smile.
And the connections go on and on. He loved going to the Shell gas station on Central Avenue  and enjoyed many visits with people there.
He loved connecting with people at all the businesses and in all walks of life.
Having that connection with everyone was so special. And he believed that  the members of Nebraska City were able to build and create a positive culture of respect for all.
Fr. McCabe said he was always proud to say he was from Nebraska City and loved the community and its many celebrations, including Arbor Day and AppleJack. He loved the museums and the Lied Conference Center and more.
And many people have the same feelings of love for Fr. McCabe, whose reach went beyond boundaries.
He knew and was respected by people from all of the area towns, many of which sent their kids to Lourdes for a good Catholic education, thanks in no small part to the school’s leader.
What will be remembered about Fr. McCabe, the school leader?
Lots of things of course. But one main focus will be on how he supported and was excited for the achievements of each and every student.
He talks with great pride about the success of academic decathlon, year after year.
And the recent success of the boys’ basketball team has been a great joy with the Knights capturing a three-peat on the court.
He enjoyed it all, even the low times.
Fr. McCabe wanted to be there for students when they put thier best efforts out there, but didn’t get what they wanted. He wanted to be their encouragement.
What’s next for Fr. McCabe?
Fr. McCabe will leave Nebraska City to lead St Joseph's Catholic Church in Lincoln and its K-8 school. The church has around 2,000 parishioners and the school has 538 kids.
It will be a challenge,  but one for which Fr. McCabe is excited. That doesn’t mean he is excited to leave Nebraska City.
Fr. McCabe said in the ideal world he would have a couple more years  here in Nebraska City, but he acknowledged that two more years would probably seem like a good idea two years from now.
At some point, a decision would need to be made, and McCabe is happy to leave that to the Bishop to decide.
He figured such a decision was coming.
For the pastor of a church, the time between changes is usually around 12 years. He has stayed here longer because of his status as school superintendent.
Two years ago, McCabe gave up that duty to Fr. Mark Cyza.
And with that he began counting the time toward  a reassignment, figuring it would be coming soon.
The time has come.
But as Fr. McCabe leaves Nebraska City he feels like the church and school are in good hands and will be ultra successful going forward.
The school facilities are in place to do that and McCabe got to be a part of the building project that made it possible.
Lourdes broke ground on school improvements that addressed a number of needs back in 2011.
The build addressed technology improvements, allowed for greater safety and school security and allowed for a new competition gym and a new auditorium along with science class room space and an upgrade of the existing class rooms, all as part of an architectural vision which blended with perfection the old and the new.
It took donors. And it took sacrificial giving by the church family.
Fr. McCabe said there were big donors, but that those donors did not overwhelm the project and instead allowed for the community to have a piece  and a stake in the school.
A list of influential people and key role players could go on for a long time and would likely still miss folks who meant so much to what was done at Lourdes.
It’s sufficient to say that  everyone involved deserves a large measure of gratitude for setting the school up to succeed.
Fr. McCabe said the students have responded by “hitting the ball over the fence in centerfield and deep” in the areas of academics, athletics and in every other phase of student life.
Thier drive. Their successes, Fr. McCabe said, will resonate.
“The people who have gone here have tasted that along the way and that makes people’s roots go a little bit deeper,” he said.
McCabe said he looks forward to watching the goings on in Nebraska City from his post 50 miles away in Lincoln.
He looks forward to making occasional visits, maybe to grab a funnel cake during AppleJack.
He’ll have a new church and school family to serve and to know. He looks forward to that.
But he will always value the connection that he established through service in Nebraska City.
The service has gone two ways for sure.
“When you are serving all those people, you probably get double back from them,” said Fr. McCabe.
Nebraska Citians won’t forget Fr. McCabe either. His mark is left in many unseen ways and in one very tangible way as the school has chosen to rename the school gym in his honor.
The Knight gym is now the McCabe Activities Center or MAC.
Upon learning of this honor, McCabe said he was humbled. The businessman in him was a little surprised.
McCabe said he felt maybe they should have kept that honor for a big donor. They did give it to someone who donated his time, his service and a piece of himself to Nebraska City. And that piece will never leave.
Someday, when someone looks at the plaque honoring Fr. McCabe at the MAC, they’ll probably smile and remember all of what he meant to the people here. They should know that, at that moment, somewhere in Lincoln, Fr. McCabe is probably smiling too.