fr-cameron-582NEW HAVEN – When the Knights of Columbus wanted to sponsor a play about their organization’s founder, Father Michael J. McGivney, they turned to Dominican Father Peter John Cameron, a Connecticut-born playwright.

He is also the founding editor-in-chief of the monthly prayer aid, Magnificat. And he also just published his seventh book, Mysteries of the Rosary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, on the importance of Mary as seen through the mysteries and feasts of her life.

Author, editor, journalist, playwright, theatrical artistic director, professor of homiletics, preacher, retreat master – the list of Father Cameron’s titles, interests and vocational activities is extensive. The common thread is his vocation.

"My priesthood and my evangelizing … my preaching is first," he said in an interview with The Catholic Transcript.

"I’m a priest so that others can meet Jesus Christ," he said. "I met him and I realized that life doesn’t make sense without him. Every need and longing of our heart has an answer, and he’s the answer. When Christ gazes at you, your life changes. His gaze is on everyone, just waiting for our answer."

An early riser, Father Cameron often uses the predawn hours to write in the priory where he lives with his Dominican community in New Haven. He also uses his time on the train to his office in Yonkers, N.Y., to read, research or write.

"I’ve always loved writing; and when I was given permission [in the seminary] to do a graduate degree in theater, I opted for playwriting," he said. "It was a way to keep my finger in the theater.

He estimates that he’s written and produced about 10 plays through the Blackfriars (a common name for Dominican friars) Repertory Theatre in New York – the first religious theater there and the only professional-level theater sponsored by a Catholic organization in the United States. It has launched the careers of such actors as Patricia Neal, Darren McGavin and Shelley Berman.

Founded in 1940 by Dominican Fathers Urban Nagle and Thomas Carey, it closed in 1972. Father Cameron, who is its artistic director, revived it in 1998.

Of theater, he said, "It’s an attempt to see, find and experience the ultimate purpose of life in a real life experience."

He said there is a beauty about the theater that is "deeply compelling," adding that there are very few occasions when people are "together in one place, united for one reason, agreeing to keep silence together in order to share in the experience.

"Theater reminds you of God," Father Cameron reflected. "To be human is to thirst for the infinite."

He said everything he does, from writing to preaching, is about "the fact that to be human is to be in relationship with the infinite.

"For many people, Jesus Christ is an abstraction," he observed, "but he is flesh and blood. Once people encounter him, they never want to be apart from him."

Born in Providence, R.I., Father Cameron was raised in Vernon with six siblings in a family that belonged to Sacred Heart and St. Bernard parishes. He went to high school at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

"Of all my schools I attended, it was my favorite," he said.

"The priests were outstanding, real role models; and the teaching was unbelievably exceptional. I learned my love of Scripture through Father James Leary; my love for theater was generated there; Msgr. Charles Johnson was my Latin teacher, and I learned how to sing from Father Geoff Smith.

Father Smith speaks equally highly of his former student.

"Peter’s a wonderful person and remarkably versatile with a wonderful musical and dramatic sense," recalled Father Smith, who has been a chaplain at Yale-New Haven Hospital for the past 16 years. "I’m so glad that in his priesthood he’s able to really express in such an articulate and beautiful way what he thinks about our faith and the Lord," he noted. "He’s really been encouraged to use his real, authentic talents in the service of the Church."

Father Cameron went on to the Dominicans’ Providence College, where he earned a degree with a double major in theater arts and humanities. Completing theological studies for ordination at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., he also received a master’s degree from The Catholic University of America, where he studied playwriting.

Father Cameron also was a reporter for the National Catholic Register. His writing took a leap forward when Pierre-Marie Dumont, a French layman, tapped him to be the editor of the United States edition of the highly acclaimed Magnificat when it was launched in December 1998.

The monthly worship aid boasts a United States circulation of 230,000. After giving a retreat in Poland on preaching last month, Father Cameron flew to London to take part in discussions about the soon-to-be started edition for the United Kingdom.

Besides his current book on the Blessed Virgin, he has written books about the Sunday Gospels, the Eucharist and preaching.

Father Cameron will talk about and sign his most recent book from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Catholic Book Store, located at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. A story about Father Cameron’s most recent book appears on this Web site under the Arts and Media tab.

Father Cameron’s spirituality has been shaped in recent years by the writings of Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation Movement, which drew him "because my heart was looking for something and I wasn’t finding it until I found the movement. It gave me a new and deeper appreciation for my faith and many wonderful friendships."

From that movement, he came to see that "the heart is a place of decision, of being in encounter with God. It is the facility by which people discover the meaning of life," said Father Cameron.

He also said that the heart is objective. For example, he said, most people "look to the universal human experience for happiness, which brings disappointment. They think, ‘I expected better,’ because their heart told them that there is a greater satisfaction."

But to paraphrase St. Augustine, the heart "won’t rest until it gets it," he said. "And for us, that answer is God … it’s Christ."