Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 21, 1998
Archbishop MacNeil looks back at '98
By GLEN ARGAN
The Edmonton Archdiocese may establish a formation house for young men considering the priesthood, says Archbishop Joseph MacNeil.
The formation house would provide a home in which young men would live while attending university or working at other jobs, the archbishop told the WCR Dec. 14 in a year-end interview.
It would likely be set up using a parish rectory and could be launched as early as next fall, MacNeil said.
The house would give men considering the priesthood an opportunity to give consideration to entering the seminary and some formation in Christian living.
MacNeil said the archdiocese had a formation house based at St. Joseph's Seminary several years ago. While that project was unsuccessful, the archdiocese is willing to try it again.
The archbishop said as many as five or six young men may be ordained to the diocesan priesthood in the next two years. However, it may be that as many current pastors retire during that time.
As well, the seminary will soon open expanded living quarters for seminarians.
"If you build it, they will come," the archbishop said, referring to the ballpark built in the movie Field of Dreams. "We hope that's also true of the seminary."
MacNeil was commenting on the archdiocese's parish restructuring plan announced last month. About a third of the churches in the archdiocese will no longer have regularly scheduled Masses celebrated due to population shifts and a sharp decline in the number of priests.
In 1998, MacNeil celebrated 50 years as a priest and his 25th anniversary as archbishop of Edmonton. It was also a year in which the Alberta bishops issued pastoral letters on ecology and gambling.
As well, the archdiocese's lay formation program produced its first graduates. But it was the consolidation of parishes in the archdiocese, the result mainly of a declining number of priests, which drew the most public attention.
MacNeil said the archdiocese has a strong vocations promotion program. And it also ministers to a large number of enthusiastic young people.
The Sunday evening before speaking with the WCR, MacNeil celebrated 10 p.m. Mass at St. Joseph's College of the University of Alberta.
"Every inch of the place and down the corridor was filled," he said. "Something is working when we can attract young people to come to a celebration like that on a Sunday evening."
A week earlier he celebrated Mass for a large number of young people at a rally in Fort Saskatchewan and was to visit six or seven schools the week of Dec. 14.
"Religion is important to these young people," he said. "I wish all those young people were going to Mass every Sunday. There may be many, many circumstances that make that almost impossible."
Parish restructuring recommendations have been met with confusion, anxiety and anger, the archbishop said. "All these we expected."
The proposals were no doubt offensive to some people who first read about them in The Edmonton Journal, he said. But many others have been involved in the process and understood the reasons for it.
"For 50 years or more, we've been merging, clustering and closing down parishes all over the archdiocese," he said.
What is new is that instead of making decisions on an ad hoc basis, the archdiocese has a plan developed with the input of "as many people as possible," he said.
Some rural areas of the archdiocese have lost population as have some older areas of Edmonton, he noted. Over the last several years, the archdiocese has built many new churches to cope with the mobility in the city.
"We've had a surplus of buildings" because of that mobility, he said. Yet in the future, more churches may have to be built south of Millwoods, in northeast Edmonton and east of Sherwood Park due to growing populations in those areas.
As well, the archdiocese has many national parishes, mainly in older parts of northeast Edmonton, which have been staffed by religious order priests from outside Canada, he said. Those religious orders say they do not know how long they'll be able to continue providing priests for those parishes.
The archdiocese is also fortunate because many religious order priests retire here and are sometimes able to provide weekend assistance in parishes.
MacNeil himself will soon join the ranks of retired priests. He turns 75 on April 15 and has asked Pope John Paul to appoint his successor.
While he plans to take a trip to the Holy Land and take longer summer vacations in Nova Scotia, Edmonton will remain his home. "I am amazed at how many people are surprised to hear that."
MacNeil celebrated his 25th anniversary as archbishop in September and has made his adopted province his home.
"I'd like to make myself available to the new archbishop whoever he might be," he said.