Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 4, 1999
A long road to the altar
Fr. Mark McGee had to overcome reluctance to being ordained
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
There was a time when Mark McGee didn't want to be a Catholic.
He was a teenager attending public school in Edson. He had a Baptist friend who often questioned him on the teachings and traditions of the Catholic faith.
Why do you worship Mary?
Why do you have the Eucharist? That's not really Christ, you know.
Why do you have those statues of saints?
Mark was always left speechless.
"It was a really hard time in my faith," said McGee. "I didn't want to be Baptist. I didn't want to be Catholic. I just wanted to be a Christian (and for everyone to) leave me alone.
"But then the Sunday after that I went to Mass and received the Eucharist and I started thinking what it all meant to me. I realized that my relationship with Jesus could be nourished in this (Catholic) Church."
Over the years, McGee's faith has been nourished into a priestly vocation.
McGee admits it's been a long time coming, but 20 years after a priest asked him to pursue a religious life during a vocations retreat, McGee himself has become a priest.
Before a crowd of family, friends and well-wishers, including his mother Claudette and brother Father Kevin McGee of Saskatoon, Mark McGee was ordained Sept. 26 at St. Joseph's Basilica.
The ordination is the first of four priestly ordinations for the Edmonton Archdiocese expected in the next several months. The archdiocese currently has 11 deacons and seminarians preparing for priestly ordination.
"I was trying not to look nervous," said McGee after the Mass. But he couldn't hide the beads of sweat on his forehead or the sometimes puzzled look of his eyes when Archbishop Thomas Collins gestured to him.
Despite the nervousness and puzzlement, McGee went through the ritual and beamed when the crowd gave him a round of applause celebrating his new life as Father Mark.
"I'm just overwhelmed," said his mother Claudette McGee, who had a hint of a smile during the entire Mass.
She also dabbed away a few tears during the celebration. "It's a great day for our family," she said.
McGee's road to the altar was not a straight and narrow one.
He is starting his priestly life at 37, a time when some men have been priests for up to a dozen years.
A vocation to the priesthood had been hounding McGee since childhood, but he always found some excuse to delay the final steps. It was almost 12 years of discernment from his first year as a pre-novitiate to his ordination,.
"I've been resistant, reluctant," McGee said in an interview. "This call to the priesthood has been a monkey on my back for a long time. I've been avoiding it. It's finally caught up with me."
When it came time to ready himself for the final steps to a priestly life, McGee always found a handful of buts to keep him away from the altar.
He wanted to be a priest, but he loved his hospital chaplaincy work and wanted to continue with that as well.
He wanted to be a priest, but wasn't sure that he wanted to stay put in one parish.
He wanted to be a priest, but his love of theology built a strong interest for teaching as well.
"I realized I wasn't going to be doing this on my terms," McGee said. "It was God's terms or not."
He finally accepted God's terms after working as a residential group home worker and in hospitals as a chaplain.
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He still speaks of his chaplaincy work with fondness, but knows that his work in that field is complete.
Two years ago, he hit a fork in the road. One road led to furthering his training in chaplaincy. The other road led to the priesthood.
"It brought that line in the sand," McGee said. "I started asking myself, 'Am I ready to accept the accountability as priest?'
"I knew that if I continued with the chaplaincy work, I would have never become a priest."
McGee grew up a middle child in a family of eight children. His father died when he was young. He was active in local youth groups, with whom he "prayed together and partied together."
He completed his bachelor of arts at the University of Alberta.
McGee started his training with the Redemptorist Fathers. The priest at his hometown parish in Grande Prairie was a Redemptorist, as was the priest at the parish he attended in Edmonton.
"Redemptorists were all I knew at the time, so I thought God must think I should be a Redemptorist.".
McGee liked the Redemptorist Fathers whom he met and studied with. He hesitates to describe the details of his less than enjoyable stay there.
"I really think I got a good education from them," McGee said of the Redemptorists. "It was a great spiritual education, but I don't think being a Redemptorist was for me."
McGee moved to Ontario, where he became interested in another order, the Congregation of the Resurrection. But the order worked solely in Ontario and McGee was a Westerner and was not ready to give up the Rocky Mountains and Prairies.
When he finally made the decision to complete his seminary studies, McGee went into an internship at Our Lady of the Angels Church in Fort Saskatchewan.
"I left the idea (of religious life), but the idea never left me," McGee said. "I was finally ready to be a priest. Jesus was the one that said 'I will be with you until the end of time.' I have always reflected on that promise. To be a priest is to be a part of that promise. Religious life is very rich."
McGee has been assigned to St. Theresa's Parish in Millwoods, the archdiocese's largest parish with 4,500 families.