Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 17, 2005
A priest who touched all souls
Msgr. Don MacDonald missed his planned Panama cruise and took a heavenly journey when he died January 10
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Msgr. Donald MacDonald will miss a planned cruise to the Panama Canal, but his good friends will still go on that cruise carrying with them memories of a man they describe as a good athlete, a kind, loyal friend and a committed pastor.
MacDonald was known as Fireball during his seminary years because of a great arm in pitching baseball. In later years he was simply known to his friends as Big Mac.
MacDonald, the vicar general of the Edmonton Archdiocese and a priest for almost 50 years, died in his sleep Jan. 10 at the St. John Vianney (Retirement) Villa. He was 75.
A man of integrity
"He was someone on whom many, many people could depend, someone they could go to for wisdom, for counselling, for support and for encouragement," said retired Archbishop Joseph MacNeil. "He was a very good man, a man of integrity. He was very proud and very happy that he was chosen by Jesus to be a priest. In a very humble way, very quiet way he helped many, many people."
MacDonald was part of a community of friendship made up of several priests who graduated together from St. Joseph Seminary and were ordained on June 4, 1955.
The list includes Father Duncan MacDonnell, Father John Hesse and Msgr. Francis Patsula.
They continued to meet together yearly to celebrate the anniversary of their ordination and to cultivate their friendship through prayer, dinners, card games and golf. They took holidays together for a month every winter going to places like Minnesota, Australia, Vancouver Island.
This year, on Jan. 16, the group was supposed to go on a cruise to the Panama Canal. MacDonald was excited about the trip and since he was in good spirits, no one suspected he would not be able to make it.
He had just returned from a trip to his native Antigonish, N.S. and was ready for the next adventure. But before the big holiday he had to fulfill a number of pastoral commitments.
"That's one thing about Father Don; like he was his own worse enemy, making all kinds of commitments," recalled Patsula. "He had so many things that he was doing. He just simply had little time for himself."
He gave so much
About a year ago, he slipped on the ice and hurt his collarbone. But the accident did not stop him from undertaking all kinds of projects such as helping out in parishes on Sundays, preaching missions or giving retreats. "He was always so overly booked," Patsula noted.
Born in Antigonish, N.S., MacDonald studied at St. Francis Xavier University. But from the time he was a child, he had a desire to see Western Canada.
"I had heard that there were miles and miles of a golden ocean of wheat," he said in a 1994 interview. "I thought that when I am older I am going to get to this mysterious West."
In 1949, he came to Edmonton to study for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary. He was ordained in Antigonish in 1955 and returned immediately to serve as a priest for the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Over the years he served in numerous parishes in the archdiocese, the last one being St. John the Evangelist Parish in Edmonton. MacDonald also served as chair of the Council of Priests, of the priests' personnel committee and many other archdiocesan committees.
He also served as rector of St. Joseph Seminary from 1978 to 1981. Following studies in spirituality in St. Louis, Miss. he was appointed episcopal vicar for the Red Deer area in 1990. In 1991, Pope John Paul named MacDonald prelate of honour or monsignor. In 1993, he became rector of St. Joseph's Basilica, serving in that post until 1998, the year in which he was appointed vicar general for the archdiocese. MacDonald retired officially in 2002, but in reality he never retired.
"He was always a good friend and he was always there for you and he was a very solid rock," recalled his close friend Father Duncan MacDonnell.
MacDonald was a good athlete during his seminary years and in the rural parishes he served following his ordination. "He was an athlete all the way around," recalled MacDonnell. "He was a good hockey player and a great ball player."
He also enjoyed golf but stopped playing a couple of years ago because he had a bad shoulder.
"Until fairly recently Father MacDonald was a very physically strong man," recalled MacNeil, who admitted the priest beat him at golf almost every time. "He was a good ball player and a good hockey player and continued to play ball as a rural pastor. Except recently because of illnesses he had, he was a very vigorous man."
MacDonald was able in a sense to use the office of priest to reach out to many, many people, MacNeil said. "He was a good priest, someone on whom the parishioners could depend, someone on whom the bishop could depend. We have all been blessed with his presence and his ministry in our Church."
"He was a great pastor everywhere he went," MacDonnell said. "He was much loved. He was always a team man; he was good in delegating and he was a great spiritual director and counsellor. He did an awful lot of work with groups of people with addictions and stuff like that."
Loved by all
Patsula said MacDonald was loved by the lay people as well as by the priests of the archdiocese. "He was someone who could relate well to priests and the priests felt comfortable around him," he recalled.
"Like he was the vicar general and they would be going to him for different things. I don't think there was a priest in the archdiocese that would have any trouble approaching him.
"He was always very kind and gracious to everybody. I'm sure his death will be a shock to many people in the archdiocese."
Archbishop Thomas Collins will preside at a Mass of Resurrection for MacDonald at St. Joseph Basilica Jan. 14. He was to be buried in his native Antigonish.
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