Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 23, 2009
Fr. MacDonnell began a B.C. therapeutic centre
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
ST. ALBERT - Father James MacDonnell, who died Nov. 11 at age 80, was a man who made close friends from coast to coast and entertained people with a lively sense of humour.
Born in Judique, Cape Breton in 1928, MacDonnell, son of John MacDonnell and Rose Gillis, entered the novitiate and pronounced his first vows in 1954. He was ordained a priest in Ottawa on June 14, 1959.
The Oblate priest's first assignment in 1961 was pastoring in Sechelt, along British Columbia's Sunshine Coast.
In 1965, he was pastor in Tahsis. By 1969 he was appointed administrator of a First Nations residential school in Kuper Island. In 1973 he was an administrator and counsellor at Kakawis, an alcohol treatment centre in Tofino, before going back to pastoring at St. Joseph's Parish in Chemainus in 1979.
"He was well recognized and enjoyed the people when we were in British Columbia. On Vancouver Island, he got to be well known there," said Father Bob Kelly, who knew MacDonnell since the late 1960s. "During that time we enjoyed him immensely. He had a great sense of humour."
He garnered a reputation for being somewhat of a trickster, and enjoyed playing pranks on people.
"Whenever a group of us got together, as the Oblates like to do, for celebrations, he was always an interested part of it. We always had a lot of fun together," reminisced Kelly.
MacDonnell was on provincial council in 1985-88. One of his greatest achievements was starting a therapeutic centre in Ladysmith that treated people for alcohol abuse.
In 1988 MacDonnell became rector at Sacred Heart Parish in Whitehorse. In 1992, he was assistant pastor in Smithers. He was parish priest in Barriere, north of Kamloops, in 1996, before his retirement.
He spent his final years living at Foyer Lacombe in St. Albert. Having problems with his balance, he took a couple of hard falls, once indoors and another time smacked his head on the pavement so hard that he required medical treatment.
"The rest of us felt terrible for him having to face this, but he never once complained," said Father Maynard Boomars, who knew MacDonnell since the early 1970s.
Boomars described his friend as an excellent priest and a good community man who enjoyed visiting others.
"He liked woodworking and fixing things and making tables. He liked to work with burls, the big knots in trees, and he liked making clocks out of this gnarled wood. He also liked cross-country skiing," said Boomars. "His niece would come over and they would play crib together occasionally."
In his golden years, MacDonnell suffered a few mini-strokes and had heart problems. By all accounts, he died quietly in his bed.
Two brothers, one sister, and many nieces and nephews survive MacDonnell. His parents and sister, Ann Morrisey, predeceased him.
A Mass of Resurrection was held Nov. 16 at St. Albert Catholic Church. A graveside service was held Nov. 17 at St. Albert Catholic Cemetery.
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