Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 31, 2010
He brought the faith to the children
Fr. Archie MacKenzie resisted priestly call, but after 50 years says, 'It's been a good life.'
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Father Archibald MacKenzie wanted to be a priest ever since he was a small child. But when the time came to enter the seminary, he decided to work as a machinist instead.
"I fought it all the way," he says. "And the reason I fought it was because I hated to study."
MacKenzie finally joined, thanks mainly to a priest who assured him he had the gift. Now he is happily marking 50 years of priesthood - all of them served in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
"It has been a good life," the 82-year-old priest says. "I've been happy 99 per cent of the time."
One of MacKenzie's most important ministries was catechism. Wherever he went, he started catechism classes unless there was a Catholic school in the parish. He always insisted catechism be taught at Catholic schools.
"I wanted children to understand where they came from and who God is," he said in a recent interview.
During his first week as assistant pastor in Ponoka in the early 1960s, MacKenzie saw a group of ladies cleaning the church hall. He asked why. The ladies said it was for catechism classes.
"Don't you have a Catholic school here?" he asked.
The ladies said "no" and MacKenzie immediately started working toward getting a Catholic school in town. The school opened in 1963, just before he was transferred to St. John the Evangelist Parish in Edmonton.
"I think the important thing is that young people be educated in their religion and what it stands for," MacKenzie says.
"Many of them aren't going to church because they don't understand (their faith)."
MacKenzie was born April 3, 1928 in Glace Bay, N.S., the first of nine children. When MacKenzie was four, the family moved to Christmas Island where his father acquired land and became a farmer.
A typical church-going family, the MacKenzies had to walk five km every Sunday to church, "but we never missed a day."
Although Archie never served as an altar boy, he was known for his piety and was asked to consider the priesthood more than once by his local pastor.
"Why don't you be a priest some day?" his grandmother once said bluntly. In those years it was common for young boys to go to the seminary straight from high school.
But MacKenzie didn't like to study, so upon finishing high school, he left for Brantford, Ont. to work as a machinist.
Years went by, but the thought of the priesthood never left. So one day, at age 24, he went to see his good friend Father Phillip Duffy for some direction.
"Am I too late (for the priesthood)" he asked.
"Oh, no; you are not too late," the priest replied.
He was quickly accepted as a candidate and sent to study philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Kitchener, Ont. The four years of study didn't seem that hard, thanks to the help of a classmate who took MacKenzie under his wing.
"When I was in trouble I went to see him and he helped me out."
He chose to be a priest for the Edmonton Archdiocese and came to study theology at St. Joseph Seminary. He was ordained June 11, 1960 at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S. by Archbishop Hugh MacDonald of Edmonton.
"Archbishop Macdonald had to go to Antigonish to ordain his nephew, so I went along for the ride," MacKenzie said with a laugh.
SERVED IN 15 PARISHES
During the next four decades, he served in more than 15 parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese, including Trochu, Wainwright, Ponoka, Killam, Gibbons and several in Edmonton. He was serving at Assumption Parish in Edmonton when he retired from active parish ministry in July 2001.
MacKenzie moved to St. Andrew's Centre but he didn't really retire. Until two years ago, he was still serving as chaplain at the Royal Alex Hospital, sometimes answering emergency calls at 2 a.m.
"I encouraged them to call so nobody would die without the sacraments."
A celebration to mark MacKenzie's 50th anniversary of priesthood will be held at St. Andrew's Centre June 13. The celebration includes an 11 a.m. Mass followed by a reception.
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