The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Mass marks 60 years in the priesthood for Bishop McDonald

Retired bishop recalls best memories, events of 28-year appointment

Published: September 13, 2008   
Malea Hargett
Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald greets a parishioner during the recessional Sunday, Sept. 7 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock. Following Mass, the bishop greeted many parishioners and employees he knew when he served in Arkansas.

Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald returned to Arkansas Sept. 7 to celebrate his 60th anniversary as a priest and 36th anniversary of his installation as the fifth bishop of Little Rock.

Two Masses were held at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock with Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, the diocese's seventh bishop, as a concelebrant. It was one of the few times that Bishop McDonald has been in the spotlight since he retired to Palatine, Ill., in 2002. During his regular visits to the state over the past six years, he has preferred to participate in a low-key fashion and not take any attention away from the current bishop.

Bishop Taylor seemed to clearly grasp the men's inseparable bond. At the end of the noon Mass with an overflow crowd, the current bishop said, "Everywhere I go in the diocese I continue to see the enduring signs of your ministry, including the Bishop McDonald Golf Classic. One of these days I will be stretched out there next to Bishop McDonald in the crypt ... I look forward to lying next to you for quite a long time."

Bishop McDonald, 84, quickly responded, "It's really a question of who wins the race."

The congregation for the noon Mass included several diocesan employees, visiting deacons and parishioners from around the state. The first three rows were reserved for several special guests, including two of his former secretaries, Martha McNeil and Liz Parker; his current secretary, Marian Swift; and former Christopher Homes director, Jim Davis.

Friends in attendance included Art and Cathy Holland of Houston, Texas, Bill and Carol Canino of Little Rock, Janet Finch of El Dorado and Irene Dumboski of North Little Rock.

Bishop McDonald delivered a homily that many people in the diocese would have been accustomed to when he served the state from 1972 to 2000. He included a few jokes and gave a detailed chronology of many of the important events in his life as bishop.

He highlighted several key moments in diocesan history, including the closing of the diocesan seminary in 1967, his predecessor, Bishop Albert L. Fletcher, and the re-establishment of the diaconate in 1978.

He praised two deceased priests who became widely known for their ministry to the diocese. Msgr. Francis Allen founded Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock in 1947 and served there until his death in 1987. Msgr. James O'Connell was the rector of St. John Seminary in Little Rock from 1944 until it closed in 1967.

He said the visit of Blessed Mother Teresa to Little Rock in 1982 was the "most outstanding and memorable moment of my 28 years."

He still recalls the words she said from the balcony of Abba House, a home for pregnant women in Little Rock that leaders hoped the Missionaries of Charity would operate.

"'Gold and silver, I have not. That which I have, I give you. I will send you my sisters and together we will make something beautiful for God.' Those words are seared in my mind and into my heart. Those words will be there until the day I die," he said.

"She will be canonized a saint," he added.

He praised the continuation of the Hispanic Catholic population increases that started when he was the bishop of Little Rock.

"They bring with them a great blessing of faith. Their coming is a great blessing matching the coming of the Italians, Germans, Irish, French and English," he said.

Holding back his tears, Bishop McDonald said, "You, the people, have been my inspiration, even into these diamond years of priesthood. I continue to pray for you. Please continue to pray for me. In these diamond years, I have realized all of these years are grace. ... I simply quote the last lines of St. John's Gospel, 'There are also many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written.' I am finally beginning to learn that all is grace."

Martha McNeil, who served as the bishop's first secretary until her retirement in 1993, said Bishop McDonald has been a valued friend to her and her husband Charlie since 1972. Charlie was also the bishop's driver for about eight years.

"Words are almost impossible to say," she said. "He is the greatest person to work for and such an example to the Church. We call it our Camelot. I never thought I could ever live to do anything like that. It was tremendous."

McNeil said the bishop was the perfect boss.

"One time I had to call him in off the golf course," she said. "I had failed to list an appointment. He never said a cross word to me. He was so gracious about everything."

Charlie McNeil said he spent thousands of miles on the road driving the bishop to schools and parishes. The bishop would write letters or homilies while sitting in the back seat, but lots of times he took naps.

"I would just keep on going," he said. "Luckily, we never got a ticket or had a flat tire."

Deacon John and Nettie Duke of Our Lady of Fatima Church in Benton said the bishop remains dear to them because he continues to remember some of the happy and sad days of their lives by mailing them typed letters.

"Every year he remembers our son who was killed 30 years ago in a car wreck," Nettie Duke said.

At Bishop McDonald's request, organist and music director Phil Bordeleau performed Charles-Marie Widor's "Tocata" following Mass. At least three times during Mass, the bishop implored the congregation to stay in their seats to listen to the lengthy, fast-moving piece. Bordeleau received a standing ovation from the bishop and crowd.

"You have to be a very good organist to do that," he told the congregation. "And Phil can do that."

A reception following the noon Mass was held in McDonald Hall, which was named after the former bishop in 1995.

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