The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Reflections on Bishop McDonald's impact on diocese

Priests and diocesan employees who worked with Bishop McDonald share their thoughts

Published: September 8, 2012   
Bishop Andrew J. McDonald walks at the head of the Arkansas March for Life in 1989, as he did from the first march in 1978.

Priests and diocesan employees who worked with Bishop McDonald during his 28 years as the Little Rock bishop share some of the reasons why they appreciated the bishop and his impact on this diocese.

"Bishop McDonald welcomed me to Diocese of Little Rock when I was traveling and preaching missions and working for the missions 20 years ago. A three-year loan has turned into over two decades of ministry within the diocese. I especially appreciated Bishop McDonald and his knowing his priests and parishes and putting together talents and needs. His listening and reception became a life-changing experience for me."
Father Mike Sinkler, Paragould

"When I was in high school there was a little announcement in Arkansas Catholic about a race I won in a track meet. Soon after I received a card from Bishop McDonald congratulating me on winning that race. He included in the card an invitation to consider the priesthood saying, 'I suggest that you run towards the Lord Jesus, let him embrace you and let him call you to be a priest. (Smile)' Three years later when I was applying for the seminary I re-discovered that card. It was just the right kind of nudge for my discernment and a great example of the kind care he showed in him many cards and letters. I am grateful for the years he nurtured my faith as our bishop."
Father Erik Pohlmeier, Little Rock

"Bishop McDonald came to the diocese within just a few years of the close of Vatican Council II and brought with him the spirit of openness and confidence that characterized the council. He encouraged the involvement of the laity in movements like the Cursillo and Marriage Encounter. I experienced personally his wise guidance in the fledgling years of the Little Rock Scripture Study. The adoption of the Scripture Study as a mission of the diocese under Bishop McDonald was a pivotal moment in its development. People around the world owe him thanks for that."
Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, Subiaco Abbey

"Bishop McDonald signed all of his letters with the closing, 'Your friend, Bishop Andrew J. McDonald.' I will offer two points to prove this true. First, over the years of my priesthood, Bishop McDonald learned that I loved trains (model railroading) and love to travel by train. To this day, he continues to send me news clippings of articles on trains for me to read. Secondly, every Christmas season while I was pastor of St. Theresa in Little Rock, Bishop McDonald would come over to the rectory to see my Christmas display. He brought with him families and children who in the past had experienced tragedy or loss during the holidays to offer them a little joy during Christmas. He never forgot their loss. This is a true sign of a Good Shepherd and a dear friend."
Father John Connell, Springdale

"Bishop McDonald is very pro-life. He has supported the pro-life movement from the beginning. It made my job so much easier to have that support. He let me do all kinds of wonderful pro-life things. Some people can say they're pro-life, but if you don't have it in your heart, it becomes clear. He had it in his heart. He was very open. The door was always open to his office. If he was there, he was not behind closed doors. He was very accessible. You always knew if you needed to talk with him, you could. He was always there if you needed him. When they redid the building, the bishop's office is not designed like that. You can't walk by and see them any more, but with him you could. It was nice to be able to walk by, see him, wave at him and connect with him even if it was just him waving and smiling back at you."
Anne Dierks, Project Rachel coordinator and former respect life director

"Bishop McDonald taught me to have a special love and concern for those who are suffering, those who are sick and dying. When I was serving as pastor in Fayetteville, there was a parishioner who was known to the bishop and to all the priests who had ever served in Fayetteville for his weekly, single-spaced, type written, sermon critiques delivered by mail. His critiques of our sermons went into great detail to point out all of the errors and heresies in our sermons. And so it came about that this man was dying and Bishop McDonald came for a pastoral visit to Fayetteville and I mentioned him to the bishop and, as I had hoped, before he left to return to Little Rock, the bishop said that he wanted to visit the man. This man had been a thorn in the side of the bishop and his priests for many years, but the bishop set the tone for the visit and so there was no tension or ill feelings. The highlight of the visit came when the bishop and the man were talking and I was daydreaming and gazing around the room when I spied a typewriter and realized that was the typewriter that he had used to write all of his sermon critiques and so I nudged the bishop and said, 'Look" and the bishop looked at the typewriter and said, 'There it is! There is that typewriter! I want that typewriter for the diocesan archives!' And we all had a good laugh. I will always remember and be grateful for Bishop McDonald's good example of genuine concern for the sick and suffering."
Father Mark Wood, Little Rock

"Through the years that he was bishop, he was very supportive of all the programs. He walked with us, as a shepherd should. For me, by his contact with the community, it was how he stayed in communication with the people of Arkansas. I saw this for myself. He could see my gifts that I couldn't see. I never imagined when I first met him (as a graduate student who sang as a vocalist at a service in Fayetteville) that I would work at the diocese. He could see that I had gifts that could be brought to the diocese. He was a good confidant as well, because there are always those times when you have those personal moments that affect your life. People would tell me that they would receive letters years after loved ones had passed that let them know he was remembering them and praying for them. He always took time to send cards -- that means a lot to people in the community. He had such a compassion and commitment to the diocese. He knew the inner workings of all the communities. He took the time to learn the history and know how the communities were connected and the families. He had an open door policy. We've been very blessed with our bishops here. With Bishop McDonald, you always had the chance to meet with him. He was always present for the people. He also moved us in his later years to be more aware of how to move us into the future of ministry. Bishop McDonald was good at keeping us on the right path and moving in the right direction as the years went by. He still has a lot of influence. People still want to spend time with him, so he made an impact that is still seen today. He was a good man, a good priest, and recognized that we are all human, including him. He had to make tough decisions sometimes, but he attempted to make them in the best way possible. He allowed God to work through him in all that he did."
Elizabeth Reha, director of diocesan family life office

"When I found out about the Mass to commemorate Bishop McDonald's 40th anniversary as a bishop, I was saddened when I realized that I couldn't be there because of a retreat obligation in Subiaco that weekend. Knowing and respecting Bishop McDonald who ordained me a priest 26 years ago, I know that he would say something like: 'Your ministry comes first.' Certainly he has lived that saying as a bishop and as a priest for over 60 years. I give thanks to Bishop McDonald for the blessing he was as our bishop for over 25 years and for his support, patience, guidance and continued prayers for me in my priesthood. I am also appreciative of the support he gave to my uncle, Father Joseph Biltz, in appointing him the director of the Office of Justice and Peace for the diocese. As my uncle reached out and spoke out for the poor, the disadvantaged and the persecuted in our midst, Bishop McDonald never withdrew his support for my uncle's efforts in this and in other areas of social justice ministry. I was also blessed in a particular way by Bishop McDonald's attentiveness and care for my family in the wake of my father's sudden death in 1985. His support for me, my mom and the rest of my family (which didn't end after the beautiful homily he gave at my dad's funeral Mass) inspired and inspires me in my own ministry to the bereaved to this day, for which I am truly grateful to the Lord and Bishop McDonald."
Father Bill Elser, Hot Springs Village

"I remember one time after I was newly ordained that I was talking and visiting with Bishop McDonald at Holy Souls and a question came up about a matter of canon law. Bishop McDonald gave his response to which in my youthfulness, I said I thought it says this. He just looked at me and said, "I bet you $5 I'm right." Of course he was right. I'm honored God choose Bishop McDonald to impose hands upon me and raise me to order of presbyterate."
Father Norbert Rappold, Mena

"He was great to work with. He had an open door policy. You could always get access and an appointment with him. Some bishops have levels between them, but he didn't. He had great availability. He was very pastoral and practical. If someone had a good idea and there was a way to pay for it, he would support it. So many programs and ministries began and grew under his leadership -- the diaconate, Little Rock Scripture Study, Hispanic ministry, the immigration office, the youth programs and Search, Cursillo, RCIA. He responded to the changing needs of the Church. He was a prayerful man and he was a good administrator. He was prudent with spending money and never took us into debt. He was very much a man of the Church, a priest and bishop of the Church. Whatever Rome said we should be doing, he implemented here. He was focused on our diocese. We were his first priority -- the people, the priests, the faith life, the youth of the diocese."
Greg Wolfe, diocesan finance director

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