The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Leaders remember Bishop McDonald for prayer, humor

Clergy and laity alike recall bishop's caring nature and limitless Catholic faith

Published: April 10, 2014      
Dwain Hebda
Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City (left), Archbishop Emeritus Joseph A. Fiorenza of Houston and Auxiliary Bishop George J. Rassas of Chicago pay their respects during the vigil service April 7.

Catholic leaders who knew Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald were asked by Arkansas Catholic to reflect on their friendship and memories working with him as the bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock from 1972 to 2000.

“I’ve known Bishop McDonald for a long, long time. He was one of the first bishops I got to know personally, beginning back in the 1970s. The thing I want to say about him is this: More than anything it was his gentleness, he was always gentle and kind. I think it came from his personal relationship with the Eucharist. I saw him many times before the Blessed Sacrament and he was always so at home and at peace. It just gave me a sense of peace and joy to see that and I think it reminds us of the need to establish in our lives a faith in the real presence and an ongoing relationship with our Lord.”

Bishop Edward J. Slattery
Diocese of Tulsa

“What springs to mind is his sensitivity and compassion to other people’s needs. The most significant and pervasive aspect of his ministry was his care of the people, especially in sickness or dealing with grieving people. If someone was dealing with a serious incident, he was likely the first person at their front door to offer help. When he was transferred (to Arkansas in 1972), he asked me to go out to Blessed Sacrament Church to take his place. I wasn’t particularly happy about it because I knew I was stepping into the shoes of someone beloved by everyone. My own sense was that the first couple of years in Little Rock were difficult for him because of what he left behind but when he got into it, the diocese became his parish; that’s the way he lived his ministry.”

Bishop Emeritus J. Kevin Boland
Diocese of Savannah

“He was an extraordinary fellow. He taught me how to be a bishop because of his kindness, his compassion and his attention to people. The way he was never afraid to stand up for what was right. But also his prayerfulness, and the many qualities that he had were a great example to me as a young bishop coming in. I’ll never forget the help that he gave me.”

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

“The Second Vatican Council called on our Church’s bishops to make sacred Scripture a part of everyone’s daily prayer and spirituality. Bishop McDonald took that call to heart. He found a home-grown, parish-based Scripture study program here in Little Rock and asked that it become the faith formation program in every parish in the diocese. He established an office to further develop the program and assist parishes with its implementation. The program flourished and has spread to dioceses throughout the United State and in other nations as well. Bishop McDonald’s vision and support has opened countless hearts to the Word of God in sacred Scripture.”

Msgr. Richard Oswald
Former director of Little Rock Scripture Study
Diocesan divine worship director and assistant vocations director

“Certainly he was open. He was attentive, he’d listen. He was a good listener. If he didn’t agree with you, he’d tell you. He was of the people. He was a great letter writer. He’d write a note to people who’d lost a child and if he didn’t get there in person, he’d put something personal in there. He wanted to be on top of stuff, particularly pain and tragedy and poor people. He had a great voluminous correspondence.”

Msgr. John F. O’Donnell, retired

“In 1972, I wasn’t so sure I’d ever like Bishop McDonald. One of his first encounters with the folks of Fort Smith was to announce the closing of our Catholic high school, St. Anne’s Academy. I was a ninth-grade student and had no desire or imagination to attend any other school. We were crushed and he was the ‘bad guy’ in our limited experience of him. But he won me over throughout the years with his dogged efforts to be present to Catholics around all parts of the diocese, his openness to the reforms of Vatican II and the emergence of lay leadership, and his unwavering demonstration of care when people were sick and dying. In a particular way, his style of leadership allowed for the development of Little Rock Scripture Study, the first of its kind Bible study for lay Catholics, which has become a gift from our diocese to the Church throughout the U.S. and well beyond our borders.”

Cackie Upchurch
Director of Little Rock Scripture Study

“Bishop McDonald was a good friend to me. He encouraged me in my pro-life work and supported me every step of the way even when it was not the politically correct thing to do. He once reminded me that we had already won with the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “

Rose Mimms
Executive director of Arkansas Right to Life

“As a priest, he taught me how to be a people person. I mean that almost sounds cliché, but he seemed to get along with everyone and seemed to be able to minister to everyone. He was always such a gentle person, obviously known for his great sense of humor.”

Father Tom Elliott
Pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, North Little Rock

“Bishop McDonald loved families, especially his own.  He often talked about his parents and being from a large family with great love and fond memories.  As our bishop nothing made him happier than to be around families.  He loved celebrating baptisms, confirmations, weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, Christmas and Easter.  And he readily reached out to families that were hurting in his own consoling way in times of loss, tragedy or hardship.  He could always find the right words to express God's love in person and through his generous personal notes and letters.

Bishop McDonald shepherded the Catholic church in Arkansas as its spiritual father.  He was the head of this wonderful family, the Diocese of Little Rock.  And, as far as he was concerned, there was room for everyone in it. He and Pope Francis have in common the deeply held belief that the Catholic church should be welcoming to all because each person is created in the image and likeness of God.

Bishop McDonald took every opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Life.  He was gentle but firm when preaching that life is sacred from its first moments in a mother's womb.  And he stood up to protect it at every stage and in all circumstances, leaving the end of life decisions to God.  When he looked into the eyes of another person, he knew Jesus was looking back at him.  I suspect Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta must have noticed this about him when she announced the decision to provide Missionaries of Charity Sisters for Abba House.

Bishop McDonald was also a personal friend that I grew to admire and love as a member of our family. We have a son, Andrew Joseph, named for him, and he was the Godfather for our other son, Vincent Paul. Our family will miss him, and I will miss his friendship.  He took a chance on me when I was a young man fresh out of graduate school, one I am sure no other bishop in the country would have taken, in asking me to help him run Catholic Charities in our diocese.  We had a lot of good years serving in the diocese together, a little of everything happened, just like being in a family.

Bishop McDonald is the last one who would want us to be sad about his passing.  He would want us to pray for him and ask God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to have mercy on his soul in hopes of joining the eternal family of God with the Communion of Saints.  And I am certain he had a joke or two ready just in case St. Peter wanted a laugh before he opened the gates to heaven!"

Dennis Lee
Chancellor for administrative affairs

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