Whenever you went to visit him you could not help but notice the front door; you could see it from the parking lot as you drove by the church: CONFESSION! The foot-high letters were emblazoned on the front door as a reminder to all who knocked, and to all who passed by, that the time of salvation is near; do not postpone God’s Mercy. Judgement could come at any moment!
Monsignor McDonald was like no other priest you will ever meet; he was cut from a different cloth that they don’t make anymore. I once asked him when he knew he wanted to be a priest. He barked the answer: “The moment I was born.” I asked him if he liked being a Monsignor. His answer came before I could finish the question: “I love it!” He loved everything about being a priest; that would give you a little insight into the man who really was beloved by anyone who met him. His parishioners would always say the same thing: “He doesn’t need a microphone.” I would agree with that statement. He shouted the Gospel to all who would listen, and to those who wouldn’t. Monsignor McDonald usually walked up and down the aisle to preach and would at times climb over the people in the pews to focus onto one individual. While intimidating, it was surely effective. He held your attention as he spoke to you, millimeters away from your face. He was beloved by his parishioners and especially by other priests. He continued to say his prayers in Latin, in the old-school tradition. He gave away everything, and never kept a thing for himself. He had a funny little thing that always amazed us. It went like this: if you told him a date—any date—he would tell you what the feast day was. Or, conversely, if you told him a saint, he would tell you the feast date. He knew them all, even the most obscure and arcane saint. We would test him, starting with the easy ones: “St. Francis?” The quick response: “October 4.” “November 22?” Easy “St. Cecilia.” Then they got harder: “April 9?” The correct answer: “St. Acacius of Amida.” “July 24?” Instantly the correct saint: “St. Christina the Astonishing.” How did he do it? How did he know all these things? The only answer was that he loved our faith and found it inexhaustible. The saints really were his friends. As we know the birthdays of our friends, he knew the feast days of his friends the saints….and now he lives with them forever; he is now one of them.
Monsignor McDonald could never pass by a wake without stopping in. He would go into every parlor when visiting a wake. I learned that from him. Whenever I go to a wake, I stop in to say a prayer in the next parlor. I find the families are very appreciative, and I usually wind up meeting people I know anyway.
Simply put, he loved being a priest. If you Google “priest,” his picture would probably show up. He was a “priest’s priest,” as they say. He was the priest another priest could go to with any concerns, and his responses were always abundantly merciful. I went to him once with a problem. I was taking care of my sainted mother who was well into many years of Alzheimers. I was close to broke and he took out his checkbook and wrote me a check for a couple of hundred dollars. It was just enough to get us through.
I’m not sure I ever thanked him appropriately for that, but I have never forgotten him for it. And now from heaven he knows how grateful I am to him for being such a great inspiration of what it meant to be a priest. I cannot begin to count the lives of the people he helped and touched throughout his many years of service as a priest.
Last week I went to Msgr. McDonald’s wake. His last wish was that what he had should go to the support of vocations, so that you might have priests and that your children might have priests to serve them.
I wish I had told him that he was my favorite priest.