A former Edmonton archbishop who was instrumental in organizing the first and only papal visit to the Alberta capital has died.
Joseph MacNeil, archbishop emeritus of Edmonton, died in Grey Nuns Hospital Sunday after suffering a stroke. He was 93.
“He was always so filled with joy,” Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton spokeswoman Lorraine Turchansky said in a telephone interview Sunday evening.
Originally from Nova Scotia, MacNeil moved to Alberta when he was appointed as the city’s archbishop in 1973. During his 26-year term, his own blue-collar roots, from when he worked in a steel plant during summers while at the seminary, led to an interest in workers’ rights, labour issues and causes of poverty, Turchansky said.
A passion for empowering lay people in the church motivated him to work as an advocate for reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
“He had a real social justice conscience,” she said.
In 1984, he was instrumental in arranging the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city.
Turchansky, who first met MacNeil a decade ago, said he’ll be missed for his remarkable character, as well as his great sense of humour.
“I can’t imagine the place without him walking in and teasing us, telling us a joke,” she said.
MacNeil retired in 1999 but remained involved in the church, at times filling in for the current archbishop and participating at other events.
In 2003, a newly opened elementary and junior high school in southwest Edmonton was named Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Catholic School. He had a gift for connecting with young people, and loved to visit the students at “his school” in southwest Edmonton, Turchansky said.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.
Joseph Neil MACNEIL
Joseph Neil MacNeil was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia, on April 15, 1924, the eldest of three children. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944 before deciding to enter the Halifax diocesan seminary.
He was ordained as a priest on May 23, 1948, and spent the next seven years serving as assistant pastor in three Nova Scotia parishes.
Father MacNeil went on to obtain a Doctorate of Canon Law from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and in 1959 was named administrator of the Diocese of Antigonish following the death of the bishop. He then served a short time as pastor of St. Ninian’s Cathedral in Antigonish before being asked to direct the Extension Department at his alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University, a position he held for nine years.
He was appointed Bishop of Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1969 and installed on July 16 at the age of 45.
On September 5, 1973, he was installed as the fifth Archbishop of Edmonton, and served in that ministry until his retirement in 1999. Along the way, Archbishop MacNeil pursued graduate studies in economics at the University of Chicago and received Honorary Doctorates of Law from St. Francis Xavier University (1978), St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick (1980), and the University of Alberta, Edmonton (1982).
During his time in office, Archbishop MacNeil served as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1979 to 1981, and in that position extended the formal invitation to St. Pope John Paul II to visit Canada. He described the Pope’s visit to Edmonton as a highlight of his episcopacy.
Archbishop MacNeil was predeceased by his parents, John Martin MacNeil and Katie Alice McLean, and by his sister Rita. He is survived by his brother, Father Malcolm MacNeil and his nephew, Donald, both living in Halifax.
He will be remembered with profound gratitude by his brother bishops and priests, and many, many friends in the Archdiocese of Edmonton and across Canada.
Regular weekday Mass at St. Joseph’s Basilica (10044 – 113 Street, Edmonton), presided by Archbishop Smith, will begin at 12:05 p.m. on Thursday, February 15, 2018. Following Mass, the casket carrying Archbishop Joseph MacNeil will be formally received into the Church. Those wishing to pay their respects may do so between 1:00 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Vigil Prayers, presided by Archbishop Smith, will begin at 7:00 p.m. followed by further visitation ending at 9:00 p.m.
The Funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Basilica, presided by Archbishop Smith, will begin at 12:00 p.m. on Friday, February 16, 2018. Interment will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery, 14611 – Mark Messier Trail, Edmonton.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Endowment Fund, 8421-101 Ave NW Edmonton, AB T6A 0L1.
To send condolences, please visit www.connelly-mckinley.com