An empty place at the table
George Lucas was a longtime friend who regularly met Archbishop MacNeil for breakfast at a local restaurant, Ricky’s All Day Grill, on Jasper Avenue.
In his later years, the archbishop began losing his peripheral vision, so he would move the pepper from the side of the table to the centre, between himself and his friend, so that he could find it.
After MacNeil died, Lucas went back to the place where the two had shared so many meals and memories. Sitting in their regular booth, he moved the pepper to the centre of the table as a tribute to his good friend.
“He was love personified,” says George Lucas. “I’m happy that he’s home with the Lord, and now he can pray for us continually.”
“I’m going to miss him.”
He Was 'Father Joe', My Uncle
Don MacNeil knew the archbishop as his uncle. “Father Joe” would often share a few jokes around the dinner table.
“It’s funny. Obviously I would communicate on a different level than some who knew him through the parish and everything like that … He was my uncle,” MacNeil said.
“He always coined that phrase – talking to him and (asking him) how things were going – that he could ‘still sit up and take nourishment’ and as long as he could still do that, he was happy. It’s all those positive comments and everything. Those are my fond memories.”
He Was A Father Figure
Josee Marr, who now serves as Chancellor of the Archdiocese, was first hired by Archbishop MacNeil in 1990 to work as an administrative assistant, typing his letters, homilies and weekly appointment calendar. She has worked closely with him ever since.
Asked if she thought of him as a father figure, she frames her answer in the words of Jesus in Luke 8:21: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”
“I think in a very real and profound sense, there was that family relationship with Archbishop MacNeil based on that principle of faith and how important living by the Word was, so we became good friends and family, as Jesus said, on the basis of our approach to our faith and the Word of God.
“Laughing and talking… it was one of these relationships where we were comfortable to talk about just about anything. He had that ability to do that with just about everybody, though. Everybody felt just as special as I felt, because that’s the kind of person he was.”
In handling his correspondence in later years, Marr would often receive thank-you notes from participants at conferences or retreats where the Archbishop had presented. “He would reply and say ‘we have become good friends.’ That’s how he saw people, as friends.”
At one school visit, he told the Bible story of the multiplication of loaves and fishes and the feeding of 5,000 people. “He talked about the little boy in the crowd who had a basket with five loaves and two fish, and then Jesus took that, blessed it, and distributed, and everybody had enough to eat and then some. So he asked the children, ‘So what do you think happened to that little boy?’ As usual, all the kids raised their hands, and he pointed to one. The kid said to Archbishop MacNeil, ‘That was you!’”
“We all laugh, but when you look at the life of Archbishop MacNeil, he came from Down East where there’s fisheries and all that, and also being a priest who has broken bread for so many years, that little kid knew something and pointed to a reality that was correct: Archbishop MacNeil has been a fisher of men and he has been feeding us with the Bread of Life and the Word of Life, and he continues to feed the thousands, women, men, children, everyone, evangelizing us through love.”
Clearing The Snow
Bernadette Potvin, a Sister of the Holy Cross, remembers her surprise the time Archbishop MacNeil came out of the rectory next to the cathedral and insisted on cleaning of off her entire car after a heavy snowfall.
“He was down to earth, and close to the people,” says Potvin.
After the vigil prayers for MacNeil, she shared her message to him: “I said, ‘You’re up there now, so you take care of us and your priests.”