Former archbishop Joseph MacNeil remembered for his love of people

Former archbishop Joseph MacNeil is being remembered as a man who took a keen interest in his parishioners and their lives.

“He knew people, he remembered their names, he could tell you where they were from, probably the name of their pet, the names of their cousins,” said Archbishop of Edmonton Richard Smith.

“He knew them through and through. And people knew that, and knew that because he knew them he loved them.”

The 93-year-old died Sunday at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton.

Originally from Nova Scotia, MacNeil came to Edmonton in 1973. He served as archbishop until he retired in 1999.

“That’s a very long tenure by anybody’s measure,” said Smith. “He was a wonderful priest, a wonderful bishop with a great touch, especially close to young people.”

School named in his honour

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Catholic School in Edmonton is named in his honour.

The school opened in 2003, and celebrated MacNeil’s birthday each spring.

“He would always refer to that school as his school,” said Smith.

“He took a particular interest and a possessiveness to that school, and the kids just loved him.”

Invitation to the Pope

​MacNeil served as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1979 to 1981.

While at the head of the group, he personally invited Pope John Paul II to Edmonton.

MacNeil’s invitation was accepted, and the pope came to Edmonton in 1984. That was the first trip to Canada by any leader of the Catholic church.

From the archives: Pope John Paul II in Edmonton1:31

The archdiocese has not released a date for MacNeil’s funeral, but said it will likely happen within a week.

MacNeil will be buried in Edmonton at the Holy Cross cemetery.

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