Bishop McDonald’s ruby anniversary

This watercolor portrait of Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald was painted from a photo by artist Ken Oberste in 2011 for Catholic Charities of Arkansas.
This watercolor portrait of Bishop Emeritus Andrew J. McDonald was painted from a photo by artist Ken Oberste in 2011 for Catholic Charities of Arkansas.
Bishop McDonald celebrates Mass
Bishop McDonald celebrates Mass

NextEven after 40 years, the moment he was told he would become a bishop and be leading the Diocese of Little Rock is still fresh in Bishop Andrew J. McDonald’s mind.
The retired bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock remembers what happened June 11, 1972, when he got a visit from his local bishop, Bishop Gerard L. Frey, in Savannah, Ga. Father McDonald was then the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Savannah. His bishop told him he got a special delivery letter, which was quite unusual especially because it was Sunday. The letter said Pope Paul VI was appointing him a bishop.
June 11 was an important day for Bishop McDonald because it was also the day his father James died in 1943.
“He came to the rectory that night,” he said. “He showed me the letter. The letter said I had to make a positive response to the apostolic delegate in Washington if you wanted to accept it. When the bishop left, I sat down to write the letter of acceptance. It was 10 o’clock at night and I got to the post office. I was so nervous I wrapped (his late sister, Sister Celine’s rosary) around the letter. … I almost put the rosary in the mailbox.”
On July 4, the announcement was made public. That day too had importance for Bishop McDonald. It was the day his mother Theresa died in 1940.
“It was a signal to me that they are aware of what was happening to their son and that they will love him and pray for him in his position as the bishop of Little Rock,” Bishop McDonald said.

Friend writes tribute to former bishop
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The ordination and installation were held two months later. It was an option in 1972 that a new bishop could be ordained in his home diocese and be installed later in his new diocese. Bishop McDonald was then 48 years old and he wanted his family and parishioners to be able to attend the episcopal festivities so he had two Masses, one in Georgia for his episcopal ordination Sept. 5 and one in Arkansas for his episcopal installation Sept. 7.
Bishop McDonald’s affection for his parents and siblings is well chronicled. He attributes his personality and morals to the way he was raised.
“My life is rooted in the faith of my mother and father. They had 14 pregnancies. Two died before birth. At that time, money was not available, but they trusted in God that he would take care of all of us. There were eight girls and four boys. I am number 11. … Four of the girls became nuns and four of the girls and three boys married. I became the priest.”
None of his siblings is alive today, but he has many nieces, nephews and extended family around the country.
He said his parents lived their lives as a pro-life witness and influenced him to do the same.
“They made sacrifices unknown to us as children,” he said. “Every family makes sacrifices to provide for their children. … They set the tone for the possibility for stable vocations to marriage, religious life and the priesthood. They never said that to us, but out of that environment the Lord passed by and called and four girls became nuns, seven brothers and sisters married and I became a priest.”
He also watched the ministry of his sister Josephine. She became a Little Sister of the Poor in 1926 and was known as Sister Celine of St. Rose. He loved that her order was dedicated to caring for the elderly. When he retired as bishop in 2000, Bishop McDonald had to decide what ministry he would perform. After two years assisting at parishes, he decided he wanted go where he was most needed.
He wrote to the Little Sisters of the Poor, thinking he might be able to retire at their home for the elderly in St. Louis. The order responded with a request for him to be the chaplain at their home outside Chicago.
In March 2002 he moved to Palatine to serve the elderly residents, most of whom are Catholic, and the sisters who serve there.
“I have the assurance that if I get sick I will be down at the end of the hall (in the infirmary) and I won’t have to go somewhere else,” he said.
In Palatine, Bishop McDonald’s schedule is pretty routine. He wakes up around 5 a.m. and has time for private prayer from 6-6:30 a.m. He celebrates Mass every day at 11 a.m. for the sisters and residents. After lunch, he often talks to his secretary, Marian Swift, who works at St. John Center in Little Rock.
Some of the 85 residents live in the infirmary while others like the bishop live in apartments. His apartment has a bedroom, living room and kitchen, but he eats all his meals in the dining room with the residents, two of whom are priests. Parishioners from two local Catholic churches come to volunteer at the home. An employee or volunteer drives Bishop McDonald to any appointments he might have.
“I used to have my automobile, but I gave it up two years ago,” he said.
Bishop McDonald continues to see his cardiologist and other doctors in Little Rock. At 88 years old, he said he will always be watchful over issues related to his heart.
“Heart trouble is very prevalent in my family. My mother died when I was already in the seminary of heart trouble. My father died in 1943 of heart trouble.”
Bishop McDonald had open heart surgery in 1999. He uses a walker to get around St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly.
“My legs don’t hurt, but I am afraid I am going to fall,” he said.
Looking over 28 years as the bishop of Little Rock, Bishop McDonald said there are a few highlights for him. He enjoyed traveling the state for Masses, especially confirmation.
“Then you get insights of people and priests,” he said.
He also made regular ad limina visits to meet the pope in Rome. He met Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II several times. The visits are required in order for bishops to report on the state of their dioceses.
“For me it was an unexpected occasion in my life, but that’s because I never thought I would be a bishop,” he said.

Friend writes tribute to former bishop
Roy Paulette, a member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, knows how one can honor Bishop Andrew J. McDonald on his anniversary.
Paulette, who socialized with the bishop during his time in Little Rock, wrote a “tribute” to the bishop in the form of a nine-page booklet titled “The Journey” and is selling it for at least a $25 donation to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Paulette, using the pen name R. Paulet, stays in contact with the bishop by reading the homilies that Bishop McDonald’s office mails to his friends and extended family. Paulette sifted through the homilies to put together a biography from the bishop’s birth to his retirement.
Paulette, 94, and his wife Mary have four children. The Little Sisters of the Poor take care of 85 elderly residents who are poor in Palatine, Ill.
To receive a booklet, send a check payable to the “Little Sisters of the Poor” to The Journey, PO Box 7314, Little Rock, AR 72217.

Click here for the Bishop McDonald special issue index.

Malea Hargett

Malea Hargett has guided the diocesan newspaper as editor since 1994. She finds strength in her faith through attending Walking with Purpose Bible studies at Christ the King Church in Little Rock.

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