Archbishop MacNeil honoured by St. Francis Xavier University

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil

September 14, 2015

EDMONTON - A portrait of Archbishop Joseph MacNeil will forever hang on the walls of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S., as the archbishop is being recognized for his achievements.

MacNeil's alma mater, where he graduated in 1944, recently named him to its alumni hall of honour along with two other prominent graduates.

This is the second time the 91-year-old archbishop has been honoured by the university, which in 1978 gave him an honorary doctor of laws degree.

The hall of honour, which was initiated by the Class of 1991 Legacy Committee, recognizes members of the university community who have carried on the SFX tradition of helping others and whose life is an inspiration to current students.

"The legacy committee agrees that the life and achievements of Archbishop MacNeil are an exemplary model of the Xaverian spirit in action," said Mary Jessie MacLellan, director of alumni affairs.

"Joseph N. MacNeil is an inspiration. He embodies the tradition of St. Francis Xavier of helping others," reads the citation that will hang with his photo in the library.

"Affable, personable and engaging, his life has revolved around the services of others."

In an interview, MacNeil said he was grateful to the university for conferring such an honour on him. "I'm grateful, I'm happy and I'm surprised."

The archbishop said SFX played a major role in his becoming a socially conscious citizen and priest. The university was a place of great social experimentation during his time there, said MacNeil. Professors, most of whom were priests, were actively involved in the struggle for workers' rights and social equality.

MacNeil liked that because it showed him the priesthood was more than a strictly sacramental vocation, but also a tool for social change.

He made the decision to become a priest during his third year at St. Francis Xavier. In 1944, following his university graduation, MacNeil enrolled in the Halifax diocesan seminary and was ordained four years later. In 1973, he became archbishop of Edmonton. He retired in 1999 but is still active.

"Under his leadership, the Archdiocese of Edmonton was structured to meet the needs of the day, including social justice, parish renewal, council of women religious, Sign of Hope, sexual abuse committee, Canada's first urban Aboriginal parish, Catholic school committee, and the Alberta Catholic Health Corporation," reads the citation. "He's committed to his Xaverian spirit and leads by example."