After 66 years in the priesthood and after recently turning 93 years of age, Father Hughie D. MacDonald has decided to retire.
Fr. MacDonald said his plan is to continue working until living space becomes available at the facility which is being constructed to replace Bethany House in Antigonish. Construction is expected to conclude next month.
Although the move will bring Fr. MacDonald back to Antigonish, he said he will miss the people and communities of Cape Breton, where he served many years as a parish priest.
His career started with two months in St. Peter’s. He moved to Iona in the fall of 1952 for two years, which included travelling to nearby Baddeck and First Nations communities. In 1954, he was sent to Sydney where he spent three years.
He received his first parish assignment in Larry’s River where he spent nine years. In 1966, Fr. MacDonald moved to Port Hawkesbury where he stayed for 11 years before going to Pictou for two years.
During the Vatican II era, Fr. MacDonald said this time of great change within the Catholic Church required him to adapt. He then spent a year studying at St. Paul’s University in Ottawa.
Before being assigned to be the priest of Notre Dame de l’Assomption Parish, Fr. MacDonald spent a summer in St. Pierre et Miquelon in 1980 to improve his French, and remained in Arichat for eight years.
After Arichat, Fr. MacDonald was moved to River Bourgeois in 1988, but in 1991, he returned to Arichat for seven more years.
In 1998 he moved to Creignish where he’s remained for the past 20 years.
Describing himself as a “people person,” Fr. MacDonald said he enjoyed his relationships with people and offered them a “great ear” and willingness to listen.
Fr. MacDonald acknowledged the “challenge of entering the seminary and becoming a celibate priest many years ago.”
“I didn’t know if I was going to stay or not,” he told The Reporter. “As I mentioned to another reporter, I liked girls.
“But, then I stayed and I’ve been going on all these years. I’d do the same thing over again.”
Those lucky enough to have met, spoken to or interacted regularly with the man many call Father Hughie know instantly that he is no ordinary priest.
His limitless joy, boundless enthusiasm and unwavering love for his fellow human being are infectious, even in a man well into his 90s and with more than six decades in the priesthood. Fr. MacDonald’s vitality and ability to bring out the best in people are almost supernatural.
Fr. MacDonald was devoted to the Alcoholics Anonymous movement, he abhorred domestic violence, he was fully involved in any community in which he served, and he was kind and helpful to everyone, frequently picking up hitchhikers anywhere at any time in his Honda Civic.
He was a father to those he served, in every sense of the word, and enriched the lives of those fortunate enough to cross paths with him.
He will be greatly missed as a priest and invaluable community member, but the memories he created will be cherished and his example will be honoured.
Happy retirement, Father Hughie!