Friday, February 17, 2006

Monsignor Mac

This appeared today in my local newspaper:

Monsignor McEneaney dies after 60 years of service

From Staff Reports
February 17, 2006, 2:55 am

Monsignor John McEneaney, who gave heart to young priests, comfort to the sick and inspiration to Catholics across South Dakota for six decades, died Thursday at McKennan Hospital. He was 88.

McEneaney left an indelible impression on the faithful in Sioux Falls, say those who knew him.

"I think if one wanted to hold up a model of priesthood for the ages, you would look at the life Monsignor McEneaney lived," said Jerry Klein, diocese chancellor in Sioux Falls. "He was effective, generous and true to his calling, true to his beliefs, true to God."

A prayer service and rosary will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at St. Joseph cathedral. The funeral Mass will begin at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Cathedral. Arrangements are under the direction of Miller Funeral Home.

He came to South Dakota from Boston in 1946. Among his assignments were Aberdeen, Garretson, Clark, Brookings and Sioux Falls.

In addition to McEneaney's spiritual life, he was an avid sports fan. He said the naming of McEneaney Field at O'Gorman High School was one of his greatest honors.


Monsignor Mac was a longstanding friend of my family. Here's what I wrote in the funeral home's online guest book:

"I haven't seen you in a hundred years"--or so Monsignor Mac would always greet me, even if we hat chatted the day before! The monsignor has been a good and great friend of my family for at least that hundred years he was always talking about. When my mother was hospitalized before her death, Monsignor Mac was always there. When she died, he did us the honor of co-officiating at her funeral. Just two weeks before his own death (the last time I saw him), his concern was about how my father was getting along. We've lost one of the good guys. But our lives are so much the richer for his having shared his with us. So long, Monsignor. See you again, by and by!


Well, that's how it goes. Mac lived a good, long life--by which I mean both good and long. Whenever the Catholic priesthood is being bashed around because of the latest revelations of abuse of, usually, altar boys by their parish priest, I think of guys like Mac, and a dozen or more others I've known over the years, and feel very sorry for them. It's the old story: The people who are doing their best to do their best are always overshadowed by the crooks, the creeps, and the bums--who in turn tar the entire profession by their misdeeds. (Don't get me wrong: Pedophile priests belong behind bars, as do the bishops who protect them.) Monsignor Mac was indeed one of the good guys, one of the guys who provided an example for other priests as well as for ordinary citizens, and I'll miss seeing him at the fitness center.

There was only one occasion that Mac and I were at odds with one another. Back in the 1980s there was a certain hubbub around town that had to do with taxpayer support of Catholic education--specifically, public dollars for textbooks to be used in Catholic schools. I wrote a letter to the editor in opposition to it. Although a product of Catholic grade school and college, I'm a staunch believer in the separation of church and state. If you want to send your kid to Catholic school--or Lutheran school, or any private school--then go for it. But don't then complain that your school doesn't have the same resources as public institutions and insist that the public should help underwrite your desire for private education for your kid. Well, that sort of attitude doesn't get you very far with most of my fellow Catholics. I had a few nasty phone calls about that (funny how abusive "Christians" get when you disagree with them). And I also had a very nice note from Mac, expressing some dismay at my stand, since, as he pointed out, I graduated from a Catholic university that, like virtually every university in the country, accepts federal dollars.

"Since your note is much nicer in tone than most of the comments I've received," I wrote back--or words very much like that, "and since you have the good sense to be Irish, I'll explain myself further." I pointed out that what he said was true, and unfortunate. But that was the reality of the world, and had been since well before I went to college. No one asked for my input, nor was there anything I could do about it. However, I pointed out that by virtue of participating in federal funding for college, colleges lose a degree of independence. The one who has the checkbook always gets to make the rules, or he takes the checkbook away. The local Catholic schools were insisting that they had a "right" to textbooks paid for by the state, which was ludicrous and was in fact inviting the state to come in an exercise more control over the private schools--since, everybody knows, there's no free lunch.

Well, that was all there was to that. Mac and I pretty much agreed, I think, to disagree. Which only further illustrates what a gentleman he was--as the saying goes, a gentleman and a gentle man. I miss him already.