Community mourns former Edmonton archbishop Joseph MacNeil

A former Edmonton archbishop who was instrumental in organizing the first and only papal visit to the Alberta capital has died.

Joseph MacNeil, archbishop emeritus of Edmonton, died in Grey Nuns Hospital Sunday after suffering a stroke. He was 93. 

“He was always so filled with joy,” Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton spokeswoman Lorraine Turchansky said in a telephone interview Sunday evening. 

Archbishop Joseph MacNeil, left, accompanies Pope John Paul II at Namao Airport on Sept. 19, 1987.

Originally from Nova Scotia, MacNeil moved to Alberta when he was appointed as the city’s archbishop in 1973. During his 26-year term, his own blue-collar roots, from when he worked in a steel plant during summers while at the seminary, led to an interest in workers’ rights, labour issues and causes of poverty, Turchansky said.

A passion for empowering lay people in the church motivated him to work as an advocate for reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

“He had a real social justice conscience,” she said.

In 1984, he was instrumental in arranging the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city.

Turchansky, who first met MacNeil a decade ago, said he’ll be missed for his remarkable character, as well as his great sense of humour.

“I can’t imagine the place without him walking in and teasing us, telling us a joke,” she said.

MacNeil retired in 1999 but remained involved in the church, at times filling in for the current archbishop and participating at other events. 

In 2003, a newly opened elementary and junior high school in southwest Edmonton was named Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Catholic School. He had a gift for connecting with young people, and loved to visit the students at “his school” in southwest Edmonton, Turchansky said.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be made.

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Source: EDMONTON

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