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‘Remember you are an ambassador for Christ and the Church’

Father Joseph McDonald retires after 36 years of service


Fr. Joe’s 36th Anniversary of Ordination, celebrated at St. Mary’s, Moscow on June 26. The previous day, the parish community celebrated his birthday and gave him a wonderful “send-off,” recognizing Fr. Joe’s decade of service as pastor. (Courtesy Photo/St. Mary’s Parish)


By Brook Thelander

For the ICR


Imagine being raised with no church or faith background and not meeting any Catholics until you were in college. The odds of you becoming Catholic would be small. The odds of you becoming a Catholic priest would be even smaller.


But Father Joseph McDonald III, JCL, JV defies the odds. With less than half of his ordained class still involved in ministry, Father McDonald prepares to step down after 36 years of service to the Diocese. And he does so with gratitude for all that God has done in his life and in the lives of those he has served. That gratitude shines through as he reflects on more than three decades as a priest.


Q: What were some factors in your discernment to become a priest?


A: During my years in college, I began attending the Cathedral in Boise and got actively involved there. At one point Bishop Sylvester Treinen suggested that I consider attending seminary. I had developed friendships with Father Pat Dennis, Father Andy Schumacher and Sister Genevra Rolf, then principal at St. Joseph’s School. They all said, “Try seminary for a year and see what happens.” So I did. I respected the counsel of these dear friends, and God used them in my discernment.


Q: What have been some highlights of your priesthood?


A: I was privileged to meet Pope St. John Paul II in Rome in 1992. I was in Rome at Bishop Brown’s request to study Canon Law and subsequently became Judicial Vicar for the Diocese. I was also fortunate to enjoy a year-long sabbatical in Tanzania and Kenya. I feel blessed by the generosity of the people of the Diocese who made these experiences possible. But perhaps the greatest blessing has been the lifelong friendships I have developed. Chief among those have been Deacon Rick Bonney and his wife, Bea. We were fortunate to serve together in parishes in Pocatello, Boise, and Idaho Falls over many years.


Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges?


A: Professionally, one major challenge has been overseeing Catholic schools, many of which have experienced hard times in recent years. I sometimes felt my administrative training was inadequate to deal effectively with the needs of the five schools I served. A second challenge arises from being a can-on lawyer, where I often deal with broken marriages and occasionally with priests leaving the ministry. Delving deeply into the personal lives of those you love and care about is tough at times.


On the personal side, the demands of the priest-hood and busy weekend schedules make it hard to spend time with family or pursue other hobbies or interests because weekends are always full. After receiving a new assignment, the transition to a new parish process can also be challenging. I have moved eight times in 36 years. Loneliness is often a companion to those in the priestly vocation.


Q: What advice would you give to those being ordained as priests?


A: In your first parish assignment, when you celebrate Mass, look closely at the open and outstretched hands of those who come to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. You’ll see farm hands, delicate hands, gnarled hands, stained and soiled hands, First Communion hands, grief-stricken hands, and more. Be attentive to those hands. You’ll see God in them.


It sounds obvious, but I would also say: be kind. The world today lacks kindness. If people can’t find it in the Church, we are in trouble. Remember that you are an ambassador for Christ and the Church. Live the corporal works of mercy. Be grateful for all the Diocese gives you – not just for housing and food, but for opportunities to travel, form relation-ships and meet people from all walks of life.


Q: What message do you have for the faithful people of Idaho?


A: Remember, in the midst of seismic shifts and changes in the world during your years as Catholics, the essential truth of our Catholic faith remains sure and solid. The truth of Christ abides and is eternal. This is the core of our faith, and it helps us to navigate the challenges that come to us.


Q: What are your plans for retirement?


A: Long term, I don’t know because I’ve never been retired before! Conventional wisdom says that God will show me what’s next. I suspect, in many ways, I will be busier than ever. In the short term, I will first travel to West Virginia for a week-long retreat. After that, I hope to reconnect with family and friends. I haven’t been to a high school reunion in 50 years, even though I’m still in touch with many of those people. I hope to be able to visit some priest friends in Europe and to visit friends in Africa.


Father Joseph McDonald meets Pope St. John Paul II in 1992. (Courtesy photo/Father McDonald)

Transitional Deacon Joe McDonald receives his stole. (Courtesy photo/Father McDonald)

Fathers Joe MacDonald, John Marcott and John Worster early in their priesthood. (Courtesy photos/Father McDonald)

Father Joe McDonald III, JCL, JV (Courtesy photos/Father McDonald)


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Diocesan Pastoral Center

FAX: (208) 342-0224

1501 S. FEDERAL WAY, SUITE 400, BOISE, ID 83705

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