The Most Rev. Andrew McDonald - who served for 28 years as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock and was known for his quirky sense of humor, championing of the poor and unyielding devotion to ending abortion in Arkansas - passed away Tuesday at St. Joseph Home in Palatine,Ill. He was 90.
A cause of death was not immediately released.
McDonald - who arrived in Little Rock in 1972 from Savannah, Ga. - retired from the post in 2000 and became the chaplain for the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Joseph Home for the Elderly in Palatine.
It was his love and compassion for the poor and the unborn that will be his most powerful legacy, many of his Arkansas friends and parishioners said.
“He was a very compassionate man. He was certainly on the right sides of the issues for us,” said Monsignor Francis Malone, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church in Little Rock.
McDonald was an outspoken opponent of abortion in Arkansas and was a pioneer of the annual March for Life, which began 36 years ago and continues to draw thousands to Capitol Avenue each January.
Jackie Ragan, former director of the North Pulaski Right to Life organization who now serves in state development for the National Right to Life group in Washington, D.C., said she met McDonald when she approached him for a financial contribution to start the Arkansas chapter of the movement.
What he gave her was a $200 check, then years of unyielding support and personal involvement in the mission to stop abortion in the state and a lifelong friendship, she said.
“He led the march every year for as long as he was able,” Ragan said. “He was wonderful, just wonderful. There will never be another that comes close to him. From my perspective, he was an angel when it came to abortion and putting an end to it.”
Rose Mimms, executive director for Arkansas Right to Life, said McDonald shied away from controversy but always had an “extraordinary commitment to life, to ending abortion.” Mimms said the bishop was a “good example to other priests and pastors” in the state.
McDonald continued his involvement in the Arkansas Right to Life organization and led the rosary novena for life each year, when Catholics hold a procession from the Catholic churches to a Little Rock abortion clinic.
It was that compassion and devotion that endeared him to many throughout the state, St. Edward Catholic Church parishioner Tina Johnson said.
“He earned the respect and love of many; mine, largely due to his work fighting for the rights of the unborn, a cause very dear to my heart. He touched a multitude of lives and will be greatly missed. May he be granted eternal rest and peace,” Johnson said.
Jerome Kodell, leader of Subiaco Abbey, said McDonald took the helm of the Little Rock Diocese during a tumultuous transition from the rebellious 1960s. But his natural gift for unity and his open but firm leadership opened doors and opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise happened.
“He led it very well. He came through. He was open and permitted a lot of projects. He was willing to give it a chance,” Kodell said.
Indeed, McDonald became the first to institute permanent deacons in Little Rock and reached out to other denominations in Arkansas, even promoting a Billy Graham crusade in Little Rock in 1989.
McDonald also successfully petitioned Mother Teresa to come to Arkansas in 1982 to open the Abba House, a Little Rock shelter for single mothers and their children that ministers to families in the neighborhood, the elderly in nursing homes and reaches out to prisoners and the homeless.
The Rev. Erik Pohlmeier of Our Lady of the Holy Souls Catholic Church in Little Rock said McDonald had the persona of a father figure to many in state - a father figure who had a penchant for “corny” jokes.
“Most people would tell you they were very bad jokes that he would tell often. You knew to expect it from him. It helped endear him to people,” Pohlmeier said.
Malone said McDonald was often teased for telling the same jokes at different venues.
“He would say, ‘Well, I have a new audience.’ He had the greatest collection of corny jokes than anybody I knew,” Malone said.
McDonald also maintained a reputation until his death of reaching out personally - with visits, cards and letters - to those who were mourning the loss of loved ones.
“I found him to be one of the most caring men that I have ever met,” said the Rev. John Connell at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Springdale. “He loved his church. He loved his people. He loved his family.”
Arkansas, Pages 12 on 04/02/2014