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Archbishop Joseph Neil MacNeil


Joseph Neil MacNeil was born in Sydney, Nova Scotia on April 15, 1924, the eldest of three children. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1944 before deciding to enter the Halifax Diocesan Seminary. He was ordained as a priest on May 23, 1948 and spent the next seven years serving as assistant pastor in three Nova Scotia parishes.

Father MacNeil went on to obtain a Doctorate of Canon Law from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome and in 1959 was named administrator of the Diocese of Antigonish following the death of the bishop. He then served a short time as pastor of St. Ninian’s Cathedral in Antigonish before being asked to direct the Extension Department at his alma mater, St. Francis Xavier University, a position he held for nine years. He was appointed Bishop of Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1969 and installed on July 16 at the age of 45. On September 5, 1973, he was installed as the fifth Archbishop of Edmonton and served in that ministry until his retirement in 1999.

Along the way, Archbishop MacNeil pursued graduate studies in economics at the University of Chicago and received Honourary Doctorates of Law from St. Francis Xavier University (1978); St. Thomas University, Fredericton, New Brunswick (1980), and the University of Alberta, Edmonton (1982). During his time in office, Archbishop MacNeil served as president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops from 1979-1981, and in that position extended the formal invitation to St. Pope John Paul II to visit Canada. He described the Pope’s visit to Edmonton as a highlight of his episcopacy. Archbishop MacNeil was predeceased by his parents, John Martin MacNeil and Katie Alice McLean, and by his sister, Rita. He is survived by his brother, Fr Malcolm MacNeil and his nephew, Donald, both living in Halifax.

He will be remembered with profound gratitude by his brother bishops and priests, and many, many friends in the Archdiocese of Edmonton and across Canada.

Funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Basilica, presided by Archbishop Smith, was on February 16, 2018. Interment following at Holy Cross Cemetery, 14611 – Mark Messier Trail, Edmonton.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Archbishop Joseph MacNeil Endowment Fund, 8421-101 Ave NW, Edmonton AB. T6A 0L1.