The death is announced of Reverend Doctor Gregory Aloysius MacKinnon in his 98th year and 73 rd year of ordained life.
He was the son of the late Mary P. (Chisholm) and Dr. W. F. MacKinnon. He was the last of six siblings surviving to adulthood and three siblings who died in childhood.
A native son of Antigonish, Father Greg, as he was known by most, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in 1946 with a Bachelor of Arts degree summa cum laude. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1950, and after four years as a parish priest in New Waterford, he returned to St. F. X. and was appointed the universityls Spiritual Director.
In 1963, he was appointed chair of the Theology Department, a position he held for ten years. In 1964, Fr. MacKinnon earned doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy from the University of Ottawa. As Chair of the Theology Department, he introduced changes which widened its focus to look at theology more broadly and in more scholarly depth. His skills were evident, and he demonstrated the acumen for more senior leadership roles. Dr. MacKinnon was appointed Associate Dean of Arts in 1973. While serving in this position he was appointed president of the Atlantic Ecumenical Council.
Father MacKinnon led St. F. X. as its president for twelve years from 1978 to 1990. In his pursuit of excellence for St, F. X., he balanced admirably the legacy of the past with the realities of the modern educational setting. Under his watch, the university evolved into an institution of national stature. Enrollment grew by 27 percent. Women entered in increasing numbers until their enrollment was on par with male students. During his presidency, the Advisory Committee on the Status of Women and the Moses M. Coady Debating and Public Speaking Competition were established. He launched a fundraising campaign which allowed St. F. X. to double the size of its library with the addition of G. Richard Chater Hall, to build the Alumni Aquatic Centre, and to increase significantly the university endowment, with the tireless help of the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney. Today’s Endowment Fund is built on the foundation laid by Fr. MacKinnon.
St. F. X. underwent many changes during the twelve years of Father MacKinnon’s presidency, partly a reflection of changes taking place in Canadian society. While negotiating the benefits as well as the hazards of these years of change, Father MacKinnon remained unshaken in his conviction that the university must honour its traditions: tradition of service to community, to humanity, and to the spiritual well-being of its students.
Father MacKinnon contributed to the growth and development of St. F. X. over a period of some forty years, He also served on the Association of Commonwealth Universities Committee and was a member of the Nova Scotia Royal Commission on Forestry in the mid-1980s. After retiring in 1990, he looked beyond the university to make a contribution to Canadians in general. He served on the board of the Intemational Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.
Father MacKinnon was a recipient of the Golden Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth ll. He was widely respected among his peers and held in high esteem among St. F. X alumni throughout the world for his determination, his fearlessness, and his ability to act on the strength of his convictions.
Apart from his official life, he was a son, brother, and uncle.
He loved his extended family dearly and revelled in family gatherings.
He was a keen gardener, swimmer, skater, and sailor. A man of many enthusiasms, his shy good nature and infectious smile made him many friends.
In retirement, he delighted in continuing his priestly ministry at the Canadian Martyrs Chapel at Jimtown, a summertime community adjacent to Mahoney’s Beach, where he offered Mass in July and August each year. He assumed this responsibility from Reverend Doctor Hugh Somers, who was also a predecessor as university president.
It was at Mahoney’s Beach, in his sister’s home, where he would celebrate Midnight Mass for his extended family, and it was there that he discovered that a Newfoundland dog could become addicted both to Scotch mints and fruitcake.
His friend Reuben Cohen called him a “mensch”, but to his closest nieces and nephews, he was simply and always “Uncle.”
He led a disciplined and devout life, and he was filled with joy. He expected only as much from others as he expected of himself, yet he recognized human frailty.
During a serious illness several years ago, one of his sisters told him bluntly that his illness could end in death. “That would be just fine” he said, noting that it would only mark the start of “the next great adventure”, something for which he prepared his entire life.
Funeral Mass of Christian Burial Fridayin St.F.X.U.Chapel. Burial in St Ninian Cemetery.
He has begun that next adventure. Let us all be happy for him.