Tribute to Rev. Don McNeill, C.S.C.

Jubilee Journey: Fifty Years of Gratitude

Fr. Don shared the following reflections on the occasion of his 50th jubilee celebration in 2016:

I am grateful to have been born in 1936 to my loving parents, Kay and Don McNeill, who also gave birth to two additional sons, Tom and Bob. Growing up in the Chicago area, the Dominican Sisters provided an excellent education in grade school and my experience in a public high school, New Trier, opened my eyes to many different perspectives and friendships. 

My two brothers and I graduated from Notre Dame—Tom in 1956, Bob in 1963 and myself in1 958. As senior class president at Notre Dame, I was privileged to meet many Holy Cross religious as rectors and in leadership positions, such as Fr. Jerome Wilson, C.S.C., and Fr. Ted Hesburgh, C.S.C., and to enjoy more direct contact with them and many other priests and brothers. 

After graduation, both my brother Tom and I had to delay our military commitments which provided us the opportunity to participate in the Institute for European Studies, which included study in Vienna after visiting many European countries. We had the additional privilege of taking a course by Victor Frankel and making a retreat at a monastery outside Vienna. 

I am grateful to my parents for the opportunity for Tom and I to visit many countries on the way back to the United States. This included our visit to the Holy Land and my exposure to poverty in Calcutta, which had a huge impact on my discernment related to my future vocation upon return.

After serving most of my commitment in the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant, I felt the call to explore a possible vocation with Holy Cross. My meeting with Fr. Larry LeVasseur, C.S.C., provided me with helpful insights. I was allowed to begin the Novitiate in Jordan, Minnesota, in October, entering the middle of the novitiate year. I spent an additional six months with another Novitiate group. I then returned to Moreau Seminary and Notre Dame to complete necessary courses.

I was invited to study for four years in our seminary in Rome from 1962 to 1966 during the Second Vatican Council. It was a privilege to study with our Holy Cross Religious from other provinces and to study at the Gregorian University with seminarians from many different countries and communities. It was enjoyable to have Fr. Bob Nogosek, C.S.C., as superior—who allowed us, during the summers, to engage in various multi-cultural and ministry activities in various parts of France and Italy. I was ordained a priest in December 1965, in Rome.

I returned to Notre Dame in 1966 and had the privilege of taking a course in Pastoral Theology by Fr. Henri Nouwen, C.S.C., which was offered to Holy Cross Religious. Before the end of that year, I was encouraged by Fr. Nouwen, C.S.C., and Fr. Hesburgh, C.S.C., to study for a doctorate at Princeton Theological Seminary in Pastoral Theology. This educational experience provided me with a continuing commitment to experiential and interdisciplinary learning from a faith perspective at the University of Notre Dame in the Department of Theology.

Teaching courses in Theology and Community Service and the Church and Social Justice were very enjoyable. At the same time, I met with Msgr. John Egan and Peggy Roach who had comprehensive encounters with my lay friends and experience in Chicago and nationally with priests and sisters committed to social justice and peace. These encounters led to special experiential courses like the Urban Plunge and Summer Service Projects, which needed a structure and became the Center for Social Concerns—connecting additional faculty to grass roots people and collaboration with the experiential components in the U.S. and Latin America where they had expertise. Fr. Claude Pomerleau, C.S.C., a friend and classmate, has continually encouraged me to explore Holy Cross International collaboration and challenges especially with Latin America and Africa.

I am pleased that many Holy Cross Religious have been engaged in these programs over the years and provided assistance and leadership in many ways. Also, many lay persons such as the Roemers, Sextons, and Reg Weissert, have been committed to these programs and served as role models before and after their experiences. Sr. Judith Anne Beattie, C.S.C., collaborated from the beginning and connected us with many Holy Cross Sisters in sites around the country and the globe. 

Fr. Bill Lies, C.S.C., became director of the Center for Social Concerns in the 1990s, and currently, Fr. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., is the director. I am grateful for their leadership and so many talented lay women and men as staff who have, over the years, enhanced the mission of the Center in multiple ways. 

Since my transition to Holy Cross House, I have had many opportunities to visit our Holy Cross Religious, especially in Latin America. What a gift to experience priests and brothers so talented from countries such as Uganda and Kenya in Africa. My prayer life has been enhanced by my health challenges and creative involvements at Notre Dame that I have had in the last three decades. I relish all the support and encouragement as I became involved in the Institute for Latino Studies and immersions in various parts of our Holy Cross Apostolates.

The gift of living these past years at Holy Cross House with the marvelous staff and Holy Cross Religious I have admired over the years has been excellent. I am still hoping to collaborate with Andrea Smith Shappell and Margie Pfeil, and alumni of our creative Center for Social Concerns, to develop a book about the Center for Social Concerns and its continuing impact on many students, graduates, and their parents, etc., who have benefited from its mission.