Obituary: Fr Tony MacDonald, teacher and parish priest

Fr Tony MacDonald, teacher and parish priest. Picture: Contributed
Fr Tony MacDonald, teacher and parish priest. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 10 November 1942 in Glasgow. Died: 18 July in Edinburgh

More than 300 mourners gathered in South Queensferry last week to pray for the repose of the soul of the former parish priest, Father Tony MacDonald, who died last month following a prolonged battle with motor neurone disease.

“I think that much of what we witnessed in Father MacDonald was the simple, ancient, Hebridean Catholic faith of the man and of his mother and father,” observed Archbishop Leo Cushley during the Requiem Mass homily.

James Anthony MacDonald was born on 10 November 1942 in Glasgow into a family that hailed from the Isle of Barra. He was baptised 12 days later in St Margaret’s parish. He was schooled at St Mungo’s Academy before going on to gain a Master of Arts degree at Edinburgh University.

Deciding to stay in the east, Tony MacDonald initially pursued a career in education, working for many years as a modern languages teacher at St Augustine’s High in Edinburgh, before discerning later in life that he was called to the priesthood. After studying at St Andrew’s College, Drygrange, and Gillis College, Edinburgh, he was ordained on 16 April 1989.

“Father MacDonald told a young fellow priest in Lourdes only last month that the happiest day of his life was his ordination and that all he was waiting for now was to be embraced, he hoped, by the Risen Lord,” recalled Archbishop Cushley. Such were the numbers attending the Requiem Mass that the neighbouring Church of Scotland was used as overflow with a video link providing a live feed of Holy Mass. Prior to the beginning of the sacred liturgy, the congregation listened to a letter written only weeks ago by Father MacDonald himself. It was read by his friend Father Henry McLaughlin.

“My first expression of gratitude is to Almighty God,” began Father MacDonald describing himself as God’s “unworthy servant”. He gave further thanks to Father Jock Dalrymple “for being my spiritual companion in these most difficult but rewarding days of my life”. He also expressed his gratitude to his housekeeper Isobel Casey and nurse Claire Banks for being “so important in keeping up my spirits” in his final months.

“There have been tears, of course, but thanks to Isobel and Claire these have been outnumbered by laughter,” wrote Father MacDonald.

Despite failing health since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 2015, Father MacDonald continued to live out his priestly life on a daily basis including concelebrating at Holy Mass at his final place of residence, the Little Sisters of the Poor in Edinburgh’s Gilmore Place. He also made a final pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in France only last month.

“I noticed that after every Mass he was crying and he was so ill he could not wipe away his own tears,” recalled the Archbishop who was also in Lourdes.

“I said ‘Tony are you OK?’ and on every occasion he would say ‘Gratitude. Gratitude. I am so grateful to be here, I’m so grateful to be a priest’.”

Over 30 of his fellow priests made the journey to concelebrate at the Requiem Mass including Father John Paul MacKinnon, the parish priest of Barra. Fittingly, music was provided by the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh Lourdes Music Group.

Following the Mass at St Margaret’s, Father MacDonald’s coffin was led in procession by Archbishop Cushley to the nearby South Queensferry Cemetery for burial.

After the final blessing, those gathered around the grave were led in the singing of the Scottish folk song The Dark Island by Katy Barry.