CCSTA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2009 Justice James Higgins Award for outstanding leadership in Catholic education in Canada is Archbishop Joseph N. MacNeil emeritus of Edmonton, Alberta.
Archbishop MacNeil was ordained a priest in 1948, and after working for seven years as a parish priest, he began his key role in Catholic education with his work as Executive Vice- President and Director of the extension department at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Archbishop MacNeil was ordained a bishop in 1969, and was appointed Archbishop of Edmonton in 1973, a role he remained in until his retirement twenty-six years later.
Archbishop MacNeil deeply treasures education, and has dedicated much of his life to ministry in Catholic schools, archdiocesan education programs, St. Joseph’s College and the Newman Theological College. He recognizes the gift that Alberta has with publicly funded Catholic education, and continually fosters recognition of its value with both his Catholic population and government decision makers.
He is an inspirational servant leader with a tremendous commitment to ensuring the preservation of Catholic education in Canada. His tenure as President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has seen him at the helm of great efforts to protect and enhance Catholic Education in the schools throughout Canada.
In order to ensure open dialogue and communication between the Catholic schools and the church, in 1992 Archbishop MacNeil set up an Archdiocesan Catholic School Committee which included college presidents, schools superintendents, and representatives from the teacher and parent community. This committee helped provide the stimulus for teachers to deepen their faith through the religious education program offered at Newman Theological College.
As President of the Alberta Conference of Bishops, Archbishop MacNeil kept in contact with the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association, and supported them in their efforts on behalf of Catholic education. His efforts were greatly appreciated where he provided much wisdom and insight.
Archbishop MacNeil provides an exemplary role model for students, and for all who desire to be authentic followers of Christ. He visits schools on a regular basis, and easily gets the students’ attention with his warm personality, vast knowledge, and his colourful language which is adapted to any student level. The children look forward with anticipation to his classroom visits, and in particular, Archbishop MacNeil has helped make the Sacraments of Confirmation a special teaching moment for many. His special love for students was recognized with an Edmonton school being named in his honour.
Archbishop Joseph MacNeil is a loved and respected Catholic leader. CCSTA congratulates him on being a most worthy recipient of the 2009 Justice James Higgins Award. This Award will be presented to Archbishop MacNeil on June 6th at the closing banquet of the Victoria Convention.