How do you get your entire family “onto the ark” to share your Catholic journey? The family of Deacon Patrick McDonald, a Guest House trustee since 1987, was recently celebrated by the Michigan Knights of Columbus as “Family of the Year.”
All eight of the McDonald children (four sons and four daughters) and 18 grandchildren are active and devoted Catholics. Though they are now spread out across the nation (three of the eight still live in Michigan with the rest in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and California), they continue to follow the example of their parents.
Deacon Pat, an attorney since 1962, and the longest-serving active deacon in the United States (and perhaps the world) has been serving the Church since 1972 (deacons serve without pay). Pat and his bride Peggy, a daily Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion, are at the heart of daily and Sunday Masses at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Brighton, Michigan.
They also service the homebound and the Brighton Center for Recovery. Peggy has taught CCD for more than 40 years and is a Befriender and part of the Social Justice Committee. Both are also active in the Right to Life movement and are active in numerous St. Patrick ministries. A book, God Love You, compiling 150 of his best articles, is being published.
With a family motto of “Be a Leader, Be a Friend, Be of Service,” their entire family, shares their fervor.
“For we feel that our marriage was always part of God’s eternal and divine plan,” they explain. “Faith, importantly, is measured out by living your faith in the context of our Church, society and humanity… Our children do the same thing as their vocations of being a social worker, or a medical doctor, or a nurse, or a teacher, or meting out fairness and justice as an attorney, protecting the unprotected.”
Their parish family, similarly, sees Deacon Pat and Peggy as a spiritual father and mother to the whole community. They are regulars at the St. Pats daily 8:30 a.m. Mass, which routinely attracts hundreds every day of the week.
What’s their secret? It starts with a special devotion to Mary. Many decades ago, the active McDonald kids, like many outgoing kids, had amassed a number of stitches from falls. When the total stitch count topped 200, Deacon Pat and Peggy feared they weren’t doing enough to protect their children.
So they got on their knees and prayed to Blessed Mother: “Dear Blessed Mother, we’re placing these children under your protection. We can’t do it. That’s been demonstrated. Would you please protect them?”
The miracle? The stitches stopped after they entrusted their children to Mary. Deacon Pat has had help from some other tremendous role models.
Shortly after being ordained a deacon in 1972, he and his fellow deacons went on a retreat at St. Paul of the Cross in Detroit where they were taught by a holy soul now going through the canonization process toward sainthood, Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
Other role models include St. Patrick, St. Thomas More and St. Lawrence. Deacon Pat and Peggy married on August 10, 1963, which turned out to be the Feast of St. Lawrence (who was both a deacon and a martyr). He joked to Peggy that he wound up the deacon while she wound up being the martyr.
Years before “Home Schooling” became a popular trend, Peggy McDonald was featured in The Detroit News for running a free nursery school for their children as well as three neighbor kids.
Pat McDonald spent a decade on the Detroit Board of Education from 1966-1976, the era when the Detroit schools and debates over busing to achieve integrated schools were a debate that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Always trying to unite rather than divide, Deacon McDonald proposed a compromise known as a Magnet Plan for Schools, where specialized schools would serve as magnets drawing together students. Thousands of school districts nationwide have subsequently adopted the concept.
Catholic deacons trace their origins to the institutions of “the seven” mentioned in Acts of the Apostles 6 and St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians and the order flourished into the 5th century but over the centuries, deacon became an intermediate stage leading to the priesthood.
The Second Vatican Council and the leadership of St. Paul VI brought about the restoration of a permanent diaconate in 1968 with Deacon Pat becoming one of the first men ordained. While there were only 300 permanent deacons in the world in 1970, the numbers climbed to 2,686 by 1975 and have grown steadily ever since. By 2018, there were 46,894 permanent deacons in the world including 18,191 in the United States.
Since 1984, Deacon Pat and Peggy have conducted Eight Great Dates, the marriage course for engaged couples, again encouraging the sense of family and community within their parish community.
They also encouraged a sense of unity within the family by wearing matching attire, branding themselves “the McDonald Mob” when they get the entire family together for group outings and trips.
Deacon Pat also focuses on communication, having been involved with TV, radio, teaching, community work and labor relations including a radio show on WJR and more than four decades as an adjunct law professor at both University of Detroit Mercy Law School and Ave Maria Law School.
He continues to bring people together, working as an attorney and arbitrator settling disputes.
Deacon Pat was featured on “Kresta in the Afternoon” on Ave Maria Radio. Click here to listen to the full podcast.