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Priest leaves lasting mark

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The Rev. Joseph McNally, far better known here as “Father Mac,” left his pastorate in Columbus’ Roman Catholic community in 1989 when he was named pastor of St. Barnabas Church in Marion County.

In the minds of many of his former parishioners and friends here, he never really left.

“It seems that I was always running into him here in Columbus,” recalled Sandy Carmichael, executive director of Hospice of South Central Indiana, an organization that Father Mac was instrumental in creating. “He would be here to preside over services for his former parishioners — weddings, baptisms, funerals. Some families still regarded him as their priest, even though he’d moved to another church.”

That relationship ended Wednesday morning when Rev. McNally died at Hospice of South Central Indiana at the age of 80.

Funeral services will be conducted at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Barnabas Catholic Church at 8300 Rahke Road on the southside of Indianapolis. Visitation at the church will be from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. until the time of the funeral Mass on Saturday. There will be a vigil service at 7:30 p.m. Friday, and internment will be in the Priest’s Circle of Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

The Rev. McNally came to Columbus in 1977 as pastor of what was then called St. Columba Church on 27th Street. At the time, Columbus had two Catholic parishes, the second being St. Bartholomew’s on Eighth and Chestnut streets.

That situation was changed in 1987 when the parishes merged. The Rev. McNally was named administrator for both, as well as All Saints Catholic School.

Throughout his pastorate here, the Indianapolis native established deep personal relationships.

“He was a special person,” recalled one of his parishioners, Tom Dell. “He had this way of making people feel comfortable. In fact, you felt so at ease with him that you almost forgot he was a priest. Even when he gave his homily, it was done in such a way that it became pertinent to what was happening around us.”

That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind, a Columbus native.

“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Father Mac,” Pence said. “His heart for people and service to the Lord made him not just a wonderful priest, but a leader of compassion for our entire community. I will always count his example of faith and compassion as one of the great influences in my early life. Karen and I extend our deepest prayers and condolences to his extended family, friends and to all who mourn the loss of this great man.”

Father Mac also established deep relationships with those in the community from other churches.

In a 1989 interview, the Rev. Bob Holmes, who was then pastor of Columbus’ First United Methodist Church, remembered participating in a baptism with Father Mac.

“It was one of many ceremonies that we had shared since I had come to Columbus. He came up to me and said that we needed to have something that tied us together, and he put a beautiful wool plaid stole around my neck.”

That practice of bonding with others also was cited by the Rev. Clem Davis, the pastor at St. Bartholomew’s Catholic Church.

“When he would preside at weddings, he would ask the couple to join hands and then he would wrap their hands in a stole and with the three of them standing there joined at the hands, he would say the final words of the service.”

Davis described his predecessor as “very down to earth, a friendly priest.”

“He was always so approachable. I remember talking to one parishioner, and he told me that Father Mac would say ‘yes’ to everything, regardless of how difficult it might have seemed. Somehow or other they always made it work.”

Shortly after coming to Columbus, McNally was approached by Dr. Sherm Franz and Dale Evans to begin discussions on the possibility of establishing a hospice service in the community.

“It was still a pretty new concept around the country at the time, and we spent about six months discussing the ramifications,” Franz recalled. “The thing that began to develop early on was our sense that it all clicked in immediately for McNally. He offered some wonderful insights from his perspective as a priest and having worked with so many who were terminally ill.”

Out of those early meetings came an organized effort to establish a service in the community.

“He helped us get off the dime in getting this started,” Franz said.

Later McNally would be appointed to the first board of directors and served as president in 1984.

“Father Mac was so proud of what we did in those early years,” Carmichael said. “We had a 30-year reunion of the founding group, and he was so delighted to have been invited to be a part of that.”

His sermons were down to earth and often delivered in a manner that the listeners felt they were having a conversation with their priest. The subjects were varied but the ending was invariably the same — the Irish blessing.

“May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warmly on your face.

May the rain fall softly on the fields.

And until we meet again.

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.”

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