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‘I have a place to belong’

September 9, 2020

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Darcy Fargo

After being away from the Church for more than 20 years, Dr. Rose Alma “Dolly” McDonald said it was the loss of a friend and a personal invitation that brought her back to the Catholic faith that had once been a large part of her life.

“I was born into a very religious family,” said McDonald, a parishioner of the St. Regis Mission Church on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation. “My grandfather married the sister of Msgr. (P. Joseph) Bourget, who was pastor here for 40 years.”

McDonald said that family connection to the local church was part of why her childhood family was very active in their home parish.

“My family had a very close connection with the church because of Msgr. Bourget,” she said. “When I was born, that connection was all I knew. My mother sang in the choir. My father was the president of the St. John the Baptist Society. They were very active in the Church. I was the baby of a family of seven. Everywhere the family went, including church, I was with them. I was raised in a very strict and active Catholic family. That was kind of my beginning.”

McDonald noted that her family included an aunt who was a Poor Clare sister, and the family’s faith was evident in their lifestyle.

“We were raised in a very Catholic way,” she said. “There were prayers before meals, choir practices, and my mother was always helping at church dinners, and I was always helping, too. It was sort of jammed down my throat.”

McDonald said it was likely because of the strictness of her upbringing that she rebelled from the Church for more than 20 years. She returned to her faith around five years ago after the death of a dear friend.

“A friend of mine died. She was an elder in our community,” McDonald said. “Her family called me to let me know. They knew we were good friends. They asked me to do her eulogy. I was kind of like, ‘What? I’m not even family! Why me?’ They told me she would want me to do this for her. She was very religious. I did the eulogy. After the funeral, the priest at the parish, Father Jerome Pastores, asked me who I was and where I had been. He started talking to me about coming back to church. I started coming back little by little, and I eventually started to become very active.”

McDonald soon became a greeter at the St. Regis Mission Church. Then, she volunteered to serve during funerals. Eventually, she enrolled in the Formation for Ministry program and started working for the parish.

“I had reasons for being away from the Church, but things were different this time,” she said. “I was able to come back with full force. I was way more involved than I ever had been before. I guess you could say I came back with a vengeance. Before, you couldn’t drag me to church. Now, I practically live there. The community really embraced me. My family is well known in our community for our faith. People were so happy, happy, happy I was working in the Church.”

McDonald said working for her parish both challenged her and helped her grow her faith.

“Father Jerome (Pastores) has been very patiently mentoring me,” she said. “Sometimes, I get frustrated, especially working in the Church. I felt like working for the Church, everyone would be holy and get along. But that’s not the case. There’s still politics and personalities. That challenged my faith. But Father Jerome got me involved, and that’s helped me grow.”

McDonald said volunteering at funerals has been particularly meaningful to her.

“When I was a kid, I would run the other way when there was a funeral. You couldn’t drag to one kicking or screaming,” she said. “I was afraid of death and all the things that it means. Now, especially being a funeral altar server, I understand better that transition from life to death and to heaven, as well as the beauty of a funeral. I’ve truly learned that we’re not just a body; we’re a soul in a body, and our souls live on.”

Her work volunteering to administer the parish Facebook page has also helped her grow her faith, especially during the ongoing pandemic.

“We started the Facebook page for parishioners, but it turned out it helped me, too,” she said. “My faith keeps getting stronger because I see the power of God’s word when I share it there. We get around 2,000 hits per week, and our little parish is only around 500 people. I put something on the page recently asking Archangel Michael to pray for us. A whole bunch of people typed ‘Amen,’ or ‘I needed this prayer today.’ I’m happy to help the parishioners stay connected to the parish, but it’s also helping me.”

McDonald said she also grew in her faith after being exposed to the El Shaddai charismatic movement.

“We had the El Shaddai charismatic group – it’s a Filipino group based out of Ottawa and Montreal – here a couple times,” she said. “What an experience! They had a band, singing, dancing and prayer, and it was still centered around the Eucharist. I really connected with that form of worship.”

Because charismatic worship isn’t regularly available at the St. Regis Mission Church, and after discovering another local church who offered such worship through her participation in an Ecumenical Circle in her community as a representative of her parish, McDonald said she now participates in both the Catholic Mass and a charismatic Christian service at another church in her community.

“I attend the Catholic Mass at my parish, and I attend the charismatic worship at New Life Christian,” she said. “It sounds like a crazy thing, but I’m interested in charismatic worship, and I want the Eucharist. The people at New Life Christian haven’t tried to convert me. They embrace me as their link to the Catholic Church here.”

And McDonald noted her parish at St. Regis Mission Church, which incorporates her Mohawk culture, will always be her spiritual home.

“I’m Mohawk,” she said. “We live in a bicultural world as indigenous people. That’s what I like about our church. Our culture is integrated. We have a Mohawk choir. At least before the pandemic, they would sing hymns in Mohawk. We sing the Our Father in Mohawk. I think that makes it easier for me to embrace the faith. It’s our church. It’s the Mohawk church.”

McDonald also serves on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) subcommittee on Native American Affairs.

“Last year, we had a listening session,” she said. “I was invited – along with Native American leaders from around the country – to talk about Native American issues within the context of the Catholic Church. We talked about residential schools, language and culture. We talked about family care and outreach. We’re developing a pastoral plan for the USCCB on indigenous issues. It means a lot to me to know we have an indigenous Church, and I have a place to belong.”

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