Reflections on the life of Father Dan

By Sr. Therese MacDonald, O.L.M.
March/April 2009

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Mystery probably abounds in most of our lives. Fr. Dan was no exception. Most octogenarians, when that inner voice seems to be calling them to do something, silence the voice with, "I'm too old to do that," or "I've had no experience doing those things, and it's too late to learn now," or "It's a great idea, but not for me at this stage of my life."

Father Dan

But Fr. Dan did not dismiss the genie so easily. To found a new religious community in 1949 would require the following: firstly, a number of young Canadian women with many possibilities for their lives, yet willing to enter a congregation founded by a very old man, with practically no support; secondly, permission from Church authorities in Ottawa and in Rome; thirdly, an established religious congregation that would be willing to train these heroic applicants; and fourthly- probably the most difficult of all- financial resources sufficient to house, feed, and in some cases educate these Sisters in training for several years. If no one else would take on this responsibility for the Canadian Church, Fr. Dan would. The challenges did not daunt him. As a person in his 80s, his Yes was a bit of a mystery, to say the least.

The poet Robert Browning answers some of my questions when he writes that all life is somewhat of a preparation for a person's final years. Although founding Our Lady's Missionaries was not Fr. Dan's only claim to fame, it is maybe what he is best known for today. How did his early life prepare him for this task? He was born into a family with a mother who would not have had the final say, but who was very much needed by the members of the household. Hence, in his mind, women were a vital presence in the family, and therefore also a vital presence in the Church.

After ordination, he went into parish work. From that day almost until his death, his youngest sister, Agnes, gave up all other offers in life and took care of him. He was pastor of the parish of St. Margaret of Scotland in the Diocese of Alexandria, Ontario, from 1906 to 1940. This experience taught him administration, especially handling of finances and obtaining qualified personnel, both helpful skills in setting up Our Lady's Missionaries. He gave great credit to the Sisters of Providence who gave him invaluable assistance in his parish. As he himself needed the help of Sisters in the life of a church, he believed most parish priests would feel likewise.

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith "A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!"

Robert Browning

The work of foreign missionaries fascinated him and although he had very little personal money, he financed the education of a seminarian in Africa. This priest corresponded with Fr. Dan for years and gave him a lifelong interest in the missions. With the growth of Monsignor Fraser's Scarboro Missions, Fr. Dan questioned why he could not do something similar.

Do you not agree that in Fr. Dan's life the best was reserved for his 80s? He recommended as a motto for his new congregation this quotation from Revelations 21:5, "Behold I make all things new!" The Canadian Church was made richer by the founding of Our Lady's Missionaries. He lived to see his work completed; the first Sisters left for Japan in October 1956. Then in his own words, he "shuffled off" a few months later. Fr. Dan died on January 11, 1957. In his 80s, he had said Yes to the mysterious dance of life and saw his dream fulfilled.

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