Like Father, like Father
By Jeffrey Westhoff
The ability to communicate comes naturally to Father Adam MacDonald, SVD.
This ability has helped him during his years in the Philippines as a Divine Word Missionary as well as in his priestly duties of crafting a homily. As a vocation director for the Society of the Divine Word, Father MacDonald’s penchant for reaching out to prospective students and seminarians through social media has earned him the nickname "the Facebook Priest."
Father MacDonald believes he inherited communications skills from his father, Laurence MacDonald, a music teacher and college instructor in Flint, Mich. The elder MacDonald also has been a film and music critic for local newspapers and is currently the music director at St. Michael’s, the parish Father MacDonald and his five siblings attended as children. Laurence MacDonald has taught at Flint’s Mott Community College for 30 years and continues to teach a course on film music. He recently finished the second edition of his book, "The Invisible Art of Film Music," to be published in 2013.
"His life has always been based on a consistent effort to communicate," Father MacDonald says.
Although Father MacDonald didn’t realize it at the time, his father was passing along lessons in communications through a weekly program on film music he hosted for 21 years on Flint’s public radio station. On Saturday mornings, Father MacDonald says, "every radio in the house" would be tuned to his father’s program. "I would hear my father’s voice giving us commentary on a particular genre or film or a particular director."
Laurence MacDonald thinks his son picked up on his informal style of presentation. Rather than script his radio program, he would outline his thoughts and speak extemporaneously. This is how Father MacDonald prepares his homilies today. Coincidentally, Laurence MacDonald trained himself to speak off the cuff because he disliked it when priests delivered homilies from a prepared text. "I like to be talked to," he said, "but I don’t like to be read to."
He doesn’t worry about hearing such scripted homilies from his son. "His homilies are lovely," MacDonald said. "He nails his points and never uses too many words to do it."
Two of Fr. MacDonald’s brothers, Eben and Tim, are also priests. Father MacDonald graduated from Divine Word College in 1993. He served in the Philippines before and after his ordination in 2000. In 2003 he returned to the Chicago Province headquarters in Techny, Illinois, first as assistant secretary of Education, then as director of studies. In June 2011, Father MacDonald was elected to the Provincial Council, which is the Province’s highest governing body.
Two months later, Father MacDonald returned to Divine Word College as vocation director for the East and Central regions. Shortly thereafter, he reached out to a prospective student through phone calls and emails, his standard methods, but was stymied by no response. When he shared his frustrations with students at the college, they advised him to contact the young man through Facebook. Father MacDonald did and received a response immediately.
"I became a believer overnight," he said.
Father MacDonald now employs social media, including Twitter, to reach out to prospective students and also will communicate with them through Skype or texting. It depends on which method the recipient is most comfortable using. "I’m finding the underlying value of meeting people where they’re at," he said.
Father MacDonald also became the administrator for Divine Word College Seminary’s Facebook page. "It has solidified my new role as the Facebook priest," he joked. He serves on the social media committee for the Chicago Archdiocesan Vocation Association and is on the editorial board of Horizon, the publication of the National Religious Vocation Conference.
Laurence MacDonald admitted he lacks his son’s social media prowess. "He’s way ahead of me on that," said the elder MacDonald, who does not have a Facebook page.
Still, he admires the way his son has adapted the latest technology to his mission. "As the technology develops, he knows how to reach these guys," the proud father said. "I think he learned to do what he likes and do it well. And he serves the Lord wonderfully."
Article posted: November 26, 2012