Redemptorist Fr. Kevin MacDonald towers over the pulpit at St. James Parish, Kenosha. He’s 6 feet 4 inches tall and the microphone is nowhere near his mouth, but he has no trouble being audible. His Massachusetts accent pinged off the walls of the church during the parish mission he conducted in early October.
As a kid growing up in Boston, he played all sports, but baseball was his first love.
Fr. MacDonald attended Boston College, where he was a two-sport star in hockey and baseball. As shortstop, he had a career batting average of .407, hitting .470 in his senior year.
When he graduated, he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1978 and played in the minor leagues.
“It’s not as glamorous as we’d like to think it is,” Fr. MacDonald said of being a pro baseball player. “In the minor leagues you were playing every night. You only had a couple days off during the season.”
Long bus rides occupied a lot of his time as a player and it became difficult to practice his faith, but Fr. MacDonald found time when he could during spring training.
“We didn’t have any workouts Sunday mornings,” he said, adding that’s when he would go to Mass. “I would recognize other players in the congregation. It was funny. We’d all avoid eye contact with each other.”
Back then, his prayers had a different focus.
“I was going to Mass to pray for hits. To hit the fastball. To wait for the curveball,” he said. “There probably were pitchers praying to strike me out.”
After a few years with the Pirates, he played professional baseball in Holland, Italy and Australia.
“It was while I was in Australia that I began to discover that maybe there was something else out there for me to do,” he said.
Fr. MacDonald said his journey to the priesthood was gradual, ignited during a Mass when he heard a priest ask for prayers for vocations.
“I heard it for me the first time,” he said. “Usually I would just mumble with everyone else, ‘Lord hear our prayer,’ but hearing it for me became kind of like a wrestling match.”
In deciding which order to join, he considered the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly known as the Redemptorists.
At the time, his aunt, a School Sister of Notre Dame, was praying for her nephew, apparently sensing that he was looking for change in his life.
“She had been praying, unknown to me … she was praying that I become a priest, and a Redemptorist priest,” he said.
After being ordained in 1991, he was assigned to a parish in Dominica in the Caribbean. While serving, he continued to play sports.
“I played basketball in Dominica for a traveling team. I was the only white player in the league,” he said. “To this day, when I return to Dominica, I’ll always bump into basketball players that remember that time.”
A few years later, he was assigned to a parish in Long Island, N.Y., and in his free time, he played for a city baseball team, the Massapequa Athletics club team.
“The guys on the team couldn’t believe I was a priest,” he said, noting the team went on to win several league championships.
During the mission at St. James, Fr. MacDonald focused on his ministry as a Redemptorist.
“It’s for everyone; it’s for those who have drifted away from the church,” he said. “But it’s also, hopefully, going to be some strong food for strong Christians.”
When Fr. MacDonald conducts a parish mission, he stays for four nights, arriving the Friday before. He celebrates Mass each morning and holds an evening talk on different parts of the faith.
“Doing a parish mission, you can really see God’s power in changing people’s lives,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to be part of that.”
Confession is part of every mission.
“Oftentimes people come back to the sacrament after lengthy time away, years and years,” he said. “We hold on to our burdens for far too long and that’s what I see the most. People that are able to lay down heavy burdens that they’ve been carrying.”
In the Caribbean, missions are more than just morning Mass and evening talks.
“When I give parish missions in the Caribbean, where most of my work is, I would never just say it’s an hour long because people would get aggravated,” Fr. MacDonald said. “The parish missions in the Caribbean are more of an event.”