by Diane Lefebvre.
Ronnie MacDonell has been my Madonna House brother ever since I came in 1963, and I got to know him well when I was the cook at St Benedict’s farm. I was a timid city girl and knew next to nothing about the land and farm life.
Ronnie patiently taught me how to gather eggs from under the chickens. After I had overcome my fear of being pecked, I even developed a relationship with them and came to look forward to my daily task of egg gathering.
I recall with awe the birth of a calf at which Ronnie assisted. Ronnie had such a respect for God’s creation that I felt I was attending a holy ritual.
And it wasn’t only at the birth of an animal that I saw this reverence. I saw it, too, one time when he was butchering the carcass of a pig. The carcass hung outside, and Ronnie approached it as though he were entering into a sacred chamber. He explained the operation to us neophytes describing each part of the animal as he extracted it from the body. It truly was a holy moment.
This peace did not come from nowhere. Ronnie began his day around 5 a.m. and when he arrived at the anteroom of the barn or the milking parlor, he sat down and immersed himself in the Word of God. So his day was blessed from the start.
When I came to that area around 7:30 a.m., when he had finished his chores, he was praying again just before going to the house for breakfast. Needless to say I was impressed.
Then there were the hours that Ronnie studied the documents of the Church and the many articles on the improvement of living conditions for the poor, for he was socially conscious to a high degree. He wanted to improve the lot of the poor and did all he could to inform himself on the best ways of doing this.
His vacations were geared to his research. He also got involved in movements and organizations that promote social justice and aid to the poor.
Then at the age of 61, after spending 33 years on the farm, Ronnie was finally assigned to work more directly with the poor—in Liberia, West Africa. It is there that Ronnie and I worked together again.
In Liberia, as in Combermere, Ronnie worked hard to build a sustainable garden in sandy soil. He used whatever natural means were available to do so. He was the first white man the people there had ever seen hauling water and working in the fields, and they loved him.
The only time I ever saw him downhearted was when someone set fire to his freshly sown garden in revenge for an admonition I had given to a town administrator who had ordered the killing of some farm animals roaming the streets of the town. (He had wanted the town cleaned up for the upcoming visit of a government official from the capital.) Ronnie’s response was to pray for his enemies.
He was a man of gospel forgiveness at home, too. I was the recipient of this mercy on more than one occasion. Let me spare you the details.
On the other hand, Ronnie also had some habits that drove me crazy. Due to a physical condition I didn’t know about, he had to drink lots of water. He carried a water bottle wherever he went and was always forgetting it. We would find them everywhere: in the sacristy, on the window sill, in the chapel or parish church, under the sofa, on the staircase, in the garden….
Ronnie had continued his habit of praying first thing in the morning. He was the first in our house to rise and pray.
People visiting us in that house benefited from Ronnie’s listening ear. Sometimes he said little; other times he talked profusely. Either way, people often left his presence filled with peace.
This article is just a glimpse into a few facets of Ronnie MacDonnell. It’s just a couple of days since he died, and already I miss him.
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