Father John MacQuarrie steps away after 46 years of service

Priest who leads five parishes in Clark County for decades has also served the archdiocese as a ‘dean’ to 19 counties.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Father John MacQuarrie has seen many changes with the Catholic Church in his lifetime — including Mass no longer in Latin, local services now in Spanish and Haitian Creole — but he reflects on the constants.

As he approaches his retirement in June after 46 years, he believes the priesthood was always his calling.

“It’s always been reaffirmed to this day that it is what God wanted me to do,” MacQuarrie said.

MacQuarrie leads five parishes in Clark County and is a “dean” for the archdiocese, representing 19 counties.

He was 8 years old the first time he considered the priesthood as a profession. He was attending church in New Carlisle. Mass was still delivered in Latin.

“I just felt drawn. I wanted to do that. My dad worked for the Air Force, and I liked airplanes … but at the same time, there was something very deep that never left me …, ” he said.

He shares a quote from Pope John Paul II that he says reflects his own experience:

“The story of my priestly vocation? It is known above all to God … at its deepest level every vocation to the priesthood is a great mystery.”

Clark County connections

MacQuarrie moved with his family to New Carlisle in 1964, and he attended Tecumseh public schools. He later attended and graduated from Catholic Central High School.

His father worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which explains his love of airplanes. But it was the priesthood that claimed MacQuarrie‘s heart and has been the center of his life.

He was ordained on June 17, 1978. Over the course of his career, he has served churches in throughout the area, including in Cincinnati, Dayton, West Milton and Springfield.

In what he calls a “providential” development, he was named pastor of Sacred Heart Church in New Carlisle in 1989. He returned to his former hometown just as his parents were beginning to experience serious health problems. They still made their home in New Carlisle, along with his sister, another reason the assignment was well-timed.

“She was raising six children, and she really needed help,” MacQuarrie says.

His return to Clark County also marked a quick reconnection with Springfield, and in 2014 came a new church assignment at St. Bernard Catholic Church, where he has been pastor for the last 10 years. He also provides service to the St. Teresa, St. Raphael and St. Joseph parishes in Springfield, as well as that of St. Charles in South Charleston.

‘If they are here, they are cared for.’

He has been gratified to serve and welcome new parishioners to his church community over the past decade.

“Something I’m enormously proud of … is that we have had an influx over the years — not just recently — of members of the Hispanic community … from South and Central America, and Mexico obviously,” he said. “We have a Spanish Mass at St. Bernard’s every Sunday at 2 p.m. … we have a priest from Colombia who lives here now … and pastors to the Spanish community.”

The recent growing population of Haitians also found a church home, MacQuarrie said, and now enjoys weekly Mass at St. Raphael Church in their native Haitian Creole.

“You can say whatever you want about immigration policy, but if they are here, they are cared for,” he said. “If they’re here, you love them. If they’re here, you do your best to bring the gospel to life for them and provide the services of the church.”

In addition to leading the five parishes in Clark County, MacQuarrie has for decades also served the archdiocese as a “dean” to 19 counties, including Clark. In that role he acts as a liaison to the archdiocese with church policies and fundraising, plus assists brother priests.

Reflecting on his life’s work, he is “so grateful over all the years I’ve been a priest for the people God has brought into my life … So many have been unbelievably kind to me and willing to work with me. I am in awe. Our God is a God of surprises.”

MacQuarrie is quick to clarify his “retirement” will not consist entirely of leisure. While it means he will no longer bear responsibility for five churches and 19 counties as dean, he intends to stay as active as his health will permit.

And “providentially” he will again be returning to another familiar environment.

Retirement community for priests

In what he refers to as his “most unusual assignment” early in his priesthood, he was charged with overseeing the development of a retirement community for priests.

Near West Milton, a church member named Catherine Lange years ago willed her church parish a large amount of money and her family farm with specific instructions as to how it should be used by the church.

“She said ‘I want priests to be able to retire here … I want my house to be a house of prayer … I want my land to be a nature preserve,’” he said.

The archdiocese selected MacQuarrie to fulfill her wishes.

The Transfiguration Center for Spiritual Renewal is the result of her wish and his 15 years of labor and love with a mission to help people “encounter the living God through the beauty of nature, the peace of prayer and the richness of the Catholic spiritual tradition.”

It offers retreats, educational programming and prayerful meetings with the goal of leading people to renewal and transformation.

“I never imaged creating a nature preserve,” MacQuarrie said. “I went to the Audubon Society to help me set up this thing, and boy did I get into conservation and nature conservancy. The Miami Nature Conservancy wanted us to return the farmland to its original grassland. We did that, and it’s still going strong. There’s 10 miles of trails and wooded land. It’s a bird sanctuary. It’s really unique. "

In his own retirement, MacQuarrie is looking forward to enjoying the peaceful grounds, the walking trails, beautiful rose gardens, along with the woods and bird sanctuary he helped preserve in honor of Lange’s legacy. He also looks forward to sharing dinners and the company of the eight retired priests who now reside on the property.

What better place for him to discover his own renewal and transformation?

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