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Donor Story: Leadership and Service of Art McNeill

Arthur T. McNeill

Franciscan Mission Service is grateful for the support of our donors from around the world and of all walks of life. This Father’s Day, we honor Art McNeill, a father of three whose life of service touched many.

In 1963, Arthur McNeill took his 8-year-old son Thomas to the National Mall to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. This is just one of many memories Thomas has of growing up in the ’60s with “parents who cared.”

When Cesar Chavez was rallying support of migrant workers, both Art and his wife Mary boycotted California grapes, but each for their own reasons. Art was concerned about equal rights and the legal side. Mary, a teacher, approached the issue from the human side –how were the daily lives of the workers and their families affected?

‘They made a really good team,” said Thomas. “They both walked that walk that was so true to who they were.”

From 1961 until their respective deaths, Art and Mary were active parishioners of Blessed Sacrament in Alexandria, Virginia, a church known for being pro-active in the social justice movement. Thomas chuckles when he remembers how his father held “almost every position you can hold in a parish except for priest.” Art’s favorite positions included training lectors and bringing the Eucharist to those in the hospital.

For his service to at the parish that was such a touchstone in the family’s life, Art was recognized with the Msgr. Martin T. Quinn Award, an honor named after the Irish missionary who founded the parish. Blessed Sacrament also honored Mary for her service with the presentation of the Sister Laurentia Award, a recognition that brought Art more joy than the conferral of his own award. While Art was the “lightening rod,” the loud out-front leader, Mary was the soft and quiet emotional bedrock.

“They were different sides of the same coin,” Thomas said of his parents who met as students at Brown University.

After Art was honorably discharged from the army, they got married and moved to the Washington, DC area. Here, Art started a 30-year plus career with the Central Intelligence Agency, rising to senior member of the staff of the Inspector General. Fluent or proficient in a half-dozen languages, he had also served as the director of the agency’s international language programs.

After Art retired in 1985, he began decades of volunteer work by serving as a full-time mediator. Early on his work was mostly in a Christian setting working with families and spouses. In 1990, Northern Virginia Mediation Service named him Mediator of the Year. It was something he valued so much that for his death certificate he designated “mediator” as his occupation, without reference to his illustrious CIA career.

Mary and Art McNeill

Art eventually left mediation for something he valued even more, and for what his children cite as his most awe-inspiring, greatest achievement: caring for Mary as her Alzheimer’s disease progressed.

“That was the largest role modeling of Christian service that I have ever seen,” said Thomas. “Any high points of his career would be overshadowed by it.”

Everyday, all day, for 11 years Art cared for Mary in their home. Everyday, all day, for six more years he accompanied her in residential care facilities.

“To say that they were married and loved each other for 55 years is one thing,” Thomas said. “It’s another thing to say that he loved so much that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for 17 years, that was his service.”

After Mary passed away in June 2005, Art joined the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, which matches volunteers over the age of 50 with nonprofits serving individuals who have slipped through this nation’s safety net. Art was placed at DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Jobs Training Program. Many of the students were homeless or previously incarcerated, and Art’s role was to mentor them. In a testament in his ability to connect, several of his mentees came to visit him in hospice and later attended his funeral.

Art celebrating his 80th birthday in Maryland with his family: Roy Teller (son-in-law), Alison McNeill Teller (daughter), Paul McNeill (son), Art, Patty McNeill (daughter-in-law), Tom McNeill (son)

When Art passed away in September 2013, at the age of 84, he made bequests to 13 charities. Franciscan Mission Service is honored to have made the list and to be supported by a man who shared our values of service, reconciliation and accompanying others to reduce suffering, and creating positive ways forward.

“We all have a call to service,” said Kim Smolik, executive director of Franciscan Mission Service. “And it is so beautiful to see how at different points in his life, Art found different ways to live that out – in how he raised his children, in his partnership with his wife, how he approached his work, his involvement in his parish, and his dedication to volunteer and community service. He seems to have had this understanding that the fruits of his faith were service.”

Art’s legacy will continue to bear fruit as his bequests supports the numerous opportunities Franciscan Mission Service offers lay people to work for peace, justice, and hope in Washington, DC and abroad.

If you would like to include Franciscan Mission Service in your will, please contact us.

We prepare and support lay Catholics for two-year international, one-year domestic and 1-2 week short-term mission service opportunities in solidarity with impoverished and marginalized communities across the globe.

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