Caring for Catholic education in New Orleans
Legatus’ New Orleans chaplain gives his all for children and the Catholic faith . . .
Very Rev. Neal McDermott, OP
New Orleans Chapter
After retiring last year as executive director of New Orleans’ archdiocesan Department of Christian Formation, Fr. Neal McDermott, 80, humorously referenced his ancestry: “Irishmen cry at the opening of a Kmart, so if I shed a tear it’s because I’m Irish,” he told colleagues at his going-away party. Fifty-two years a priest and in love with his vocation, Fr. McDermott did not truly retire. He now serves as president of Legate Joseph C. Canizaro’s Donum Dei Foundation, which makes grants to support Catholic education.
Tell us about your call to the priesthood.
The call came early. I was taught by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I loved everything to do with the Church, to be around the sisters. I’d come by the school on Saturday to clean boards and sweep. By the time I was 14, I was very sure. I wanted to join a teaching order. One day my dentist handed me a brochure he got in the mail from Dominicans, and the rest is history.
How did you become acquainted with Legatus?
I became spiritual director to Joseph Canizaro, who built the library at Ave Maria University. He was the man whom Tom Monaghan turned to in New Orleans to start a Legatus chapter in 1999. Joe asked me to be one of the chaplains.
“One” of the chaplains?
Yes. We have three: a diocesan priest, a member of the Josephite order, and me. We have a big chapter to serve, nearly 50 member couples. And since we three priests have so many other obligations, we needed more than one chaplain. But we’re all usually present at meetings and we take turns dividing duties.
What impact has Legatus had on the archdiocese?
A number of Legates have committed themselves to Catholic education, like providing needy children with scholarships. We also have a seminary in the process of being renovated, and many Legates generously support that. In fact, we’re planning a special meeting in which we’ll invite some 100 seminarians to have dinner with us to introduce them to Legatus.
How would you like to see the chapter progress?
I’d like to see every member choose one student to sponsor at Ave Maria University. I’d like them to continue in their affirmation of the priesthood and religious life, supporting schools and teachers. And among all the different Catholic charities in New Orleans — like feeding the poor — I think every one of the members has helped in each area. And I’d like to see each of them pick up the concept of ambassador and concretize it in their own way.
How do you approach your role as chaplain?
I’m available for spiritual direction. I also help them in their various charitable activities, doing the footwork in ways like securing grants.
You have a vocation, of course. Any avocations?
I’m a dog lover. I’m in love with animals. I work with some of the women in the chapter in their efforts to save animals, like running a sanctuary for abused pitbulls.
Can you recommend any devotions?
Dominicans are very committed to the rosary. Legates need quiet time for reflection, and Eucharistic adoration is just perfect for that.
Are there any lessons you’ve learned that are apt for business leaders?
Having been an administrator of some 105 schools in the archdiocese, I learned that you need to take the time to meet your people. They need to know they’re loved. People remember that. When you say you’re an ambassador, an ambassador needs a diplomatic touch — and let your faith shine through!