Milestone for Monsignor at Holy Rosary
Since he was a young boy growing up in Minot, N.D., Monsignor Timothy McGee knew he wanted to be a priest.
In fact, one of his favorite childhood pastimes was “playing priest,” by pretending to celebrate the mass and give communion to the kids in his neighborhood (including younger brother Richard).
But it took him “a few detours” to get there, as McGee told a group of 350 parishioners, family members and special guests at his Silver Jubilee celebration Wednesday night in Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
In fact, McGee was 34 years old when he entered the seminary, in 1984. Before becoming a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, he would earn degrees in both business and mortuary science, and work at the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck as well as in his family’s mortuary business in Grand Forks.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to become a priest,” McGee said in an interview on Monday.
But there was always something that held him back — and on Wednesday night, he gave his rapt listeners a humorous glimpse of what it was.
“I love the Mass, I love the church, I love everything about it — but to master Latin? I don’t think so,” McGee said, drawing some appreciative chuckles even from among his 16 fellow priests in attendance at the festivities.
It wasn’t until the 2nd Vatican Council ruled in favor of allowing priests to celebrate mass in their native languages that McGee decided to enroll in the seminary, “to see if I could do it.”
The year was 1984, and McGee had just celebrated his 34th birthday.
“I said I would try it for one semester and see how it went,” he said. “It went extremely well, so I stayed.”
Almost four years later, on Dec. 19, 1987, McGee was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Crookston.“I said that I wanted to be ordained before I was 40 years old,” McGee said. “I was 39.”
His first assignment was with the parish of St. Phillip’s in Bemidji.
“I was there for six months,” he said. “In July 1988, I was assigned by the bishop to serve at Sacred Heart parish in East Grand Forks.”
It was there that he would meet Father Jerry Rogers, who was the pastor of EGF’s Sacred Heart parish before leaving to serve as a missionary in Zambia, Africa.
He served as Rogers’ associate pastor for a couple of years before becoming the lead pastor at Sacred Heart parish in July 2000.
A year later, in July 2001, he was assigned as pastor of St. Bernard’s parish in Thief River Falls, where he would stay until 2009, when he was assigned to serve the Holy Rosary parish in Detroit Lakes.
Shortly after McGee made the move from East Grand Forks to Thief River Falls, he was called into the bishop’s office in Crookston. As he told his audience on Wednesday, the first thought that ran through his mind was, “What have I done now?”
As it turned out, the bishop had called him in to inform him that he had been bestowed with the honorary title of Monsignor, for his work in helping the Sacred Heart parish to rebuild in the wake of the 1997 floods.
In a twist of fate, McGee was assigned to Holy Rosary as the replacement for his former mentor, Father Jerry Rogers, who left Detroit Lakes to serve in Red Lake Falls.
It would mark the first time that McGee’s calling would take him away from the area that he had called home for more than two decades.
“I had virtually spent the first 21 years (of priesthood) in the same area of Minnesota, serving two parishes that were 48 miles apart,” McGee said.
He had a few reservations about moving to the lakes country at first, but judging from the number of Holy Rosary parishioners, young and old, who attended McGee’s 25th anniversary jubilee on Wednesday, it didn’t take long for his new spiritual community to embrace him.
“The people here were so good, so friendly and welcoming,” McGee said.
It’s the people he serves that make his job so fulfilling, he added.
“I enjoy being with people, meeting them and doing whatever I can, in the name of the church, to be their support in both the good times and not-so-good times.
“A priest’s job is to take care of his parish,” McGee said, “to lead the celebration of the sacrament, preside over weddings and funerals.”
Because Holy Rosary also has a parish school, part of his duties also involve ministering to the needs of the teachers and students there.
“We do have a principal that handles the day to day operations,” he said. “But I do love working with kids.
“I also serve on a number of diocesan boards. I am the dean of the southern deanery of the Diocese of Crookston. I have a number of parishes that I oversee on behalf of the bishop. I serve on the Diocesan finance council, and I am a member of the Diocesan board of consultors … the bishop consults with that board when he needs to make major decisions.”
And as jubilee attendees found out on Wednesday, McGee also has several hobbies, such as jet skiing (he has a machine that he humorously dubbed “Holy H2O”) and reading (his favorite books are “To Kill a Mockingbird” and, of course, The Bible).
He also loves music — guest performer Tim Eggebraaten sang one of his favorite songs, “Unchained Melody” — and spends a lot of time on his phone.
“The Monsignor loves his telephone,” said Jon Stone, who was master of ceremonies for Wednesday night’s jubilee supper. “But his phone is not just a toy — it’s a tool and an extension of his ministry.”
Stone also honored McGee by saying, “The Monsignor is humble, kind, selfless and compassionate — this is the man that we’ve come to know.”
In his final remarks of the evening, McGee said, “This has been a great 25 years. Everything hasn’t always been roses, but I have not regretted any of it, and would do it all again.”
The only thing he would perhaps have done differently, McGee added, is that he might have started the seminary at a younger age.
“It’s been an adventure, it’s a journey, and you know what? We’re still on it.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.