Fr. Francis "Mac" McInnis
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GREAT FALLS —After a lifetime of service to others, Francis Leo "Father Mac" McInnis died on July 25, 2013 at age 83, following an accident and brief illness. Known to thousands, and loved by all of them, he spent most of his well-lived life in Great Falls and his death is a great loss to the Great Falls community.
A Vigil and Rosary service will be held at 7:00 p.m. at Great Falls Central Catholic High School on Thursday, August 1, 2013. A funeral liturgy will be held in his honor at Great Falls Central Catholic High School on Friday, August 2, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. Fr. Mac will be laid to rest at Mount Olivet Cemetery immediately thereafter. There will be a reception at "Central" following his graveside service. Schnider Funeral Home is handling arrangements.
"Father Mac", as he was known to most, was born in Great Falls to Archie and Mayme (Dunn) McInnis in 1929. He grew up north of Raynesford, Montana on the family homestead on the southern slope of the Highwood Mountains. His childhood was perhaps more mischievous than might be expected in light of his eventual decision to enter the priesthood. As a youngster, he told his parents he did not like the name Francis and wanted to be called Jim and was known to his family as Jimmy (later Fr. Jim) from that point forward. Family stories abound of the time he shot a skunk inside the wall of the two-room shack he shared with his parents and brother Jack and the smell lasted for weeks, or the time he hit the hired man with a BB fired from a slingshot from his perch in a tree. His ranch upbringing also created a lifelong love of the outdoors, and he enjoyed hunting, fishing, and expeditions on horseback into his senior years.
His educational journey is an interesting story in itself. His elementary education was a combination of years spent boarding with relatives in Great Falls to attend St. Mary's Elementary and a one-room school in Raynesford, from which he graduated as salutatorian in a class of two. He attended one year of high school in Belt, and graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1948. He had an abortive start to his college education, dropping out of the College of Great Falls (CGF) after two weeks to help run the ranch, which he did single-handedly that winter, hand feeding the cattle from a horse-drawn sled due to heavy snows (sounds like an Ivan Doig novel). He attended Carroll College in Helena, Montana from 1949-1953, graduating with a degree in Philosophy and a minor in Biology. From there he went on to St. Edward's Seminary in Kenmore, Washington from which he graduated in 1957. He was ordained a Catholic priest on May 18, 1957, and was promptly sent by the bishop to Sacred Heart High School (MCSH) in Miles City, Montana where he was principal 1958-61. While in Miles City, he was assigned as Chaplain to an Air Force radar station, and so commenced his dual career with the military with his commission as a Captain in 1957. Summers were spent on graduate studies at the University of Montana and Villanova University. After four years in Miles City, he concluded he needed more science training in order to adequately serve his students and was granted permission from the bishop to pursue a Master's degree at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan. They liked him so much at MSU (this is a recurring theme) that he was asked to stay on and obtain his doctorate, and again permission was granted. He graduated from MSU with his Master's in 1962 and his PhD in 1967, and was for the remainder of his colorful life a dyed-in-the-wool Spartan.
With a bachelor's, two masters', and a doctorate degree under his belt, he returned to Montana and joined the faculty of the College of Great Falls (now the University of Great Falls) in 1965 as a professor of Biology and eventually Director of Graduate Studies. He spent his entire career at CGF, as it was known until his retirement as a Professor Emeritus in 1992. Continuously surrounded by young people, he remained "young" himself even as his hair turned gray. He was "hip", and maintained a working familiarity with popular culture as it changed around him. This made him approachable to nearly everyone, and is one of many reasons why he attracted friends in the thousands. He often joked about how many women he had "married", a reference to the innumerable weddings over which he officiated.
As if a full-time career as a college professor was not responsibility enough, he retained his duties with the Montana Air National Guard. He served as the unit's chaplain, and served auxiliary Chaplain duty at Malmstrom AFB as well. His involvement with the young people in the military further contributed to keeping him "young", and provided opportunities for him to see the world. Through the years, he did temporary active duty stents in Egypt, Greenland, Korea, and multiple bases in the United States. His involvement with the Air Force also made it possible for him to travel extensively and he managed to cover most of North America, Western Europe, and parts of Russia on his many trips at home and abroad. He eventually achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and retired from the Guard in 1992.
After his near-simultaneous retirement from the College and the Guard, he did not rest on his laurels. The last great love of his life was fostering the creation and growth of a reborn Great Falls Central Catholic High School which reopened in 2000. He was instrumental in securing its spiritual, educational, and financial foundations. To the end, he was a Mustang fan and they even named their bus after him. He was proud of this, and joked that it was the only thing which would carry his name into posterity.
Throughout these years, he maintained an active involvement in various Catholic and civic organizations, including Knights of Columbus, the Cursillo movement, Engaged/Marriage Encounter and Big Sky Cum Christo. His lifelong involvement with Carroll College led to his election to the Carroll Alumni Hall of Fame, a distinction of which he was rightly proud. His love of the outdoors encouraged his involvement in the Montana Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Many of his friends participated in the years-long construction of his cabin at Lincoln, Montana and were guests thereafter.
Fr. Mac was preceded in death by his parents, Archie and Mayme McInnis.
He is survived by his only sibling, Jack and sister-in-law Sandra of Missoula; and by his beloved cousin, Rita Steyaert of Great Falls; as well as numerous other cousins. He is survived also by his niece/nephews and their spouses, Tim (Char), Robin (Chris), Doug (Philana) and Logan (Amanda). He has 12 surviving grand-nieces and nephews. Perhaps most importantly, he is survived by thousands who called him a friend, whether they knew him through the College, the Guard, the Air Force, the Roman Catholic Church, the many civic responsibilities he had, or his wide-spread network of contacts in Central Montana.
Fr. Jim to his family, Fr. Mac to his friends, he was many things to many people and held more titles than most. He was a teller of jokes, and remembered more than most of us have forgotten. He was an educator of young minds, some of whom are now the most prominent professionals in their communities. He was a counselor in times of trouble, and a co-celebrant in times of joy. He was the Reverend, Lieutenant Colonel, Doctor, and Professor Emeritus Francis Leo "Mac" McInnis. Probably his most important title was FRIEND.
Prior to his death, Fr. Mac asked that Great Falls Central Catholic High School be the beneficiary of memorials in his honor. A memorial fund has been established and Fr. Mac requests that donations be made in lieu of flowers.
Condolences for the family may be posted online at www.schniderfuneralhome.com. SCHNIDER FUNERAL HOME
Published in Great Falls Tribune from July 26 to July 28, 2013