BY ANGELA BARAQUIO GREY – Fr. Maurice McNeely was the pastor at my parish school, Holy Family Catholic Academy in Honolulu, Hawaii when I was in junior high. I attended the school from 1988-1990, and I served as our Student Body President.
I saw Fr. McNeely daily at morning mass, which I attended with my family. “Fr. Mac”, as he was lovingly called by all the parishioners and students, was by far the coolest and most down-to-earth priest that had a knack for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to all he met, in a way that anyone could understand and appreciate. A true visionary, he began what is known as “Stereo Mass” every Sunday night at 7pm, which was popular with the youth.
Fr. Mac could be found celebrating Mass on the beach at Waikiki, where all were invited to attend. He was fearless in spreading God’s word and always had time for anyone who sought help, guidance, or assistance.
After I graduated from college, I was hired at Holy Family by Fr. Mac as a teacher at the school. Many times I had personal questions about my faith and he always served as a spiritual guide and mentor to help me get back on track. When my family had gone through challenges, he was always there to help any of us get through our tough times, (and I come from a family of 12)! My family loved Fr. Mac because of his kind heart, generosity, creativity, forward thinking, and compassion.
When I was competing for Miss Hawaii, he was supportive of my quest to become Miss America, saying that there needed to be more Catholics at the forefront. He also told me before I ever won, that “WHEN” I became Miss America, and passed on the title, that I should leave it better than I found it. He said that no matter how busy I got, I should always remember that my family and I would always be connected through the Eucharist.
Those words inspired me to attend Mass every Sunday, no matter what city I was in, during my year as Miss America, despite traveling 20,000 miles a month and being in a different city every other day.
In 2002, Fr. Mac flew to Honolulu to concelebrate my nuptial mass to my husband. I will never forget the Papal Blessing he was able to get for us as a wedding gift. He was like a second father to me and a member of our family for years.
I am shocked and saddened to hear about the allegations he is currently facing in a civil lawsuit brought against him in federal and state court by a Colorado man. I cannot fathom the accusations being true, given the long history we have had knowing Fr. Maurice McNeely. He has been nothing but wonderful to my family and me, and I pray that the truth comes out in the end.
I also pray for Fr. Mac’s strength during this challenging time. May he have the grace to get through this ordeal, and know that so many people like myself, love and support him, as a result of his countless good deeds to others throughout his life.
Angela Baraquio Grey is Miss Hawaii 2001 and Miss America 2001