By Patrick Downes Hawaii Catholic Herald
Father Maurice G. McNeely, a former military chaplain who served in Hawaii for 30 years, died July 29 in Michigan. He was 87 and a priest for 59 years.
A funeral Mass was scheduled for Aug. 5 at Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit followed by burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Southfield, Michigan.
Father McNeely was born in Wyandotte, Michigan, on Feb. 13, 1930, one of three children of Milton and Catherine McNeely. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, on June 7, 1958, in Detroit, Mich., by Cardinal Edward A. Mooney.
He first served as a priest in North Dakota for 10 years and then as a U.S. Army chaplain from 1969 to 1978.
Father McNeely came to Hawaii in 1970 after a year’s tour of duty in Vietnam where, according to his sister Margaret Mara, he was awarded numerous medals including two Bronze Stars. During the 1970s he teamed up with Msgr. Roy Peters and the Diocese of Honolulu’s Catholic Youth Organization in offering outdoor Hawaiian Masses at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki featuring Hawaiian hymns and sacred hula.
After leaving the military, Father McNeely was incardinated into the Diocese of Honolulu. He was assigned as associate pastor of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace from 1982 through 1987; pastor of Our Lady of the Mount Parish, Kalihi, from 1987 to 1988; and pastor of Holy Family Parish in Honolulu from 1988 until his retirement in 2001.
Father Mac, as he was called, made some of his more significant contributions at his last Hawaii assignment.
During his administration, the parish school, Holy Family Catholic Academy, doubled its enrollment from 300 to 600 students, due in part to his opening the school’s early learning center in 1995.
He expanded the elementary grade facilities, adding more classroom buildings, a large cafeteria with an indoor/outdoor eating area, a band room, a library and two computer labs, one Apple-based, the other Windows-based. By 2000, every classroom was wired for the Internet.
The funds for these projects and facilities were raised through parent contributions, school fundraisers and grants.
The schools performing arts program blossomed during this time with an award-winning marching band and a Hawaiian music and dance appreciation program, both of which gave performances annually in Mainland cities.
In October 2000, the school was thrust into the national spotlight when its athletic director and basketball and volleyball coach, alumna Angela Perez Baraquio, was crowned Miss America 2001. Baraquio credited Father McNeely’s confidence in her for her win.
In 2001, Holy Family Catholic Academy was named a national Blue Ribbon school, one of only two in Hawaii to receive the award that year, and was accredited by the Western Association of Schools.
Father McNeely is survived by his sister Margaret “Peggy” Mara of Farmington Hills, Michigan, a cousin Peggi Wirth of Royal Oak, Michigan, nieces and nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.