Popular Padre, LCdr Catherine MacKinnon, left her mark at RMC, on her way to Ottawa

Feature photo: Roman Catholic, Padre, LCdr Catherine MacKinnon in Currie Hall with her husband, Dan Clarke.

Popular Padre, LCdr Catherine MacKinnon on her way to Ottawa, left her mark at RMC

Padre Catherine MacKinnon has started the process of cleaning out her desk as she prepares to leave RMC and transitions from the Regular Force (after 27+ years) to the Reserves. She will be moving to Ottawa in a couple of weeks.

Bill Oliver, caught up with the first ever female, Roman Catholic padre at RMC to share a few departing words.

With regard to your time at RMC what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and how did you meet them?

RMC and ASU St Jean (including the MEGA and CMR St Jean) are relatively unique postings for padres as they probably are for most military members. Nowhere else do we have units with such a high number of CAF members spanning a five year age range. The age range in which they fall (18-23) are not the “care free years” if such a concept exists. People are finding themselves in their early 20s. They are becoming full adults. They are exploring possibilities, experiencing leadership, expanding horizons. It is a busy period in every life. The challenges the RMC cadets and staff have faced over my time here became the challenges my colleagues and I faced with them: PPT, SLT, and exam stress; relationships that came to an end; deaths of close relatives, fellow students or friends from home; parents separating or divorcing; arrests; addiction issues; adjustments to a new lifestyle; a new country and culture; and new clothes (!); in a nutshell – there were some tough times. There were also many joys experienced by staff and students here. As a padre we enjoyed them too. They included: getting into RMC; getting through FYOP; getting a cherished bar position; getting SLT Bs (!); winning … at anything; succeeding at tough events; facing fears; getting As (in class); feeding the hungry and giving to the poor; getting a long weekend; meeting the person of one’s dreams; loving; learning; forgiving those who have injured us; weddings; baptisms; and even celebrations of lives now ended.

How did I meet those challenges – we, padres, meet these challenges “with” the staff and students. We walk with them. We listen. We suggest new ways of seeing things and we ask for God’s help as we serve God’s people.

Who were some of your mentors while you served at RMC?

I am not sure if there are many people who stand out as “padre mentors” here at the College. Our work is so unique. I guess my definition of “mentor” tends to refer to other people who “do what I do and who provide an example for me in my line of work, as a chaplain”. I have worked with great padres here but they were not my mentors.

There are some great people who I have met here and for whom I give thanks. They were “godsends” which ranks higher than “mentor” in my books!  Dr Harry Kowal is near the top of that list –  for his patience, for his ear, his openness, his gentleness, his honesty, and the trust he placed in me. LCol Mark Popov (DCdts) in my first year and a half, is up their too – for his strength in the face of adversity and his compassion towards the Cadets. Both of them for their “open door policy”. I always felt welcomed and free to share my thoughts honestly and unreservedly.  I needed that. We all need a few of those people in our lives. Both College Chiefs in my time at RMC, WO Murdoch, our very special Chief clerk, and Erin Thompson, a dedicated PSP employee, also rank high on my list of “fine, fine, individuals”. I have enjoyed many a visit into their offices. They have been hospitable beyond imagining. Padre Dennis Newhook fits in to that “special” category too. We shared some difficult and joyful moments at the College.  I will be forever grateful for Dennis, my Winger. Of course like many of us (in uniform or not) my spouse has been my rock. He is the most patient man in my life and to be in “my life” he needs to be patient!

I notice as I list people who were special to me here, it is the people who took the time to listen to my story (they made me feel welcome to share mine), who got to know Catherine MacKinnon and not just Padre MacKinnon, and who also shared their own stories, honestly and openly, who made my list. I wonder if others would have similar criteria if they were asked the same or a similar question??

Are there any memorable RMC anecdotes that you would like to share with our readers?

People at RMC normally see a pretty serious, very military, and businesslike side of me. I was even described, at the DWD, as “intense” by one of my colleagues! Those traits do not really capture my full true nature. I am the youngest of six kids and I like to enjoy plenty of good clean fun. My husband and I, my close friends and I, my siblings and I, laugh all the time.

While I do not tend to let my hair down around students, who could be my children given the age difference, and who are here to develop military skills which is serious business, the piping students and the pipe band often see a different side of me.   I laugh and joke lightheartedly there more than elsewhere. As I said during my very emotional farewell speech at my “unofficial DWD” everyone should have a hobby. The lighthearted times, the anecdotes, that I will cherish occurred while teaching the great highland bagpipes to the new, budding, pipers! I am not sure that there is an instrument that is more difficult or that takes longer to learn but it sure is worth it in the end. It is also enjoyable and rewarding to watch students progress from zero to playing tunes on the practice chanter and then from the chanter to the Great Highland Bagpipe. So to answer the question, there are many little anecdotes from those early morning gatherings but sharing them may embarrass someone and that is not my style.

I will share this one. I recall, with some amusement, the last time that Padre Newhook and I had the pleasure of leading prayers together. We were on the parade square for Grad parade. It was a bit windy. Padre Newhook had said his bit and he stepped back but remained near me as we tended to do. He was at just the right angle that his preaching scarf, with its big heavy crest, caught the wind and it started whacking me, repeatedly, on my hip. I knew that Padre Newhook was completely unaware of the assault to which his vestments were subjecting me but I had a very hard time keeping a straight face as I prayed that day. God has a sense of humour. I am sure She enjoyed the show!

What professional challenges are you looking forward to as you move forward?

I thoroughly look forward to learning about the Reserve world and the challenges they face and the joys they share. I am always impressed by the Reservists I meet. I am in awe of people who show such dedication to the CAF and pride in our great nation that they don a uniform in their spare time, after working a full day in some other challenging or mundane job. People are interesting and diverse. I look forward to searching for the thread that binds Reservists together in a unit… if such a thread exists.

How would you describe – The True Meaning of Leadership?

I am tempted to start this answer by glomming onto your adjective that describes the word “meaning”  i.e. the word “True”.  Is there a “true” meaning of leadership.  Is there a meaning of “true leadership”? Leadership has many definitions and facets. As a military Officer I believe we have an obligation to follow the lawful orders of our leaders. The leadership I prefer following comes from leaders who are sincere, strong, competent, caring, confident, inspirational, and occasionally lighthearted.

Add anything that we didn’t ask but you wished we had.

I will simply add that I have enjoyed these past 3 years and 4 months. I will remember RMC and my time here with fondness. Thanks for the memories and this chance to share.