At age 13, Owen A. McNally Jr. found a calling. Following in his uncle's footsteps, he entered a seminary.
The timing of his ordination as a priest - in 1965, just as the Second Vatican Council refined the role of the Catholic Church - was noteworthy. For from the moment he stepped into St. Francis Parish on Long Beach Island, he initiated community outreach and became outspoken on issues he believed the church needed to address.
About 25 years later, after he had left the priesthood, he took his innovative thinking to an administrative job at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, establishing several programs for the homeless.
Mr. McNally, 71, of Medford, died Friday, April 2, at Lourdes of complications of progressive supranuclear palsy, a brain disorder.
Mr. McNally was born in Queens Village, N.Y., the eldest of eight children.
At 13, he entered the ninth grade in St. Joseph's Seminary in Callicoon, N.Y. In 1961, he received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from St. Bonaventure University.
He then joined the Order of Friars Minor of the Holy Name in Providence, N.Y.
When he arrived for his first job as a priest, St. Francis had 265 regular members. In 20 years, the Franciscan brothers, with the help of a few nuns and deacons, grew the parish to more than 2,000 regular members, according to a 1983 Inquirer article.
Mr. McNally led the innovative growth, said Terri Ward McNally, who worked with him as a nun and later became his wife. The parish was among the first in the area to hold Saturday evening Mass. It allowed parishioners to come in blue jeans, and hats were not required. People could take Communion with their hands.
Mr. McNally held at-home group discussions with members to talk through issues. And once more people started attending Mass, Mr. McNally capitalized on opportunities for community outreach.
In 1972, the parish created a community center, which hosted sporting events, art exhibitions, and workshops. In 1977, Mr. McNally started a nonsectarian counseling agency to address issues such as divorce, drug and alcohol abuse, and homosexuality.
While working at St. Francis, Mr. McNally focused on helping people of all denominations and empowering them as leaders, his wife said. He received a master's degree in social work from Rutgers University in 1980, which accelerated his passion for social justice.
In the 1983 Inquirer article, Mr. McNally was vocal about the church needing to deal with a growing shortage of priests.
"Lay deacons are not a well-thought-out attempt to deal with the real issue," he told The Inquirer, saying he believed marriage would allow priests to be more effective.
Mr. McNally and his wife fell in love in 1981, she said. The couple took a few years to think about how to proceed. She left the parish in 1983 and went to live in Cherry Hill. Shortly after, Mr. McNally took a year's sabbatical.
In 1984, Mr. McNally was dispensed from his vows and laicized by the Vatican at his request. In 1986, the couple married, and continued to be practicing Catholics, she said.
In 1985, Mr. McNally took a job as the administrator for Lacey Township, Ocean County. After more than a year of serving the township of 24,000 people, Mr. McNally, who had earned a master's degree in business administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University, was recruited to help lead a small consulting engineering firm, Marc Associates, as chief operating officer. He held that post from 1988 to 1990 and then was hired by Lourdes as director of total quality management.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. McNally and another social worker established Project Hope, a medical house within Lourdes that gives care to the homeless, said Sister Helen Owens, vice president of mission at Lourdes.
In the late '90s, Mr. McNally was promoted to vice president of mission, an administrative branch based in Willingboro that makes sure all employees follow the hospital's mission and values.
In addition, once a week, Mr. McNally and a colleague would take a van, fill it with food donations, and drive to the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden to feed the homeless. Since Mr. McNally's retirement in 2004, the van deliveries have stopped, Sister Helen said.
"He had great insight and was able to think out of the box," she said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. McNally is survived by three brothers and four sisters.
A viewing will be held from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 7, at Bradley Funeral Home, 601 Route 73 S., Marlton.
A Mass of the Resurrection will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 8, at the Church of the Holy Eucharist, 520 Medford Lakes Rd., Tabernacle.
Interment will be in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, East Providence, R.I.
Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or email@example.com.