Community remembers Fr. Greg
MacLeod spent much of his life combining Christian social teachings with business
Even at an early age, the intelligence and drive of Fr. Greg MacLeod was obvious to everyone who knew him.
“If he didn’t make 100, he went home and studied some more,” said Emmett O’Connor, who attended school with MacLeod in Sydney Mines and worked with him on community initiatives later in life.
“While the rest of us were out playing hockey and trying to figure out how to skip Sunday school, he’d be home studying. He loved to read and it was evident in the things he knew.”
After his school years, MacLeod, who died earlier this week at the age of 81, would go on to make a name for himself as an innovator, an educator and someone who could bring people together — all for the betterment of Cape Breton.
O’Connor envied him for his endless amounts of energy, saying he didn’t know the meaning of the word tired.
“I used to hate to talk to him because he always had a job for me,” he laughed. “I used to tell him how busy I was so that he wouldn’t give me a job but he’d give me a job anyway. He used to say to me ‘busy people are the best ones to get.’”
The two worked together on things like the Red Brick Row affordable housing project in Sydney Mines, a 20-unit apartment building on Pitt Street, and other projects mostly under the guidance of New Deal Development, an organization that branched out for the Sydney-based New Dawn.
MacLeod was ordained a Catholic priest in 1961 and later appointed to teach at Xavier Junior College in Sydney. He would become a lifelong educator and member of the Order of Canada.
He became involved in community economic development when the coalmines were closing in 1969 and spent much of his life after that finding ways to combine Christian social teachings with sound business practises.
That’s about the time Fr. Ora McManus would meet him.
“There was a lot of speculation and tension and worry on the part of the working people,” McManus recalled about that time.
“Greg was right there trying to figure out a way of helping the community to understand itself and to be able to help people to contribute to replacing those two big industries — coal and steel — with local people.”
MacLeod’s emphasis on an economy based on human values rather than profit inspired him to found the Tompkins Institute at Cape Breton University, which led to the creation of community economic development ventures New Dawn Enterprises and BCA Holdings.
McManus called that work the love of his life.
Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, first worked with MacLeod through BCA Holdings on a project that evolved into Sydney Mines Renewal.
He said MacLeod had vision and could see possibilities other people could not, even in the midst of challenging times.
“The thing you would see with Greg is that it didn’t matter who you were, what your social or economic standing was — it was all equal in terms of everybody had a role to play in their community,” Clarke said.
“He would include people in all walks of life and saw the value of engaged citizenship and really inspired people by building them up and supporting them.”
Clarke said MacLeod’s death creates a void in the community but his life’s work leaves “quite the lasting legacy” for others to build on.
“I don’t think that anybody will ever forget that Greg strove to be a father figure for this community,” said McManus.
“He wanted everybody who is able to participate in contributing to the welfare of the whole community. And so he was a community leader, second to none.”
Community activist Fr. Greg MacLeod died this week at the age of 81.