Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, March 6, 2008


Page 15



J. Wiseman MacDonald: Lawyer for the Catholic Church




Attorney J. Wiseman MacDonald—like grocer Hans Jevne, the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Assn., and lawyer Lynn Helm (all chronicled here in past columns)—in 1896 became one of the original tenants of the Wilcox Building at Second and Spring Streets in Los Angeles. He was to gain high standing in the local legal community…and even higher status in the Roman Catholic laity.

MacDonald, born in Wisconsin on Jan. 17, 1866, was 3 when his father died. His mother then took him with her to her native land of England, where he was educated. Following her death, the blue-eyed, 6-foot, 4-inch MacDonald came to Los Angeles in 1891, and was admitted to the bar the following year, despite a lack of formal legal training.

In 1893, he became acquainted with another lawyer of Catholic persuasion, Joseph Scott. Around that same time, MacDonald came to know Isidore Dockweiler, of the same faith.

Scott and Dockweiler also moved into the Wilcox Building in 1896. Scott shared Room 350 with MacDonald and Dockweiler was in Room 300, according to the 1896 city telephone directory. The three were never law partners; their tie through the decades was primarily their activities related to the church.

Each was present on May 25, 1899, at the organizational meeting of the local Newman Club, intended to serve as a Catholic literary association. (Such clubs, named after British Cardinal John Henry Newman, were being formed on campuses of secular universities across the nation, and are still in existence.)

Dockweiler was elected at that organizational meeting to the Board of Directors, as was former U.S. Sen. Stephen M. White, a past Los Angeles district attorney. Scott was chosen as secretary.

Scott, Dockweiler, and MacDonald were among the 23 members of the Newman Club present at the March 29, 1901 meeting that featured a posthumous tribute to White.

Henry C. Dillon, who served as district attorney from 1893-1895, was also active in the group.

Scott and Dockweiler would achieve more mightily in the field of law than MacDonald. But MacDonald made his mark. He served from an early point in his legal career as the local attorney for the Roman Catholic Church.

At first, he represented the Diocese of Monterey and Los Angeles (created in 1859, when the bishop of Monterey also became bishop of this expanding area). In 1922, the Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego was formed, and MacDonald was its lawyer. His client became the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 1936, which he continued representing until the time of his death on Nov. 21, 1942.

MacDonald and Dockweiler each received recognition from Pope Pius XI on March 1, 1924. Conferred upon Macdonald was the Order of Pius; Dockweiler was rendered a Knight of St. Gregory (based on humanitarianism and advancement of religion).

An article the next morning in the Los Angeles Times says:

“The Order of Pius is one of the rarest papel honors in the United States and Mr. Macdonald enjoys the distinction of being the first in California to be so decorated.

“Officially established by Pius IX in June, 1847, the Order of Pius was designed as a reward for faithful and devoted service to the State and church and intended to influence men to higher virtue and spiritual endeavors as well as to a more intensive cultivation of the arts and sciences.

“For many years Mr. Macdonald has been closely associated with Catholic activities in Los Angeles, serving in the capacity of legal advisor of the bishops of the diocese and devoting himself, as president of the central council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, to the welfare of the poor and sick.”

MacDonald was a founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Councils of Los Angeles in 1908, and long served as its president. Its thrift store, north of the Civic Center, was established in 1917.

The July 31, 1927 issue of the Times quotes MacDonald as explaining the workings of the group:

“The principle upon which our efforts are conducted calls for personal service….One week a banker will call at a charity hospital, the next week the caller may be a street-car conductor, the third a carpenter, the fourth a business man or lawyer. All professions and vocations are included in our membership….

“Our lawyers guild gives its advice without cost to poor people when the cases in questions are not of the nature to be cared for by the public defender. Our doctors’ guild, operating in fourteen geographical divisions in the city, gives professional service free to those who are unable to visit the city clinics, and our druggists’ guild provides medicines for such cases.”

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