Missionary, bishop; b. Invernesshire County, Scotland, July 17, 1762; d. Dumfries, Scotland, Jan. 14, 1840. After early education at Strathglass, he attended a little seminary at Scalan in the Braes of Glenlivat, the Scot's College in Paris (1778), and the Scot's College of Valladolid, Spain, where he was ordained (1787). He returned to Scotland as a missionary in Badenoch. In 1792 he embarked upon a plan to improve the plight of his Highlanders by securing employment for them in Glasgow. He organized (1794) the Glengarry Fencibles, a Roman Catholic Highland regiment that saw service on the island of Guernsey (1795–98) and in Ireland (1798–1802). Macdonell's appointment as chaplain to the regiment made him the first Catholic chaplain in the British army since the Reformation. When his regiment was disbanded (1802), he successfully negotiated with the British government (1803) to secure grants of land in Upper Canada for as many of the men as desired them. He sailed from Ayr, Scotland, Sept. 5, 1804, and on his arrival was appointed to the Glengarry district by the bishop of Quebec. In 1807 he was appointed vicar-general of Upper Canada. He organized and acted as chaplain to the Second Glengarry Regiment, which served in the War of 1812. Between 1815 and 1826 he fought with the government authorities in Britain to obtain assistance for the Catholic Church in Upper Canada, particularly in the fields of education and support of the clergy.
In a papal brief of Jan. 12, 1819, never executed, he was appointed bishop of Rhosina and vicar apostolic. A new brief in February 1820 preconized him bishop of Rhosina without any specific territory; he was consecrated Dec. 31, 1820, at Quebec. Macdonell was named first bishop of Kingston, Ontario, on the erection of that see, Feb. 26, 1826. He took formal possession of the cathedral April 26, 1829. In 1831 he was appointed a member of the Legislative Council of Upper Canada. On May 29, 1839, he embarked from Kingston for Europe to seek aid for a new college, to promote British immigration to Canada, and to seek a division of his diocese. His remains were interred at St. Mary's Church, Edinburgh, Scotland, and later (1861) reinterred in Kingston. Alexandria, Glengarry County, Upper Canada is named in his honor. His Reminiscences were published posthumously (Toronto 1888).
Bibliography: h. j. somers, The Life and Times of the Hon. and Rt. Rev. Alexander Macdonell (Washington 1931). j. a. macdonell, A Sketch of the Life of the Hon. and Rt. Rev. Alexander Macdonell (Alexandria, Ont. 1890); Sketches Illustrating the Early Settlement and History of Glengarry (Montreal 1893).
[j. t. flynn]