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Drowning kayaker saved by floating tiki bar full of priests

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Wendy Liberatore

Times Union, Albany, N.Y.

LAKE GEORGE – Paulist Fathers are used to saving souls. But an incident in August had them saving a life.

First-year theologian Noah Ismael said he and a group of six other from St. Mary’s on the Lake, a summer retreat for the fathers, were out on the Tiki Tour boat when they noticed a man in the water who looked like he needed help.

“It seemed like something was off,” Ismael said. “He was holding onto a kayak and it looked like it had taken on water somehow. He was yelling ‘help.’ It was interesting because there was other people around and none of them seemed to stop. So the captain of the tiki boat nosed the boat over to him. Myself and the dock hand (Debbie Oliveira), we dragged him out of the water.”

Aside from a scratch on his head, the man, Jimmy MacDonald of Albany, appeared fine.

“One of the priests said a little prayer over him,” Ismael said. “We didn’t need to call an ambulance.”

Apparently, MacDonald did not put the drain plug into his kayak, according to Frank Desiderio of Congregation of St. Paul. As the one-man vessel took on water and started to sink, MacDonald also lost his paddle. Tiki Tour boat Captain Greg Barrett noticed too that MacDonald’s life jacket was tangled and rising over his head.

“When we saw his eyes, the size of silver dollars, we knew he was in trouble,” Barrett said.

Through struggling, MacDonald worked to save his iPhone, by holding it above his head.

“He said to us ‘I should have dropped the phone and swam. I was more worried about the phone and not my life,’ ” Ismael said.

Ismael said that was not the only amusing thing that MacDonald told them. He said MacDonald was a recovering addict who has been clean for 7 years and is now a drug and alcohol counselor. He found it ironic he was being saved by a bar boat. He also said he was praying to be saved and he can’t believe his prayer was answered by a boat-load of priests.

“He had a good sense of humor,” Barrett said. “He said ‘Can I get a prayer?’ We threw in a few amens and it was all smiles after that.”

McDonald could not be reached for comment.

The incident, previously reported by Glens Falls Living and WNYT, might not have ended as happily if it were not for the coronavirus pandemic. Typically, Desiderio said, Paulists spend only a week or two at the Lake George refuge. But this year, the seminarians are there for 10 weeks to keep them safe and out of the cities where they would normally be doing their internships.

Knowing that, Barrett offered the priests a free ride, filling an empty time slot in the afternoon of Aug. 11.

“My mother was a devote Catholic,” said Barrett, a former U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer. “I knew my mom would be proud if I took the Paulists out.”

Desiderio, who didn’t take the ride because he was in a meeting, said that “one good deed led to another.”

Ismael agreed, adding “You never know what the Holy Spirit with bring you.”

“It reminds people in that moment,” Ismael said. “We were blessed that the Holy Spirit put us there at the right time and the right place.”

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©2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.)

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