Hermit is an honor student at age 48


Patrick MacIntyre poses at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., on Oct. 29, 2008, where he plans to finish with an Associates of Arts degree in English. Rob Winner, The Associated Press

By Rob Winner

MALTA, Ill. – For every hour Patrick MacIntyre spends surrounded by people, he craves five hours by himself.

In fact, MacIntyre, 48, lived a Thoreau-like solitary life for more than 20 years in the woods of upstate New York. He spent his days alone reading, writing and studying the woods around him.

“Even from childhood, from my earliest memories, I didn’t want to be around other kids,” MacIntyre said. “I just wanted to be alone. I know people who couldn’t live a day without talking to people. I sometimes go days without talking, and I love it.”

MacIntyre’s formative experience came when he was 16 years old and his father sent him to live in the Adirondack Mountains by himself for a summer. When the summer was over, Patrick had to be dragged back to school, but he just couldn’t deal with people anymore, he said. He dropped out of school his senior year and moved to a 25-acre wooded property owned by his family.

By the late 1990s, the property was 20 acres smaller, having been sold off or given away in pieces. As urban sprawl crept into the area, the population of the nearby village tripled, MacIntyre said.

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“People were coming in from New York City, New Jersey and Connecticut to get away from the city, but what they did was bring the city with them,” MacIntyre said. “It was just too much.”

MacIntyre moved to Rochelle to work for a friend who owned a trucking company. One day, he decided to go to church, even though he hadn’t been to services in at least 30 years. He selected St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at random.

“People have these exciting stories, like how they fell off a mountain and didn’t die so they went back to church,” he said. “I don’t have a big story like that. I just decided to go in.”

MacIntyre connected strongly with the church and became active in parish life, joining the Knights of Columbus and teaching religious education. The parish priest, David Peck, encouraged him to consider the priesthood, an idea that appealed to MacIntyre. But first he had to get his GED.

“He said, ‘You don’t understand how hard it is to be in school,'” Peck said. “But he’s so doggone bright.”

After completing his GED through Kishwaukee College, MacIntyre won a scholarship to attend the college. At Peck’s urging, he began working toward his associate’s degree, he said.

“Once he began succeeding, it became contagious,” Peck said. “I think he began to see a side of himself he hadn’t paid attention to before. … It just snowballed.”

After his first semester, he qualified for the Phi Theta Kappa honor society, which he joined because he thought it would look good on a resume, he said. He never expected to end up as the society’s president, then running for student senate.

“It just sort of sucks you in,” MacIntyre said. “You can’t help it.”

MacIntyre also became the student representative to the college’s board of trustees, a job he relishes, he said. It’s one of the few school-related activities he can do that lets him work with people in his own age group.

“It sounds stupid, but I sometimes felt uncomfortable with the college-age students, like parents are going to be worried I’m this older guy hanging around campus or something,” he said. “The board of trustees is great, and they always treat me with respect. It’s not just, ‘You’re a student, we have to put up with you.’ They really listen to what I have to say.”