Biographies

Father James J. O'Donnell, MM

Born: August 3, 1906
Ordained: June 5, 1932
Died: October 28, 1990

Father James Joseph O’Donnell died peacefully in his sleep on October 28, 1990, at St. Teresa’s. He was 84 and a priest for 58 years.

James Joseph O’Donnell was born on August 3, 1906 in Philadelphia, son of James O’Donnell and Bridget Cunningham. He had two brothers and two sisters. He entered the Venard in 1921 and was ordained on June 5, 1932. In the shadow of the First General Chapter he pronounced his First Oath on September 12, 1930.

After ordination Father James taught at the Venard for one year and then was assigned to Kaying, South China. During his language study time he served as assistant pastor at Tsiaolang, Siaolac and at the Hoping Mission in Chnongpu. In 1935 he became pastor of Hoping, known as a difficult place for getting converts. Gradually the mission grew. He loved the people and was well liked by them in turn. During World War II he remained at his post until July, 1944 when he was able to return to the States on his first decennial after 11 years in Kaying. During that furlough he was assigned to the Venard and taught Biology, Algebra and World Geography. In 1945 he was transferred to Brookline.

In April, 1946 Father O’Donnell was reassigned to Kaying and returned to his beloved Hoping, Lumchai Mission. In 1948 he was appointed pastor of the Siaolac Mission and also Director at the language school for Maryknollers. His impressive record of large numbers of baptisms, confessions, sick calls, marriages, etc. indicates that he was a very busy missioner, indeed. He remained there until January, 1951 when the Communists moved him, under escort,to Kaying and kept him under house arrest for 4 months. He was released in July of that year.

Upon his return to the U.S. in November, 1951, he was again assigned to the Venard Faculty to teach English, Religion, Geography, and Latin. Always considered a bit shy, Father James was a quiet, steady-working priest, well liked by students and perfectly at home with the Fathers on the Faculty. He was a natural teacher and had endless patience with the boys. He had the reputation of doing a fine job, both inside and outside the classroom. Willing and generous at all times, he had a good sense of humor and was reliable in any job given him. By his disposition he added much to the good spirit of the Faculty and was a steadying influence on the younger priests. In 1961 he was made Vice-Rector of the Venard and taught there until June, 1968, when the school was closed.

In June of 1968 he was assigned to the Philadelphia house to assist in the house and to serve as Chaplain for the Little Sisters of The Assumption. During the unsettled church atmosphere of the 1960s following Vatican Council II, he exhibited a deep faith in the Church, its authority, his priesthood and loyalty to Maryknoll and its work, although he did not ‘buy’ all the new approaches. He was loyal to the ‘old’, though not intransigent, which is a good balance to much of the ‘new’ that was advocated by the younger priests. His superior at the Development House wrote of him: “…easy-going personality, he adapts well to our situation here. I have never known him to complain of any aspect of our work, even when it would cause him considerable inconvenience. He is the type of person every house should be blessed with.”

In June, 1977 Father James was assigned to the SSU,and continued residence at the Philadelphia house. In 1983 he had a slight stroke and was moved to St. Teresa’s. There he took an active interest in the community life. He would scout out movie tapes for the VCR which would interest other residents. His suggestion of a paved path through the orchard was carried out and bears the name: “J.J. O’Donnell Promenade”. The open air sun porch looking on the Hudson is also the result of his prodding for the comfort of the residents.

Wake services were held at St. Teresa’s and the Center Chapel on October 30. Mass of Christian Burial was concelebrated on the next day and burial took place in the Maryknoll cemetery.