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Société des Missions Africaines –Province des Etats-Unis

odonnell thomas né le 18 septembre 1932 à Boston
dans le diocèse de Boston, USA
membre de la SMA le 2 février 1955
prêtre le 23 mai 1959
décédé le 16 janvier 1980

1959-1962 missionnaire au Liberia professeur et travail pastoral
1963-1970 USA, animation missionnaire et vocationnelle
1970-1975 missionnaire au Liberia
travail pastoral
responsable de la maison de passage
1975-1976 USA, formation et animation vocationnelle
1976-1980 au service de l'archidiocèse de Boston

décédé à Sommerville, USA, le 16 janvier 1980,
à l'âge de 47 ans

Father Thomas Joseph O’DONNELL (1932 – 1980)

Thomas O’Donnell was born at 289 K. Street, South Boston, Massachusetts, USA on September 18, 1932. He died in Sommerville Hospital, Somerville, Massachusetts, on January 16, 1980.

Thomas (Tom) was the only boy in a family of four children born to Thomas J. and Alice (McDowell) O’Donnell, in South Boston. His father’s forebears came from County Sligo, in Ireland. Tom attended grade school in Gate of Heaven parish (1939-42) and St. Clement’s Military Academy, Canton (1942-1946) – the latter a Grade school with a two-year ‘high school preparatory top’. Tom completed his high school education in Gate of Heaven Catholic School, graduating in June 1950. Tom’s decision to study for the priesthood came as no surprise. His father had spent some years studying for the Irish diocesan priesthood in Salamanca, one of the famous continental seminaries which catered for the Irish down the centuries. And he had several relations in religious life, including his uncle Hugh (O’Donnell) who was a priest in Los Angeles. In 1952 Tom entered the Society’s novitiate and house of philosophy at Queen of Apostles in Dedham. Two years later he commenced his theological formation in the Catholic University of America (Washington DC) (1954-56), completing it with the Marists in St. Francis Seminary, Loretto, Pennsylvania. Tom became a member of the Society on May 23, 1958. His ordination to priesthood took place exactly a year later, on May 23rd, 1959, in Immaculate Conception Chapel, St. Francis College, Loretto. Most Rev. Howard J. Carroll, Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown, was the ordaining prelate.

After ordination Tom was posted to the diocese of Cape Palmas, in Liberia, a mission which had been entrusted to the American Province in 1950. Tom reached Liberia in November 1959. During his tour of duty (1959-1962) he ministered variously in Cape Palmas town (October 1959), Sinoe (November 1959), Grand Cess (January 1960) Tchien (March 1960), and again in Cape Palmas (January 1961) all stations on Liberia’s Kru Coast. The diversity of postings was due to scarcity of staff and the frequent problems of ill-health which compelled the Prefect, Francis Carroll to transfer staff much more than he would have liked. Tom relished the work, especially the pastoral duties at St. Theresa are Pro-Cathedral in Cape Palmas; although he also enjoyed his teaching work at Tchien and in Cape Palmas’ ‘cathedral parish’ where he taught religion, Latin and Math and took charge of the choir. Tom witnessed important developments in the jurisdiction’s history. In December 1960, when Msgr. Carroll was transferred to Monrovia as Bishop, Fr. Patrick Kla Juwle, a Liberian, became Prefect of Cape Palmas; again, when Msgr. Juwle died within a year, Tom witnessed the erection of the Prefecture as a Vicariate with Nicholas Grimley as Bishop (May 1962).

Tom’s first home leave was followed by an appointment as Director of the Sacred Heart Mission League – a fund-raising project to finance the establishment of a trade and agricultural college in Pleebo, a Kru Coast town. In the normal course Tom would have returned to Liberia, but a serious breakdown in the health of the incumbent Priest-Director, led to the decision by his superiors to appoint him. In January 1963 Tom commenced this work, residing at Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After some months it was decided that the League’s headquarters should be transferred to the Provincial House at Tenafly. From Tenafly, in addition to the work of the League, Tom traveled long distances at weekends to preach and collect funds. In November 1964 he moved to Dedham where he continued to work in promotion. Dedham’s seminary - where students studied philosophy - afforded him the opportunity to deploy his talent for music – he had always got the highest grades in Sacred Music during his seminary years and was a fine organist - taking charge of the chant classes in the seminary. During this period, too, he was confessor to the students at Catholic Memorial High School, West Roxbury and, in addition, worked part-time as Vocation Director for the Province. He also continued to travel on Mission Appeals. In March 1966 Tom became full-time Vocations Director, based first in Tenafly and later in Doylestown. From both locations he continued the taxing work of Mission Appeals.

Tom’s return to Africa took place in September 1970 when once again he was posted to Cape Palmas and appointed pastor of St. Theresa’s Pro-Cathedral. He also served as Director of the Boys Boarding School attached to Our Lady of Fatima High School and took on the responsibility of bursar for the cathedral house. In this latter capacity he quickly established a reputation among his confreres which was to have important consequences. At that time all missionaries coming to Cape Palmas traveled via Monrovia, Liberia’s capital. The journey, a distance of 450 miles over poor roads and tracks, could often take two to three days. Moreover the port of Monrovia was the major entry point for goods of all description and the main center where goods could be purchased. Increasingly it became clear that a Provincial representative in Monrovia would be of great advantage not only for confreres traveling to and from the Kru Coast, but for provisioning the mission stations in Cape Palmas. It was for this purpose that in November 1971 Tom went to Monrovia, residing in the parish of Our Lady of Lebanon, Sinkor, until a guest house could be built. Tom was tailor-made for the tasks with which he was entrusted. No one was better at smoothing the paths of traveling missionaries – often were exhausted after long journeys. And no one was better equipped for fulfilling the numerous commissions given to him by the confreres on the Kru Coast. Tom took great pride in this ministry of care and one of the high-points of his day was the trip out to the airport to put yet another parcel, or bag of letters, on the flight to the Coast. In addition to the multitude of tasks which his responsible position imposed, Tom soon became substantive pastor of Our Lady of Lebanon parish, served as Chaplain to two hospitals, and acted (unofficially) as liaison representative for Catholic Relief Services and the Catholic Medical Mission Board of New York.

Large of stature and frame as he was big of heart, to all external appearances Tom was a fine robust specimen of manhood destined for a long life. However in his early forties he was diagnosed as having diabetes. This was to become particularly aggressive as the years passed and other complications set in. Nonetheless, not one to be downhearted in adversity, Tom managed to remain active in the ministry up to the time of his death. In December 1973, no longer able to work in the tropics, he returned home. To prepare for an uncertain future he first undertook a renewal course at Maryknoll, New York, and then felt able to commence the work of mission collections. However Tom was no longer equal to the strain of exhausting travel which such work imposed. In September 1974 he went to Queen of Apostles Seminary, Dedham, as a member of the Recruitment team. Here his health improved and he contemplated a return to the pastoral ministry. In February 1975, with the consent and encouragement of his superiors, he joined the pastoral staff of Gate of Heaven parish, in Boston Archdiocese. Tom greatly appreciated these years, assisting first Mgr. John T. Powers and later Fr. Paul Donovan. Among his many duties were the teaching of religion, the making of communion calls, the charge of over a hundred altar servers, supervision of the Altar Society, and oversight of the Mothers’ Guild. Contented in his ministry and aware that there would be no other, in 1979 Tom sought incardination in the Archdiocese after first obtaining the blessing of his superiors. However the process was to be overtaken by events and Tom was destined to remain in the Society. In July 1979 he became assistant pastor in St. Catherine of Genoa Church, Somerville. Five months later he entered Somerville Hospital where he died some weeks later.

In his years in Gate of Heaven and his months in St. Catherine’s Tom won the hearts of his parishioners - as he had done in Liberia. Within months of his death St. Catherine parishioners had installed a magnificent set of church chimes in his memory. In Gate of Heaven parish he was remembered in ‘the O’Donnell Memorial Fund’ established for the new national seminary in Gbarnga, Liberia. In Africa too there was much grief and appreciation. On February 7, 1980 a poignant memorial Mass was held by his American confreres, presided over by Fr. Ted Hayden, the Provincial, at Gardnersville, near Monrovia, where the homily was delivered by Frank Hynes – whose forebears also came from Sligo. Many other Masses were celebrated including one at Our Lady of Lebanon parish church where Archbishop Francis Carroll preached the homily.

He is buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, West Roxbury, South Boston, USA.