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Father John F. O’Donnell granted senior priest status


Father John F. O’Donnell Pilot file photo

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Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, OFM Cap has announced that he has granted the request of Father John F. O’Donnell to be granted senior priest/retirement status. The effective date will be Feb. 3, 2008 -- two days following Father O’Donnell’s 46th anniversary of ordination.

A scion of a well known Salem family, Father O’Donnell is a son of the Witch City’s oldest parish, Immaculate Conception. He was born in Salem on Aug. 13, 1936.

An alumnus of archdiocesan seminaries, he was ordained on Feb. 1, 1963 at St. Ann Church, Gloucester by Richard Cardinal Cushing. So large was his ordination class that there were five ordinations celebrated between Feb. 1-3 by Cardinal Cushing and his three auxiliary bishops at various churches in the archdiocese. The largest group was at the Cathedral on Feb. 2 with perhaps the most notable group the five sons of Holy Name Parish being ordained in that church on Feb. 2 by Auxiliary Bishop Eric F. MacKenzie.

Immediately following his ordination Father O’Donnell was assigned as an assistant at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Sharon. Some seven years later he served briefly as an assistant in two parishes; first at St. Clare Parish, Braintree and then at St. Monica, Methuen.

In September 1971 he was named an associate at St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Milton -- serving there with the delightful and gentlemanly Msgr. John D. Day and a series of brother priests who seemed to flourish under “Dillon Day’s” care and guidance.

In September 1976, he was elected the president of the Senate of Priests of the Archdiocese of Boston -- succeeding Father Daniel A. Hart who had been named an auxiliary of the archdiocese just the month prior. At that time the president of the Priests’ Senate (today reshaped as the Archdiocesan Presbtyeral Council) was a full-time job. Thus Father O’Donnell found himself released from all other responsibilities and able to dedicate himself to the daily work of the Senate and on another level to the needs of his brother priests.

Father O’Donnell moved his residence to St. Paul Rectory, Cambridge where he would remain until November 1984.

Following the completion of his “presidential term” Father O’Donnell was named to direct the Office of Pastoral Development of the archdiocese. That office had been created by then archbishop Humberto Cardinal Medeiros as part of a restructuring of the archdiocese and a step towards assisting the parishes in the implementation of many of the priorities and plans which the cardinal had in mind for the archdiocese.

In November 1984, he returned to parish ministry initially as the administrator of Sacred Heart Parish, Cambridge and then, in January 1985 as pastor of the parish. In some sense, this was where Father O’Donnell got to put into practice the plans and programs of the Pastoral Development Office in his own backyard. In April 1993 he left Cambridge for St. Anne Parish in Littleton where he served as pastor until January 1995.

The next month found him in what would be the longest single assignment of his priestly ministry to date when Cardinal Bernard Law named him as an associate at St. Gregory Parish in Dorchester. The Dorchester assignment was in some senses a kind of rerun of St. Mary of the Hills, Milton. The pastor, this time Msgr. Paul Ryan -- a genial gentleman, had a series of associates known to work well together and enjoy one another’s company. The intervening 13 years have seen changes in the demographics of St. Gregory Parish, but no diminishment in the services either needed or provided.

Nevertheless, at 72 years and counting Father O’Donnell saw that the time had come for him to seek senior priest/retirement status and as mentioned above that change becomes effective for him on Feb. 3, 2009.

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