Rev. Msgr. Richard Joseph O’Donnell passed away on Monday, April 11, 2016. Msgr. O’Donnell was the Pastor Emeritus of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Chicago, now Blessed Sacrament Parish, and remained a resident there until his passing. He was 105 years old and the oldest Archdiocesan priest, just a few weeks short of celebrating his 81st anniversary of priesthood.
Msgr. O’Donnell was born in Chicago on October 15, 1910. He attended St. Bridget and St. Basil Schools in Chicago, Quigley Preparatory Seminary and graduated from the University of St. Mary of the Lake / Mundelein Seminary. Msgr. O’Donnell was ordained into the priesthood on April 27, 1935, by George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago.
In 2010 Msgr. O’Donnell served as Assistant Pastor at St. Gabriel Parish in Chicago (1935-41); Our Lady of Peace Parish on Jeffery Boulevard (1941-48); St. Bernadette Parish in Evergreen Park (1948-50); and St. Ita Parish in Chicago (1950-63). In 1963, Msgr. O’Donnell was named Pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish on Hermitage Avenue, and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1981, when he was named Pastor Emeritus. The parish was closed in 2008 and is now Blessed Sacrament Parish.
In October 2010, then Catholic New World Staff Writer, Dolores Madlener in her “Five Mins With Father” interviewed Msgr. O’Donnel at 100 years - in a league of his Own.
Msgr. Richard J. O’Donnell is the oldest priest of the archdiocese. He has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression and the space age. Approaching his 100th birthday on Oct. 15, he reminisced recently about priesthood under six cardinals, being named a monsignor by the pope, and his love of baseball.
He is: Msgr. Richard O’Donnell. Ordained in 1935 at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary, Mundelein. He is pastor emeritus of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish (now Blessed Sacrament).
Growing up: “I had a brother and two sisters. Both my parents were born in County Clare in Ireland. My dad was a butcher for 32 years at Leyden & Doyle, a grocery and meat market at Archer and Locke in Bridgeport. I went to St. Bridget School for seven years and graduated from St. Basil’s.”
Love of baseball: “I played softball as a kid. We’d book games with other neighborhoods. Sometimes we’d get money — sometimes we won and sometimes we’d lose.” He is well aware the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series in his lifetime. “Yes, 1908 was the last time, and I was born in 1910. I’ve been a White Sox fan since I was a little boy and followed them all my life. My favorite player was second baseman Nellie Fox.”
O’Donnell threw out ceremonial first pitches at White Sox games in 2001 and 2009.
Called to priesthood: “My brother Edward was an altar boy and he trained me at St. Bridget’s. The eighth grade nun at St. Basil’s, Sister Mary Ella O.P., got after the boys to go to Quigley. I took the Ashland street car downtown and then the State Street car to Chicago Avenue. We started with 45 boys in my room at Quigley.”
What has sustained him: “The rosary is number one. I have it in my pocket right now. The Mass is something that happens every day and is important for you. It’s part of a priest’s life. I read my breviary every day. Of course, I need my glasses to read it.”
Voice of experience: Asked how a young pastor today can keep his spirits up if he’s alone in a rectory: “Do what Cardinal Bernardin did. He was busy too. He got up an hour early to get his prayers in. Prayer, whenever they say it, is very important. That’s how the priest will get along — by prayer. It’s a support, because you’re not all alone, you have God to help you.
“Young priests today will live into their 90s. If they wonder what to do with the extra time, they can say their breviary, the official prayer of the church, and pray for their parishioners. The people are worried about health, employment and just plain happiness. They go to a priest and ask for his prayers. He can help them.”
Recreation: “Television is a blessing today for someone homebound. At 4 o’clock I turn on the news. At night I watch the ball game and in the fall I follow the Bears. I read the Catholic New World from one end to the other. Years ago I enjoyed following newspaper sports writers.”
“We’ve had a novena to Our Lady of Good Counsel here since 1948. I go to it on Tuesday nights. Then after the novena about 10 of the ladies come over to the rectory basement and we play bingo. Sometimes ya win and sometimes ya lose. I’ve lived in this parish since 1963. I feel at home.
“On Sunday I concelebrate the 9:30 Mass, sitting on a chair near the altar. The priest brings the book over and I read part of the consecration. It’s all a blessing.”
Being a monsignor: When he heard the news he’d been named a monsignor, “I was surprised.” Humility has been a hallmark of O’Donnell’s 75 years of priesthood.
MEMORIES FROM OTEHR PRIESTS
Rev. James Hyland, Pastor of Most Holy Redeemer Parish in Evergreen Park, will be the homilist at Msgr. O’Donnell’s Funeral Mass. He met Msgr. O’Donnell while serving as Pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish and they spent about thirteen years together at the parish. He said, “He is our oldest priest in the Archdiocese and has been retired since the 1980s, but he never really retired.” He continued, “It’s amazing to see how much he still did in the parish and how he ministered to people right until the end. He was always a parish priest.”
Rev. Martin O’Donovan, Pastor of Saints Faith, Hope & Charity Parish in Winnetka, lived with Msgr. O’Donnell for about nine years while Pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. He recalled, “He was one of the finest guys I had ever lived with. He was about 73 years old when I first encountered him and he was so filled with life. I would pass by his room and see him praying the liturgy of the hours.” He continued on, “We would talk baseball, among other things, and he was so well-rounded in so many topics. He was just a very fine man. I was a very young pastor at the time and even though we came from different ages and different approaches, I learned so many great things from him.” Fr. O’Donovan concluded, “He was such an inspirational guy.”
Rev. Ismael Sandoval, Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Chicago, had spent the past three years with Msgr. O’Donnell at the parish. “One of the things that impacted me most about him was that he wanted to concelebrate the Eucharist with me every single Sunday.” He reflected, “Msgr. O’Donnell was a very humble person, a man of prayer and he loved the White Sox.”