Fr. Matthew and the entire O’Donnell family, Fr. Dass, pastor of St. Christopher’s, priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, priests from the Diocese of Stockton, priests of the Norbertine order, Father Kolbe Missionaries and lay volunteers: greetings in the Lord Jesus Christ.
- My First Meeting
Mrs. O’Donnell took me to a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed on the altar. I had never seen such a thing, and didn’t even know what “real presence” meant. My home parish had not seen a monstrance or even a statue of Our Lady since 1965, but somehow it felt so good getting up at 3am just to look at Jesus, and let him look at me. To my embarrassment, I discovered that the other 11 guys knew the mysteries of the rosary, and I did not. I quietly asked one of the old Salesians to teach me, like Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. I wasn’t sure I didn’t still want to be a Mormon—they seemed to have a lot of things right, like large families and good values, but the YMI soon put me straight.
Alice O’Donnell had brought me to a Eucharistic chapel, which brings us to the Gospel for her funeral Mass. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus says. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you do not have life within you.” I think most Catholics do not know that. I certainly didn’t. But Dick and Alice O’Donnell lived for the Eucharist within the mystery of Our Lady’s immaculate Fiat, and they made it their business to bring others to those saving mysteries. Next week, on March 25, at my parish in San Francisco, Archbishop Cordileone will consecrate the city’s first public perpetual adoration chapel in many years. We have many to thank for this, but I personally trace it back to a little chapel in Rosemead, California, in the summer of 1979, to a lady in a well-used station wagon who had just dropped off a 17-year-old boy for his first exposure to Perpetual Adoration. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you do not have life within you” said the Lord, and this woman wanted all her children to have this life within them.
Where is she now?
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God,” says the Book of Wisdom. “They seemed to have died” (in the eyes of the foolish), “but their hope is full of immortality.” How can we thank our parents for saving us from the foolishness of thinking that God would let us die? We can thank them by giving the same saving faith to our own children. All of it, which is just what Mrs. Alice O’Donnell did. Like another mother to me, St. Teresa of Calcutta, Alice just sort of assumed you wanted all of the Catholic faith. Why be a cafeteria Catholic when you could have it all? Women like this serve up the simple and complete faith, and they make sure their children eat all their dinner.
These souls, the Book of Wisdom continues, “shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” It recalls to me many a Christmas or Easter night at the O’Donnell home. We priests would meet Matt after our last Masses for the drive down to West Covina. We’d burst through the front door at Edith Street around 8pm. Mom O’Donnell would be darting about, talking more than listening, trying not to get too excited that so many children and grandchildren, and even three or four priests had come for Christmas, and especially her own Fr. Matthew. She would laughingly scold us, she would point out certain ironies of the human condition, she would gently chastise her sons (never her daughter), and we felt right at home. And we would smile, and know that our home on Edith Street pointed to a better home, where the Lord will reign over us forever. “Because,” the Book of Wisdom tells us, “Grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.”
Grace and mercy
Mrs. O’Donnell showed us who was Full of Grace, “as the morning rising, fair as the moon, terrible as an army set in battle array.” “If God is for us,” St. Paul tells us in Romans 8, “who can be against us?” Mrs. O’Donnell also showed us a slightly-built Franciscan priest from Poland, around whom all Hell raged in 1941, who lit up the darkness within each of us by singing hymns to the Immaculata. Many years ago Alice’s daughter Ann led me to St Maximilian Kolbe’s cell at Auschwitz, where we sang hymns to the Immaculata, just as he did with the other nine as they died of starvation. The cell walls melted away, it seemed to me, and death fled before the morning rising. “Who or what will separate us from the love of Christ?” Mom O’D led us to St. Maximilian, who led us to Our Lady, who leads us to the Holy Eucharist, our pledge of eternal life.
And so we have gone on with our own lives. Dad O’Donnell got sick and almost died, and then he died. Mom O’Donnell missed him but had her children and grandchildren to look after. Since Dad’s death, though, Mom began to look more towards the life of the world to come. We went on with our lives, busy with our children and our parishes and our careers. But Mom O’Donnell was still here on Edith Street, with her statue of the Immaculata on the lawn, and St. Joseph and the baby Jesus.
Now she too has gone to God, and we too think a little bit more about the day we will die. “I’m not dying,” St. Therese said, “I’m entering into life.” With every good person that dies, we believe a little bit more in life, and a little bit less in death. Death is just a moment, and even when our dying stretches over some months or years, it is a nothing, really. God has called us to eternal life, and that’s the only real thing.
Alice O’Donnell gave me two things—two things that my own mother had given me but to which I didn’t pay much attention. Sometimes it takes another person, in another place and another time, to give you what your own parents had been giving you all along. My own mother knew this, and that’s why she sent me to California in 1979 to the YMI. There, Alice O’Donnell led me to the Holy Eucharist within the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She gave those two gifts to so many of us.
I now ask you, with Fr. Nelson, to join me in praying for her soul. No one is perfect when we die—the Missionaries of Charity prayed for Mother Teresa’s soul until she was beatified. Let us pray for the eternal repose of Alice O’Donnell, in the sure and certain hope that those who die in the Lord will be brought one day to the fullness of paradise. We believe she will see Jesus and Mary face to face, with St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Therese, her own Dick O’Donnell, and the full communion of saints. May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.