James O’Donnell, O.S.A.

1806 – 1861 (April 7)

James O’Donnell, son of John O’Donnell and Mary Fitzgibbons, was born on April 13, 1806, at Black Castle, Cashel-Roesgreen, Tipperary, Ireland. Following his primary and secondary education which he completed in 1821, he worked as a clerk in Cashel for the next ten years. On October 26, 1831, he arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and on January 1, 1832, he was received into the novitiate at St. Augustine’s Church in the city. On December 22, 1832, he received Tonsure and Minor Orders from Bishop Francis P. Kenrick, in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, in Philadelphia. From 1832 to 1834, James O’Donnell studied theology under the tutelage of Bishop Kenrick, in the newly established St. Charles Seminary. On January 1, 1833, he made his profession of vows. From March 1834 to December 1836, James continued studies in theology at Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Upon his return to Philadelphia he taught at St. Augustine’s School and, on January 13, 1837, was ordained to the priesthood by John Dubois, S.S., third bishop of the diocese of New York.

Upon his ordination, Father O’Donnell was appointed chaplain to Bishop Dubois, who, on June 18, 1837, sent him to the mission of Salina, now Syracuse, New York, which included Baldwinsville, Fulton, Phoenix, and Solon. That same year, he was elected to the corporation of The Brothers of the Order of Hermits. In 1838, he was assigned to St. Augustine parish in Philadelphia, but in July, 1838, Bishop Dubois asked Father James and his cousin, Father Nicholas O’Donnell, to assume charge of the newly erected church of St. Paul, in Brooklyn. While stationed there, Father James served Long Island, an area over 1,000 square miles. In 1846, the Augustinians withdrew from St. Paul’s parish.

The first known celebration of Mass, in what is now Nassau County, Long Island, New York, was offered by Father James O’Donnell, in 1840. Father James established the church of St. Monica, in Jamaica, New York and, with his cousin, Nicholas, directed the building of St. Mary’s Church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was added to the Augustinian corporation. Other communities Father James visited were, Flatbush, in Brooklyn and Sag Harbor on Long Island.

From 1844 to 1848, Father O’Donnell was stationed at St. Augustine’s in Philadelphia and at Villanova, where he was a member of the College’s first board of trustees, prefect of studies, and professor of English and history. In 1848, at the request of John B. Fitzpatrick, bishop of the Boston Diocese, Father O’Donnell established St. Mary’s Parish in Lawrence, Massachusetts, became its first pastor and built the first church, a wooden structure. Then, in 1851, he built a stone church over and around the original building. In 1852, he founded St. Augustine Parish in Andover, Massachusetts.

On April 7, 1861, Father O’Donnell, at the age of 55, died at St. Mary’s in Lawrence. Bishop John Fitzpatrick presided at his funeral, after which he was interred in the school yard, but later his body was transferred to St. Mary’s Cemetery, in Lawrence. Upon Father O’Donnell’s death, part of a letter from one Augustinian to another read, “There is great grief and lamentation through the whole city. He certainly fell in the zenith of his glory and popularity.”