Franciscan Brother of Peace Paul O’Donnell dies

| February 21, 2015 | 1 Comment
Third from left, Brother Paul O’Donnell, guardian of the the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, prays with members of his religious community at the Good Friday Prayer Service for Life in front of Planned Parenthood in St. Paul in this 2013 file photo. Brother Paul died Feb. 20. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Third from left, Brother Paul O’Donnell, guardian of the the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, prays with members of his religious community at the Good Friday Prayer Service for Life in front of Planned Parenthood in St. Paul in this 2013 file photo. Brother Paul died Feb. 20. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Franciscan Brother of Peace Paul O’Donnell died Feb. 20. An early member of the St. Paul religious community and a nationally regarded pro-life advocate and speaker, Brother Paul was 55.

Brother Paul died in his sleep, and his death was unexpected, said fellow Brother John Mary Kaspari. A funeral Mass will be offered 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

He will be remembered for “his great love, devotion and humility; his love for each of the brothers and their way of life; and his love and selfless outreach to the most vulnerable, especially in the right-to-life movement, the unborn, aged and disabled,” Brother John Mary said.

Born in Omaha, Neb., Brother Paul professed his vows Oct. 4, 1987, five years after the community was founded. Prior to entering religious life, he was a seminarian in St. Paul at St. John Vianney Seminary from 1978 to 1982, and St. Paul Seminary from 1982 to 1984.

His community’s guardian overall for more than 20 years, Brother Paul was a leader in its pro-life outreach, which included fighting for the lives of people needing specialized medical care, such as Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005 after a court ordered her feeding tube removed, and Joseph Maraachli, a Canadian baby with a progressive neurodegenerative disease whose short life was extended by a tracheotomy performed at a St. Louis Catholic hospital.

Prior to joining the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, Brother Paul and the community’s founder, Brother Michael Gaworski, founded in 1981 Pro-Life Action Ministries, a pro-life apostolate. He served as chairman of the board of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network.

“Brother Paul led his life standing for the vulnerable and those who could not speak for themselves. He will be deeply missed,” the network posted on its website Feb. 20.

Jacki Ragan, National Right to Life’s director of state organizational development, called Brother Paul “one of the sweetest, kindest men I have ever known.”

“He would travel far and wide to spread the message of life,” she wrote on the organization’s website Feb. 20.

“From the National Right to Life Conventions, to the Life and Hope Network, to Youth Camps — any gathering where he could speak on the life issues, he was there. One of our camp leaders referred to him as her ‘superhero in a habit.’ And that fits.”

His pro-life work was inspired, in part, by Brother Michael, who became quadriplegic after suffering cardiac and respiratory arrest in 1991. The brothers cared for him at their home until his death in 2003.

According to biographical information on his community’s website, Brother Paul enjoyed tending to two large fish aquariums and playing with the community’s yellow Labradorretriever, Ruby. His favorite part of daily life was “prayer and promoting the Gospel of Life.”

He offered the following advice to men discerning joining his religious community: “Pray about a vocation to the religious life and seek spiritual direction. Vocations mostly come from real people with real families, [and] not everyone is a perfect saint. Disregard thoughts of unworthiness. We are all unworthy, the Holy Spirit is the guiding force. Do not be afraid to make a commitment and put your trust in the Lord.”

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Category: Featured, Obituaries

  • pmmg

    He just spoke at our annual Respect Life banquet. We feel blessed to have had a brief, but very meaningful encounter with him. He was a dear & passionate defender of life..and his anecdotes attested to his devotion to life in all it’s forms. He will be deeply missed by those of us in the “business” of defending life! god’s speed, Brother Paul!