Vocation Stories: Fr. Bill O’Donnell, OMI

Year of Oblate Vocations

Editor’s Note: In honor of the Oblate Year of Vocations, all Oblate Fathers and brothers, and those men in Oblate formation are invited to “Tell Their Vocation Stories.”  In addition, all members of the “Mazenodian Family,” Associates, Partners, employees and friends are welcome to tell their vocation stories as well. You may submit your stories in written form (please include photos,) or on video from your computer’s camera or external camera. We will endevour to run a vocation story each week during the Year of Vocations

By Fr. Bill O’Donnell, OMI

Fr. Bill O’Donnell, OMI

It’s almost as if I was destined to be an Oblate from the very beginning.  My mother’s family lived in Holy Angels parish in Buffalo, the oldest continuous Oblate foundation in the US, since the 1890s, and I was just one in a long line baptized there and raised with Oblate priests all around me.  I don’t think I ever met a priest who wasn’t an Oblate until well into my high school years and never spent more than a few months (during my college years in Syracuse, NY) without seeing one.

As a child, the life and liturgy connected with priests was attractive, and, like many a boy in the 1950s, I played at priest with my younger siblings as the congregation.

High school years saw me at Bishop Fallon, once again under the tutelage of the Oblates.  Here 22, mostly young (although we didn’t realize it at the time!), Oblates taught 500 boys, primarily from the West Side of Buffalo, boys who came from families, like mine, that were by no means rich, and to whom the $50 a year tuition was a struggle if not a hardship.

College graduation – 1965

The atmosphere among the faculty was inspiring to us.  They got along well, it seemed, and their spirit was transferred to us, along with a real concern for the underdog.  We were the underdog school, small, in the middle of the city, without a campus or much in the way of facilities, and this fit in well with the Oblate charism.

As a track team member since my days in grammar school, I had always had coaches who were Oblates.  The long drive home from practice in high school (we had to travel to the other side of town to find a track at the local university) brought me into closer contact with my Oblate coach.  What was seen in general from the faculty, that care and good spirit, was more clearly revealed in the daily drive home.

But, as high school drew to a close, it was time to move on. Like most of the seniors, I was brought into the vocation director’s

office and questioned about becoming an Oblate.  I refused, was not interested, and wanted to get on with my life, meet the right girl, and settle down.

Ordination in Rome – 1970

God, however, had a different plan, and didn’t take too long in revealing it.  In my first semester of college, while waiting for Mass to begin one day (I was certainly not there every day, or much other than Sundays) I suddenly felt that God really wanted me to be an Oblate.  There’s no better way to describe it–it wasn’t a vision, or a voice, but just the solid certainty that I should be moving in that direction.

And so, I did.  The Oblates urged me to finish college, and kept in touch through regular visits of the vocation director.  I went on to Novitiate and the seminary, and was ordained in 1970.

What seemed to be my destiny had come true.  It took a short detour but ultimately God’s call broke through, and, like Samuel, “here I am.”