Father Pat O'Donnell
"No one has done more to supply American Catholics with memorable images of the U.S. home missions than Father Pat O'Donnell," says Father Dominic Duggins, vice president of Glenmary, who also served in the Southwest with Father Pat for five years. Father Pat's award-winning black-and-white photos filled the covers and pages of Glenmary Challenge, the quarterly magazine of Glenmary Home Missioners, for over 30 years. When he retired as editor in 1980, a selection of his home mission photos were displayed at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Father Pat became interested in missionary work in the United States while a graduate student in philosophy at The Catholic University of America, where he was mentored by the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. In 1945, over Easter break, he came to Cincinnati to meet Father William Howard Bishop, who had founded Glenmary Home Missioners just six years earlier. Father Pat decided to join this society which he described later as "this new mission group working in the South, using innovative missionary techniques to enter previously perceived Protestant strongholds."
Father Pat was ordained a priest in 1949. But even while in training, his artistic talents were recognized and he was put to work editing Glenmary Challenge, his major ministry focus for the next 30 years. In that capacity he drew on his undergraduate training in art and photography at the Chicago Art Institute.
Father Pat was also a hands-on missioner, not just a writer and photographer. While serving as editor from 1949 to 1980, he also had mission assignments that took him to Russellville, Ky., as associate pastor (1950-52); Otway, Ohio, as administrator (1952-55); Fayetteville, Ohio, as chaplain for the Glenmary Sisters (1961-66); and Vanceburg, Ky., as pastor (1967-80).
His accomplishments in Glenmary's Vanceburg mission drew on his commitment to address the needs of this impoverished area of Eastern Kentucky, to build up the Catholic Church and to use his particular artistic gifts in the process. The church in Vanceburg, Holy Redeemer, is one of many he designed and built in mission communities. Even the stained-glass windows were his creation.
When he left Vanceburg in 1980, the Lewis County Herald listed these among the many community programs he initiated:
- Lewis County Health Development Corporation—committed to bringing physicians to the local area by helping to pay for their medical education.
- Christ House—a refuge for the homeless as well as for persons fleeing domestic violence.
- Appalachian Industries—an effort to provide local employment through woodworking, making everything from furniture to rolling pins out of native hardwoods.
- Something Else Shoppes—low-cost rummage centers that provided 15-20 percent of the clothing for the county.
- Milky Way—a program to provide milk for hungry children by giving cows to needy families.
- Operation Shingle—a program that built or made habitable 65 homes.
After a period of renewal in Rome in 1980, Father Pat returned to the mission field as pastor in Elkton, Ky. (1981-87) and Idabel, Okla. (1987-1994). After becoming a senior member in 1994, he continued to live in the Southwest and fill in as needed in various missions including Antlers, Okla.; Mt. Vernon, Texas; Monticello, Ark.; and Hugo, Okla. His last years in the Southwest were spent in retirement in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, a former Glenmary mission.
On the occasion of the golden jubilee of his priesthood in 1999, Father Pat said, "It has been 50 years of serious fun, releasing the bubbling fountain of goodness that flows from the hand of God when you are trying to serve him among his own kind of people, the very poor."