On February 20, longtime pro-life advocate Brother Paul O’Donnell died at the age of 55.
Brother Paul O’Donnell speaks at a tribute dinner honoring Joe Scheidler, April 2, 2011 [Photo by Sam Scheidler]
During the Rose Dinner at the March for Life this year, I had the honor to sit next to an old friend, Brother Paul O’Donnell of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace.
I met Brother Paul years ago when I spoke at a pro-life conference in the Twin Cities. On the panel on which Paul and I spoke at were two stalwart pro-life activists from St. Louis, Michael Gaworski and John Ryan.
Paul and Mike had decided to dedicate their lives to saving babies and their mothers from abortion, and at the time they were discerning just how to do that. They founded a group called Pro-Life Action Ministries and eventually decided to form a religious order. He was also a co-founder of the Human Life Alliance.
His religious order acquired an empty convent and began drawing vocations when suddenly Brother Michael suffered a viral attack and went into a coma. Brother Paul learned that the doctors had given up on Brother Michael and were about to take him off of life support, so they had him moved to their monastery and cared for him — for twelve years. I visited them and was impressed with the gentle care they were giving. Brother Michael was comatose, but they asked me to talk to him because he might be able to hear me. They prayed at his bedside several times a day.
Brother Paul was also active in the effort to save Terri Schiavo from being starved to death in Florida, and worked closely with her brother, Bobby Schindler, and his family. They lost that case when Terri was starved over the course of nearly two weeks. But Brother Paul remained a leading member of the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network and dedicated himself to helping keep other sick people from being put to death.
During our visit at the Rose Dinner, Brother Paul and I reviewed our long friendship. He was always a delight to be around and I always looked for him at a pro-life event because he knew how to keep everyone laughing with his great stories. At one point during the talk being given at the Rose Dinner, he drifted off and needed a nudge or two. That was Brother Paul – if it was time for a nap, he took a nap. We had a great evening when he was awake.
So it was a real shock last Friday morning when we got a message from Brian Gibson at Pro-Life Action Ministries that Brother Paul had died. He was only 55. I went around in a kind of daze most of the day, remembering all the good times we had during the past 40 years.
Brother Paul will be buried later this week when Ann and I will be in California to give some talks, so we’ll miss the funeral. He was always so full of life and worked so hard to keep everyone alive — babies, sick people, the elderly. So I will continue to remember Brother Paul as I last saw him: the life of the party.
But I’ll pray for him as long as I have life. Please pray for him, too.