At times, the month of March has an identity crisis. March does not know whether to be lamb-like or lion-like, whether it is still winter or starting to blossom into spring. In the northern part of our country a day could be in the seventies or there could be three feet of snow as there was fifteen years ago when the Irish in Pittsburgh marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade despite the blizzard. There are many historical figures who would like to forget the month of March entirely. You can be sure that Julius Caesar would like to forget the Ides of March when he met with an unfortunate accident – “Et Tu Brute!”
However, the month of March has to be my favorite month. On March 30, 1934 the first son and second child of six to Bartley O’Donnell and Nellie Synan was born. Although my five siblings, including my older sister Mary, were all born in the hospital, Thomas Martin O’Donnell was born at home at 5179 Brown’s Way in the Garfield section of Pittsburgh, Pa. March 30, 1934 was a day of great significance because it happened to be Good Friday. The fact that I was born on Good Friday, was that perhaps a sign that someday I would be called to be a Priest? The significance of that date, coupled with the grace of God and the loving example of love, devotion and sacrifice of my mother and father played a significant role in my vocation to the Priesthood.
I love the month of March not only because I was born in the month but because of the many Irish traditions surrounding St. Patrick’s Day imbued in me by my Galway father and my Kerry mother. My dad loved to sing Irish songs and I inherited his Irish voice. My love for singing was noticed by Sister Mary Edwin, a Dominican Sister, who was the music teacher at St. Lawrence O’Toole School. Sister Mary Edwin was also given the name, Sister Mary “Bruised Knuckles” by some of the hooligans who suffered from the wrath of her wooden ruler. Every St. Patrick’s Day, Sister would drag me from classroom to classroom singing Irish tunes. Sister Mary Edwin helped to improve my voice. Singing in front of the other children helped so much with my self confidence that I was prepared to sing on the Davey Tyson’s Amateur Hour at the Enright’s Theatre. However, the night before my performance, God had other plans for me and I was struck with double pneumonia. Although I recovered, I never got another chance to sing on the amateur hour. Instead of being guided on the course of a singing career, I ended up going to the seminary. As a seminarian I was always in the various choirs and musicals during the twelve years of my seminary training. As a priest, in addition to singing at the liturgies, I also sang in parish talent shows, and directed choirs and plays for the youth groups. I can thank God that he gave me a good voice and that I was able to use this gift in the service of His Church and His people.
When I was pastor of St. Wendelin Church, I frequently brought the Eucharist to a ninety-six year old woman, Loretta Donahue. Since Mrs. Donahue was born in March, close to St. Patrick’s Day, her family decided to have a party for her and invited me. During the party, the family asked me to sing an Irish song to their mother. As I was singing Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ra, Loretta kept staring at my Claddagh ring. After the song she said: “Father, it is a shame that that ring does not have any diamonds in it.” The next day Loretta called me on the phone and told me that she had three little diamond chips and asked if I would like to have them put into my ring. I told her that I world be honored. After a few days her daughters brought me the ring back from the Jewels. I called Mrs. Donahue to thank her and said to her: “Loretta since you gave me the diamonds, does that mean that we are now engaged?’ Her reply to me was: “Father. I can’t marry you because I am old enough to be your grandmother and beside that you are a priest and not allowed to get married.” As a Christian, the three diamond chips in my Claddagh ring remind me of the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity and as a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Hibernians Virtues of Unity, Fraternity and Christian Charity.
With every blessing and best wish for a happy St. Patrick’s Day.