PULPIT: Former Grace Church priest enters Catholic world by Mark Barna with the Gazette
He praises the Catholic Church for its dedication to helping the needy, and barely follows the ongoing theological scuffles between the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of Anglicanism. He’s also a conservative in the liberal-leaning denomination.
Yet O’Donnell will remain Episcopalian, despite Pope Benedict XVI’s invitation to Episcopal priests to join the Catholic body.
And in perhaps the ultimate paradox, his love for the Episcopal Church derives from its openness to theological diversity, even though that diversity may have indirectly resulted in his resignation at Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church downtown.
“I don’t like living in paradox,” O’Donnell told me over lunch. “But I’ve been forced to live in paradox. Paradox is my friend.”
O’Donnell was the leader of the Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal parish during a difficult time.
In March 2007, the Grace Church parish on North Tejon Street split presumably on theological grounds. Soon after, the factions were embroiled in a bitter church property dispute. The Anglican parish led by Rev. Donald Armstrong took possession of the church, while the Episcopal parish was exiled.
O’Donnell, who was an assistant priest under Armstrong, was tapped in October 2007 by the Colorado Episcopal bishop to lead the exiled parish.
“In this period of turmoil, he was the calming influence that we needed,” said David Watts,junior warden of the Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal.
A Fourth Judicial District court judge ruled in March 2009 that Grace Church belonged to the Episcopal parish. But O’Donnell wasn’t around to enjoy the victory. He had resigned his leadership role months earlier because, he said at the time, he was tired of the in-fighting over the property.
During the 5 1/2-week property trial, O’Donnell made a career change by becoming Catholic Charities’ vice president of fundraising and its chief development officer of social media and other institutional advancement strategies.
The Colorado Episcopal bishop approved O’Donnell’s move, and Catholic Charities agreed to pay O’Donnell’s Episcopal priest pension assessments.
Through his work at Catholic Charities, which runs a soup kitchen downtown that serves 600 to 900 people a day, O’Donnell has been impressed by the Catholic sensibility.
“They are serious about demonstrating the love of Christ in tangible ways,” he said. “That is so Catholic.”
He’s also grown spiritually, he said. During his four years at Grace, he believed Christ’s presence could only be felt in church, he said. But through his experiences at Catholic Charities’ soup kitchen, he came to realize that God is everywhere.
“I am in the middle of the poor, and Jesus is there,” O’Donnell said, choking up.
To read more of my interview with O’Donnell, go to my blog, “The Pulpit,” at www.thepulpit.freedomblogging.com.