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Rev Fr William Francis O'Donnell
Birth: Feb. 26, 1922
District of Columbia
District Of Columbia, USA
Death: Apr. 23, 2009
Potomac (Montgomery County)
Montgomery County
Maryland, USA

World War II Combat Veteran,
Attorney, Priest, Editor


Msgr. William O'Donnell grew up in Washington, D.C., near the National Zoo. He was the first-born child of a pediatrician and his wife. He saved some lives in World War II and received a Silver Star, came back home and became an attorney, then became a priest, and then became an editor taking on the U.S. Supreme Court. His life was one of honor, courage, and morality.

He graduated from Gonzaga College High School and Georgetown University (1943) where he was in the ROTC. After college, he went to Officers Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and 90 days later he was commissioned a second lieutenant. In the fall of 1944, he was shipped overseas with the 87th Division and was assigned as leader of a rifle platoon in an infantry division. From Alsace-Lorraine, his division moved north, and in December they engaged German soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. He was on the front lines for six months. While his unit was pinned down under heavy enemy fire, he saw three U.S. soldiers who were wounded and cut off from the unit. He made repeated trips under fire to rescue them, carrying them to safety on his back. For that, he received a Silver Star. He was with the Third Army when it liberated several concentration camps. By the time he left the Army, he was a captain.

After the war, he was in the U.S. Foreign Service in 1946 and 1947. He then went to law school at Georgetown University Law Center and earned a J.D. (1952). After law school, he clerked for a federal judge for a year and then was a trial lawyer for the Justice Department.

In 1957 his younger brother died; his brother was Fr. James O'Donnell, a Catholic priest. His brother's death prompted him to enter the priesthood. He was a 35-year-old attorney and decorated combat veteran when he entered Christ the King Seminary in St. Bonaventure, New York. In May 1962, after a year of philosophy and four years of theology, he was ordained a priest. He was assistant pastor at St. Jane Frances de Chantal in Bethesda from 1962 to 1966.

In 1966, he was named editor of the Catholic Standard. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued its opinions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, legalizing abortion on demand in the United States. William O'Donnell's editorial response was a legal analysis of the Court's ruling: "In its decision ... the Supreme Court has taken an unparalleled step backwards. Sweeping aside the hard evidence of science and logic, it has repudiated the most fundamental right of all the right to life itself." He wrote, "Whatever confusion Justice Blackmun and his colleagues may profess to sense among the experts, the presumption in favor of human life is so paramount that it cannot be overlooked or denied." He served as editor of the newspaper through 1978.

After leaving the newspaper, he returned to pastoral duties and was pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda until 1993. In his time at Our Lady of Lourdes, Msgr. O'Donnell was faced with a parish council member who was campaigning for public office on a pro-abortion platform. Msgr. O'Donnell removed the man from the parish council. That was the first political candidate in the Archdiocese of Washington to be disciplined by a parish priest for campaigning for public office while openly supporting abortion. Msgr O'Donnell said that he removed the man from the parish council because the man's campaign literature identified him both as "pro-choice" on abortion and as a member of a Catholic parish council.

In his later years he served as priest director of Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Washington. He retired in 2006.

Msgr. William O'Donnell was the son of Dr. William F. O'DONNELL and Gertrude LANE. He was survived by one brother: John Jude O'Donnell. He was predeceased by his parents and eight siblings: Dr. Vincent Lane O'Donnell (1923-2002), Dr. Robert Joseph O'Donnell (1924-2001), Jeanne Marie (Mrs. William) Rapp (1924-1981), Thomas Lane O'Donnell (1925-1926), The Rev. James Jeremiah O'Donnell (1929-1957), Hugh Lowe O'Donnell (1933-1999), Paul Anthony Casimir O'Donnell (1934-1997), and Mary Frances O''Donnell (infant).

Msgr. O'Donnell's funeral mass was at St. Thomas Apostle Catholic Church, Woodley Rd., Washington, D.C. 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  William Francis O'Donnell (1892 - 1957)
  Gertrude Marie Lane O'Donnell (1892 - 1955)
 
 Siblings:
  William Francis O'Donnell (1922 - 2009)
  Robert J O'Donnell (1924 - 2001)*
  Jeanne Marie O'Donnell Rapp (1924 - 1981)*
  James Jeremiah O'Donnell (1928 - 1957)*
  John Jude O'Donnell (1932 - 2013)*
  Paul Anthony O'Donnell (1934 - 1997)*
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Mount Olivet Cemetery
Washington
District of Columbia
District Of Columbia, USA
Plot: section 43-A, lot 42
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Originally Created by: AMB
Record added: Feb 26, 2013
Find A Grave Memorial# 105847308
Rev Fr William Francis O'Donnell
Added by: AMB
 
Rev Fr William Francis O'Donnell
Added by: michael walsh
 
Rev Fr William Francis O'Donnell
Added by: michael walsh
 
 
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- AMB
 Added: Mar. 2, 2013

- Bob & Nancy Cannon
 Added: Mar. 1, 2013

- AMB
 Added: Feb. 26, 2013
 
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