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where do i begin? someone who knew me so well and gave me the love i needed and is continuing to give it to me. my dream of you and gene dancing
together is so appropriate i look forward to watching it together. you never lied to me; and in our own irish way we know we loved each other. i just think
we need to stay laughing; working for justice, and staying honest.
Apr 27, 2004 9:06 PM
As St. Patrick's Day approaches, I am thinking of you and missing you very much. Hope you're having a good time up there.
Mar 15, 2004 4:41 PM
Martin Riordan (Brazil)
I discovered Fr. Bill by chance today on the internet.
I feel proud to share my Irish origins with someone like him, who is prepared to buck the system in the name of justice. The Irish learn early that "legal" and "just" are different concepts. Those who have the courage to chose the latter over the former are special and often pay a high price.
Thank you, Father Bill, for everything.
Mar 7, 2004 6:43 AM
At 56, I am Fr. Bill's first niece, born of his twin brother, Gene. Today, which would have been their 74th birthday, my first thought this morning was ... Is heaven ready for Gene and Bill together? Their own mother wasn't always ready, from what I've heard. My sister Shannon and I were acknowledging their birthday tonight and how we feel that we've lost our father twice because Bill was so fervent and intuitive in filling our void of his identical twin. We find comfort in the thought that they are probably holding one of the biggest birthday parties heaven has seen ... and then Bill will probably leave a little early to be at that social injustice committee meeting in the morning or at that demonstration before lunch and not forget the labor committee meeting later.
I miss you, Uncle Willie, more than I ever thought I could and I am more proud of being your niece than I ever thought I would.
Jan 2, 2004 11:52 PM
Happy Birthday! I miss you terribly! Somehow I do find comfort though, in knowing that you are at long last with Daddy (your twin brother). As I go through life, I know there will not be a day that goes by that I don't think of you and miss you.
Thank you for everything! I love you. Shannon
Jan 2, 2004 9:21 PM
Jan 2nd is Bill's birthday.
I was doing a year-end look through my address book and came across "Bill's List" which we had put together at his going away to prison event. I sent out a number of his letters from prison and just kept the list. I don't have the heart to erase it right now. So I thought it being nearly his birthday eve, I'd make myself feel good and write some remembrances.
Recently a friend who knew that I'd known him for a number of years said, I guess you and Bill were peers. I said no, not that Bill didn't treat me that way, but we weren't. I thought of him as a big brother.
A number of our conversations was about community. How you just can't do the work without community. He actually thought you could do the work, but not for the long haul and not with joy. You'd burn out or get hardened. How you found that experience of community was another thing, but having one was/is critical.
An action was a basic success if you showed up. That's how you knew it was a success...you showed up. Then he told me the two important questions after an action were, did you have fun and who did you meet. When I told him I thought those were a little shallow, he laughed like crazy and then spoke about how those were connected to joy and community. He was patient!
Years ago I asked him how he envisioned the opposition especially when they were really tough and he said he imagined trapping them in an unrelenting bear hug and then just squeezing the Hell out of them...literally.
He told me he didn't remember ever being bored.
"Scotch shouldn't be ruined with water, ice does enough damage."
In conversations about politics or theology or psychology or labor or church he'd pause at times and then in a wise teachers voice share his insight that..."It's all personal". It seemed that that was a truth he really wanted to communicate.
Weren't we all blest! Somehow celebrating, even for a moment, his Birthday seems like a great way to start off this New Year. Wishing you all the best. Bob Nixon
Dec 31, 2003 7:19 PM
Fr. Bill was my inspiration to go into religious life and become a priest at one time in my life. He was my mentor and role model for what a priest was suppose to be. While I quit the seminary I still am trying to be the kind of man Fr. Bill was. Thank you Fr. Bill for being my light.
Dec 31, 2003 5:49 PM
I met Fr. Bill before ordination in about 1955. My husband had been in the seminary for 8 years with Bill; they were friends from freshman year. Bill presided at our wedding (his first) in 1956, San Leandro, just one week after his ordination. He was so nervous and his hands were shaking so badly, we didn't know if he would make it through. But he did, and I guess he and Jim Keeley and Jim Walsh gave us a special blessing because here we are 47.5 years later! Thanks, Bill, with love. We will miss you always!
Dec 19, 2003 7:44 PM
Thank you to Fr. Bill's family and the parish for services offered me and the opportunity to grieve the great loss we all feel. I have stood beside Bill in Livermore and in places where the justice work he was so passionate about called us. He has been and will continue to be an inspiration. I speak for myself and those of us who work at the University of Creation Spirituality and Naropa University in Oakland, I am sure, when I say thanks to you, Bill, viva, and may your spirit continue to disturb the comfortable and comfort the oppressed. Peace and gratitude.
Dec 19, 2003 2:46 PM
We Love You, Father Bill
I first met Father Bill O'Donnell seventeen years ago when he said a special Mass in remembrance of atomic veterans for attendees of the National Association of Radiation Survivors Convention in Berkeley.
Co-founder of NARS, Dr. Dorothy Legarreta, introduced us. When she died unexpectedly two years later, Father Bill officiated at her funeral mass saying she died in a one-car crash. I called him the next day, stating I noted he did not use the word "accident." He said, "That's right -- Dorothy was murdered -- that was no accident." Dorothy had been very successful on the hill in getting federal legislation passed on behalf of radiation victims. Father Bill said Dorothy initiated him into the "life of crime" when she invited him to picket Safeway during Cesar Chavez's grape boycott.
Father Bill was our Berrigan Brother, our Dalai Lama, our Thomas Merton, our Archbishop Romero, our Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Although the latter three were silenced, somehow Father Bill couldn't be muzzled by either the church hierarchy or government officials.
Some refer to Father Bill as a "saint," but I think he'd find that appellation amusing. There was nothing pious, pompous, or pretentious about this person's persona. I think "Giant" is more applicable. I believe Father Bill would concur with Dorothy Day's retort: "Don't dismiss me by calling me a saint."
One time when we were protesting at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Father Bill arrived late. The guards had closed the gates, announcing that they were not arresting any more people. Father Bill was so disappointed until he spotted a policeman he knew inside, waving to him to open the gate so he could be arrested. The policeman complied with a friendly, sympathetic smile on his face -- another friend of Bill's.
When Father Bill responded to my communiqués, he would often write in the margins of his Sunday bulletin and end his remarks with "Now, my child, your penance is to read my homily inside!" I have saved all his bulletins/letters. I love the story he shared that growing up on a farm outside Livermore, he soon realized that agricultural chores were hard work. He thought there must be another way -- and thus he chose the honorable but far more demanding vocation of the priesthood.
I can picture Father Bill regaling the angels with his Irish wit and with a twinkle in his eye. He took his labor, civil rights, peace, nuclear free, clergy abuse and gender discrimination causes very seriously, but not himself.
I hope the angelic choirs are greeting this larger than life, greatly beloved Catholic priest with the warm Gaelic words "Cead Mile Failte" (One Hundred Thousand Welcomes)! In the words of the ancient Irish Blessing: "May the good Lord hold him in the hollow of His hand."
June Stark Casey, Liaison
Hanford Nuclear Radiation Victims
Dec 18, 2003 9:00 PM
When Jesus Christ instituted the Priesthood, I think Priest like Father Bill, were exactly like he had in mind. I met Father at the Apartheid demonstrations at Berkeley in the mid 80's. And later at the naming of the Hayward library for César Chávez in 1996. He always spoke with passion and conviction. He was a REAL Christian. How can a man like this ever be replaced? It is up to us.
Dec 17, 2003 1:43 PM
I had the priveledge to meet Bill 10 years ago at my place of employment. From that moment on my life changed. He took me to lunch every 4 months for the last 8 years. He listened to my stories like they were the most interesting stories he had ever heard. He helped my son Marcus with a report on Ceasar Chavez and gave him quite a few great things to share. I will miss his tender soul and his advice to me as a single mom. I will visit you Bill on your 74th birthday.
Until then love and eternal peace. Love Kathleen
Dec 17, 2003 10:55 AM
You don't have to believe in God to believe in saints, and Bill O'Donnell was all the evidence any skeptic could ever need that they exist. Passionately dedicated to helping other people, he was at the same time a complete delight to be around -- sweet, charming and funny. Here's a great example of his self-deprecating humor:I once asked him how he managed not to be kicked out of the priesthood by the conservative Catholic hierarchy, given his unrelenting activism. He said there were only three things that could get a priest fired: sexual misconduct, embezzlement or heresy. "I'm not handsome enough for the first," he told me, "brave enough for the second or smart enough for the third."Although he was more moral and compassionate than most of us can ever hope to be, he never let you feel that he was better than you. In fact, after spending time with him, I always felt better about myself, and more hopeful about the world.
Bill shed light, and kindness, and love. It's terrible to think that we'll never again be able to see him smile, or hug him, or hear him laugh, but there is a consolation: all of us will carry to our graves the joy and honor of knowing him.
Dec 17, 2003 1:51 AM
I did not know him personally, at least not well. I knew him by reputation, because his niece is married to my brother. And I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the rebels in the church. "If it makes you uncomfortable, you're probably on the right track." I know I would never have the courage to live my life as he did, which is exactly the way Christ calls us to live. He was everything that makes mainstream America uncomfortable - champion of the poor, downtrodden, disenfranchised, and forgotten. He called attention to issues we would rather ignore, or brush aside. And his willingness to do that, even to the point where it meant prison, exemplifies what it means to be a person of integrity, of honor, of ethics, to be a person who answers "yes" to God's call to justice.
As if all that weren't enough, he happened to die the same day as my father, just 26 years later. There must be something about December 8th...heaven seems to need good folks to join the ranks that day. May his soul and his spirit enjoy the fruits of his labors, and rejoice in the ultimate happiness. Give 'em hell, Bill. Merry Christmas.
I found out about Father Bill's death from a very good friend of mine. We both remembered how the last time we saw Father Bill, she and her ballet folklórico danced at one of the UFW fundraisers where Fr. Bill always started the program with a prayer. We were so happy to see him right after he got out of the federal prison. I gave him a big hug and thanked him for all the great work he did. When we were planning our César E. Chávez Legacy Award breakfast, I was shocked because he gave a committee member the keys to the church and his truck and said "take as many tables and chairs as you need".
This friend of mine related to me that when she was looking for a priest to baptize her child, someone recommended Father Bill. However, that person warned her to call St. Joseph the Worker first to make sure Fr. Bill wasn't in jail.
At one of our UFW events, Fr. Bill, accompanied by Fr. Vitale, came up to the table where we had the food and said, "This is the most delicious tamale I've ever tasted, who made it?" I explained to him that it was actually called "vegetarian pibíl". He asked me to thank the person who made the pibíl and to please let them know how much he loved the "tamale". Fr. Vitale agreed. Fr. Vitale was especially pleased because it was meatless as he is vegetarian.
I also remember at our various UFW events, how he enchanted us with his stories. When Dolores Huerta and Richard Chávez were honored at Mr. E's in Alameda, Fr. Bill had us all laughing with his stories about Dolores and Richard.
I feel that I was truly blessed to have met Fr. Bill. He was such a beautiful person and we will missed him very much.
Fr. Bill, gracias por tener un gran corazón. (Fr. Bill, thank you for being so good-hearted).
I met Father Bill well over 30 years ago when I was a kid. He was friends with my Aunt and her family, and was at a lot of our extended family events. We called him O.D. My own family didn't attend church, except for a few unpleasant years. We never had a meaningful relationship with the priest at our church, anyway. So O.D. was our priest when we needed one, and our friend. He presided over my Grandparent's renewal of their vows on their 50th wedding anniversary. And their funerals, and that of my brother. He was a wonderful, moving speaker.
When I was "saved" as I called it then, at age thirteen, I got into a few doctrinal disputes with the good Father. To me, it seemed so important to believe the right things, and O.D. didn’t, at least at that time. But he was always doing what was right. And challenging others to do the same. He'll always have my admiration, and I'll remember him when I read, "For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother." I John 4:20,21
I hadn't heard about his death until I tuned into KPFA just as they were starting to air his memorial service. There I was, driving around, and crying over O.D., who I haven't seen in almost 20 years. How his family and good friends must be grieving, if I who knew him so peripherally am. Bye O.D.! Say Hi to Jesus for us.
Been listening to Fr. Bill most often on KPFA the last two years and most recently last week when he referred to Bush as the Anti-Christ. He moved me to drive by St. Joseph three Sundays ago on the thought that this could be the church for me to rejoin my Catholic pacifist roots, slowly severed by family duties and loss of faith in the Hierarchy. I was deterred that Sunday by a large wedding gathering which I didn't want to crash. Just this week I made contact with a fairly conservative Catholic buddy in Moraga who was making copies of Fr. Bill's obituary notes and he told me he'd had Bill over for dinner on Friday and was shocked to hear of his passing on Monday. Bill came of course from an era which many of us can recall when Calif. was not so polarized and many old Democratic socialists were still holding office in both Alameda and Contra Costa, and where I grew up hearing both my liberal and conservative neighbors hashing things out over Dinner. So it is that I came to find that this Conservative friend of mine had grown up going to school with Bill and his sister, and were carrying out tradition having dinner the Friday before he died. I asked him how he felt about hanging out with a Jail bird, and he laughed out loud and said he'd never known Bill to be any kind of a Diplomat. So I've missed my chance to meet this remarkable man in the flesh and I'm Disappointed, but I am still moved to come to St. Joseph, soon and explore how I might strengthen my faith through some form of service, thereby meeting Father bill in spirit, and meeting some of his many "partners in crime"
Bless you all,
Haiku for a great soul -
I did not know him
still his spirit inspires me:
walk the talk of truth
I invite you to share you thoughts, stories (the more irreverent, the better!), reflections.... Just click on the ‘quill’ below. All the postings will be done by hand, so they may not get up right away.
Daniel ben Avram