Mary White O’Donnell

I gave this funeral homily at a church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where my cousin was buried today……….

The Catholic Church ended the first phase of its Synod on the Family a few months ago, and now Pope Francis wants to hear from the church throughout the world how marriage and family life can be strengthened and understood. If Mary and Bill O’Donnell were alive today I would have suggested to Pope Francis to talk to them, because I thought they knew more about family life than any priest or bishop or (forgive me if this seems irreverent) even the pope himself.

Mary and Bill didn’t write books or give lectures, they weren’t self-proclaimed experts, but they were living books on marriage and the family. If you watched them you learned a lot.

Whenever I visited 5 Farmhouse Lane, I often spent a few minutes looking at the big wall of pictures that Mary created in the room where she and Bill would sit in their later years, watching television, waiting for the phone to ring or the door to open. Some were old pictures of the White and O’Donnell families, lots of wedding pictures, pictures of baptisms and plenty of pictures of kids. The pictures stretched through generations, the latest usually were stuck on the refrigerator in the kitchen or near the telephone.

For Mary those pictures represented the treasures of her life. They were what she loved and gave her life to. She had a story for each of them, and she was a wonderful story-teller. The pictures summed up her life as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a friend. They were gifts from God and Mary loved them all.

Most of you who were pictured most prominently on that wall are here in church today–her children, their husbands and wives, her grandchildren. I know you wont forget how she lived and how she loved you.

We bring her body to church to remember our ties with her, but more importantly to offer her to God though Jesus Christ, his Son, for the next phase of her life. “I go to prepare a place for you,” Jesus told his disciples before he died. We listen to his words as if they were spoken to us.

“I go to prepare a place for you,” a place with many rooms. What a beautiful, concrete description that is of that unknown place we’re all called to, the new life we’re promised by Jesus Christ. A place of many rooms. What does that mean except, perhaps, that we’ll be gathered there together, with the ones we loved and we’ll see them again.

So is that a promise that Jesus makes only to his disciples then? No, it’s a promise he makes to us now.

Later in our prayers at Mass we’ll say:

“Remember Mary whom you have called today from his world to yourself. Grant that she who was united to your Son in a death like his may also be one with him in his resurrection.”

That’s true, isn’t it? This last year or so, particularly, Mary shared in the Passion of Christ at home and then at St. Mary’s Home in Cherry Hill, NJ, where she died. Many of you stood by her. The Lord was with her then as he is now.

Our prayer goes on:

“Give Mary, with all the others, kind admittance to your kingdom. There we hope to enjoy forever the fullness of your glory, when you will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing you, our God, we shall be like you for all ages, and praise you without end through Christ through whom you bestow on the world all that is good. “

So where is Mary now? Her tears are being wiped away, I think, and she’s in one of those rooms that Jesus speaks of, with those who went before her, with her husband Bill and her family. I think too, she’s hanging up the pictures, waiting to see us again.



9 thoughts on “Mary White O’Donnell

  1. Natalie

    This eulogy brings to mind the scripture For where your treasure lies there your heart will be also..Luke 12:34. We know for the moms, grandmas in the family their treasures are their children, grandchildren..entire family..their hearts are in their families. But this special kind of woman also treasures the Lord..her heart is with him as well. Mary and all moms rest in peace..knowing your heart continues to beat in your family, your treasure.


  2. Gloria

    Thank you for another beautiful eulogy about one of your loved ones.
    You are right to say your cousins Mary and Bill should be the ones the Pope,
    bishops and priests should talk with. Irreverent? No way!
    Truthful? — Absolutely!


  3. Bill Hoagland

    What beautiful sentiments! I would have liked to have met her. I think she was my aunt Rose’s sister’s daughter?


  4. VJ White

    After breakfast this morning, I overheard you tell your sister that you would meet her shortly and “you just wanted to collect your thoughts.” The sun was shining brightly at the time and I just knew your thoughts would deliver something special. Thank you for all you do and keep your thoughts, words and actions flowing. The world needs more people like you. Thank you for leading a wonderful send off for my Godmother and Aunt Mary!


  5. Berta

    A beautiful send off for a very special person in your life Fr Victor. Like you said , she’s probably waiting in one of those rooms but she’s not alone!


  6. Marita Mattei

    Sidra emailed me the beautiful homily for Mary O’Donald. It was so wonderful that she shared this with me . I have had the pleasure of meeting both O’Donnell’s on several occasions. From the beginning their uniqueness was quite evident!!Yes,Sidra will miss her and so will Sidra’s husband Neil Just as they have missed Bill but the memories that the O’donnell family created will always dwell in their hearts. I am very lucky to know two other people namely Sidra &Neil who also emulate the kind of delightful & special
    Family mentioned in the homily given re:Mary. We all
    Have been blessed to know such humble yet great
    Giving sincere and faith filled “Mary and Bill and Sidra and Neil “people! I am grateful too.


  7. Bill Donovan

    Fr. Victor: Your beautiful homily was so very moving to us who were friends
    with Mary and Binker for so many years.-.The O’Donnell’s and Donovans
    were family. We stayed in touch over the miles in our Georgia, Michigan and
    back to Jersey days. We treasured their friendship and they remain, always,
    in our prayers. And, how blessed you and they were to have each other
    these any years, and whenever we spoke, their great love for you was
    always present. May the Lord above be holding them in the palm of
    His hand. Love and prayers to you and Mary. Marion and Bill


  8. vhoagland Post author

    Bill, We have some great families these days, including your own. God has blessed us more than we know. FV


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