Call it a higher calling.
Rev. Paul McDonnell OSJ, a West Pittston native, was appointed Tuesday to lead the Oblates of St. Joseph community in America, just days after relocating to California for a new assignment.
The announcement was made by Superior General of the Oblates of St. Joseph, Very Rev. Michele Piscopo, OSJ, in Rome, Italy.
The order's East Coast Province, based in Pittston, and the West Coast Province, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., are being merged into one. The merger will become official on March 14.
McDonnell, 48, will be the first Provincial Superior of the newly-formed USA province of the Oblates of St. Joseph. He will oversee the 50 priests and brothers and more than 30,000 faithful. The order runs three churches in Pennsylvania (St. Joseph Marello Parish in Pittston, St. Barbara's in Exeter and Holy Annunciation in Hazleton) and three churches in California (St. Joseph Marello Parish in Granite Bay, Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Bakersfield and St. Joachim Parish in Madera, Calif.). It also operates three seminaries, one in Laflin, one in Loomis, Calif. and one in Oxnard, Calif., and the order's headquarters, the Oblates of St. Joseph Provincial House, in Santa Cruz, Calif.
McDonnell will remain in California, but plans to travel back and forth between the two coasts.
He plans to return to Greater Pittston to celebrate a Mass for the Feast of St. Joseph on March 19 in the chapel at the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary in Laflin.
It's very humbling to be asked to lead our community, McDonnell said. Also, a little overwhelming. I'm taking on a pretty big responsibility.
He said he'll work together with his leadership team to bring the Oblates of St. Joseph into the future.
I'll be working with some wonderful priests and brothers, he said. It will really be a team effort.
Elaine Fisher, president of the local Josephite-Marellian Lay Association, made the local announcement.
We offer Father Paul our heartfelt congratulations and the assurance of our prayers as he assumes this important duty for the future of the American OSJ province, she said.
McDonnell will be officially installed, along with his future provincial council, with ceremonies being held in both Pennsylvania and California.
McDonnell left Pittston Jan. 10 for his new, temporary assignment which had him taking over St. Joseph Marello Parish in Granite Bay, Calif. The new church, which was dedicated in October 2011, has about 800 families.
Father Paul, as he's commonly referred to, said he'll go where ever God leads him.
I'll let God decide, not me. It's much better when you leave that decision up to Him, he said in a recent interview.
The Seminary in Laflin will continue to be maintained by the priests there, primarily the Rev. Daniel Schwebs, OSJ.
McDonnell was born on Jan. 2, 1965, and is the son of Thomas and Shirley (Petrello) McDonnell.
He is a 1982 graduate of Wyoming Area High School and entered the Oblates of Saint Joseph Seminary, Laflin, immediately after graduation.
While a seminarian, he attended King's College and earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy.
From 1986 to 1991, he studied in Rome, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and a master's degree in pastoral theology at the Lateran University.
After he returned to the U.S., he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest on Aug. 10, 1991, in his home parish of St. Anthony of Padua, Exeter, now St. Barbara's, by Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo, former auxiliary bishop of Scranton.
He has served the Oblates of St. Joseph Congregation in various capacities, namely as both assistant pastor and pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Pittston from 1993-2006 and is currently the rector of the Oblates of St. Joseph Seminary.
He has served as provincial superior from 2003-2010 and presently serves as the provincial vicar and secretary of the province.
McDonnell was involved in the Greater Pittston community as chaplain to UNICO and to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, honorary chairman of the 2011 capital campaign for the Pittston YMCA, a board member of the Wesley Village Nursing Facility and a board member of the Earthly Angels Autism Foundation. He also conducts retreats and conferences for groups of all ages.
Bishop Joseph Bambera offered his praise on behalf of the Diocese of Scranton.
In addition to his service as rector of the Oblates seminary, Father Paul, a native son of our Diocese, has served in several local parishes and provided assistance to many others by celebrating Mass when called upon, Bambera said in a statement. I am grateful for his generous and faithful presence here over the years. I offer Father Paul my prayers for God's blessings and wisdom as he enters this new phase of his priestly ministry.
Fisher praised McDonnell's ministry and said he will make a fine leader.
With Father Paul's charisma, leadership and spirituality, success is inevitable in this new beginning and all of his future endeavors, Fisher said. Thank you, Saint Joseph and Saint Joseph Marello for blessing the Oblates of Saint Joseph with a truly remarkable priest in every aspect.
McDonnell said he looks forward to the unknown.
…(T)here's the challenge of new people and a new adventure in my priesthood. I'm looking forward to it.
He said since arriving in California, the weather has been cold, but his welcome has been anything but.
The kindness of the people has made the transition quite easy, he said. It's a great congregation out here.