Everyone will miss Father Paul's quick wit.
The way the story is told, the Rev. Paul McDonnell, OSJ, was at the annual Holy Name Smoker at Our Lady of Mount Carmel church hall in 2001.
The speaker, newly named King's College president Father Tom O'Hara, just started speaking when funeral director P.J. Adonizio's pager started beeping.
Is my time up? O'Hara asked.
Not missing a beat, McDonnell called out.
No, but somebody's is.
A stalwart in the Greater Pittston Catholic community, McDonnell announced this week he's been assigned to a parish on the west coast.
McDonnell, 47, leaves for California on Jan. 10. His new assignment is temporary administrator of St. Joseph Marello Parish, Granite Bay, Calif. in the Diocese of Sacramento.
I may remain there for the next 20 years of my life, or they may say we need you back in Pennsylvania, he said. I'm out there indefinitely. I have a one-way ticket.
The Oblate community in America is in the middle of a major restructuring and McDonnell has found himself squarely in the middle.
The East Coast Province, based here in Pittston, and the West Coast Province, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., are being merged into one.
After many, many years of working separately, we decided to make it one big Province, he said. That will become official in March, when a new leader is selected.
McDonnell is seen as a likely candidate to head the newly formed United States Providence, as he served as East Coast provincial superior from 2003-2010 and sits on an international commission as the North American representative at the Congregation's central headquarters in Rome. He has also worked in the order's parishes and seminaries.
Secret ballot elections were recently held but the Superior General in Rome, the Rev. Michele Piscopo, OSJ, will make the final decision.
McDonnell's new assignment has him taking over St. Joseph Marello Parish in Granite Bay, Calif. The brand new church, which was only dedicated in October of 2011, has about 1,000 families. He'll be replacing the Rev. Arnold Ortiz, OSJ, who will be moving to diocesan priesthood.
He's greatly loved by the people of his parish, he said. Although short in stature, they're going to be very big shoes to fill.
McDonnell will be living at a seminary and novitiate of the Oblates of St. Joseph, Mount St. Joseph in Loomis, Calif.
Granite Bay and Loomis are like West Pittston and Exeter, he said. Practically next to each other.
McDonnell said his ticket to California is one way and he's uncertain of his future at the moment.
The idea is that I can go out and be a temporary band aid, he said. Take care of the parish, at least until the summer, and then as we come together, a new superior will be selected, and new leadership team. That team will make all the big decisions.
He says he'll go whereever God leads him.
I'll let God decide, not me. It's much better when you leave that decision up to him, he said.
The Seminary in Laflin will continue to be maintained by the priests that are there, primarily the Rev. Daniel Schwebs, OSJ.
He'll keep things running until bigger decisions are made, McDonnell said.
Granite Bay, Calif., is an affluent, bedroom community of Sacramento, where many of the Sacramento Kings basketball players live.
There's the sadness of leaving your home and your hometown, he said. I know everybody and people know me. There's that familiarity which is a wonderful thing.
But, said, he looks forward to the unknown.
But on the flip side, there's the challenge of new people and a new adventure in my priesthood. I'm looking forward to it.
What's made his priesthood unique is that he was lucky to stay in the Greater Pittston area for so long.
I'm a hometown boy and I've always seen myself in as having simple roots, McDonnell said.
McDonnell, a native of West Pittston, was born on January 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 August 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 is very 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.
Monsignor John Bendik, pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church, knew McDonnell for about 16 years and said he was one of the best priests in the area.
When you're in his presence, he's present to you, Bendik said. He really focuses in on you and you alone.
Bendik says McDonnell has a great sense of humor but a great depth of spirituality as well.
He said McDonnell's departure is a great loss for the Greater Pittston community. Even at a funeral, he's able to celebrate the life of the person, not mourn the death, Bendik said. I love the guy, and I'm going to miss him.
The McDonnell family, Tom sand Shirley, and their three sons, Paul and his two older brothers, Kevin and Tom, lived across the street from St. Anthony's Church, on Erie Street.
Religion was a big part of the family, Kevin McDonnell said. We were all altar boys, but Paul stayed on that path.
Right from early age, his vocation was very, very strong, he said. Our faith was nurtured by our parents and the church Home was a place of much faith and we had a strong prayer life.
The McDonnell children were typical boys, all were altar boys and all played sports. To this day Father Paul is a major fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
We got along well, Kevin McDonnell said. We played well, we fought well. But Paul got the brunt of it.
Father Paul was the first to leave the house when he entered the Seminary. We joke we forced him out, Kevin McDonnell said. We beat him up just enough to make him a good priest.
Kevin McDonnell said his brother blends his faith and humor very well. That's what makes him connect with people.
And his ties to the area will never be completely severed.
I thank God for the great gift of Paul's priesthood in our family, he said.
Kevin McDonnell, the managing editor of the Catholic Light newspaper for the Diocese of Scranton, has worked there for 28 years. I say I've been working for the church longer than Paul is.Another good thing about having a priest in the family: He always has a great blessing for our family dinners.
Elaine Fisher of Jenkins Township, a close friend of Father Paul, is a member of the Josephite-Marellian Laiety, a group that aids the Oblate priests.
We have a very nice spiritual and working relationship, she said.
She met Father Paul through her late husband and has remained close.
He's a real people person, he said. He touches the hearts and souls of everyone he comes in contact with.
She said the easiest way to sum up Father Paul is he emulates his order's founder: In the words of St. Joseph Marello, he does the ordinary things in an extraordinary manner.
McDonnell said he's excited about the new adventure and possibly hitting the greens at Pebble Beach, only about a 3-hour drive. A new place, new people, he said. Maybe I'll get some sun and get to use the golf clubs.I've played Pebble Beach with my father years ago, he said. I can't wait to get back.
So what's Father Paul's handicap?
That's left for the confessional, he joked.