Franciscan who was national pro-life advocate dies at 55

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Brother Paul O’Donnell, a Franciscan Brother of Peace and a nationally regarded pro-life advocate and speaker, died Feb. 20 at his community’s residence in St. Paul. He was 55.

Brother Paul died in his sleep, and his death was unexpected, said fellow Brother John Mary Kaspari. A funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 27 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul.

An early member of the St. Paul religious community, Brother Paul will be remembered for “his great love, devotion and humility; his love for each of the brothers and their way of life; and his love and selfless outreach to the most vulnerable, especially in the right-to-life movement, the unborn, aged and disabled,” Brother John Mary said.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Brother Paul professed his vows Oct. 4, 1987, five years after the community was founded. Before entering religious life, he was a seminarian in St. Paul at St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1978 to 1982, and St. Paul Seminary from 1982 to 1984.

His community’s guardian overall for more than 20 years, Brother Paul was a leader in its pro-life outreach, which included fighting for the lives of people needing specialized medical care, such as Terri Schiavo, who died in 2005 after a court ordered her feeding tube removed.

The brothers also offer hospitality to international survivors of torture at their residence, Queen of Peace friary, next to St. Columba Church in St. Paul; run a food shelf and minister to people with disabilities.

Prior to joining the Franciscan Brothers of Peace, Brother Paul and the community’s founder, Brother Michael Gaworski, founded in 1981 Pro-Life Action Ministries, a pro-life apostolate. Brother Paul served as its president.

“Brother Paul was a very profound, strong, outspoken pro-life leader, not just here in the Twin Cities but nationally,” said Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries since 1986, when he replaced Brother Paul in that post. “His concern and care for the vulnerable, the innocent, the defenseless was amazing. He spoke on their behalf consistently and constantly throughout the 34 years I’ve known him.”

Brother Paul also was a founding board member of Human Life Alliance in Minneapolis and chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania-based Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network.