EXETER — Fr. Paul McDonnell returned to his roots to celebrate a milestone in his priesthood with the people he loves — family, past parishioners, friends and colleagues.
McDonnell celebrated the 25th anniversary of being ordained a Roman Catholic priest in the very church he attended as a child, St. Anthony of Padua Church, now St. Barbara, in Exeter Aug. 7.
Growing up across the street from St. Anthony’s Church as a child was a huge influence in McDonnell’s mind, he said. Parish priests Frs. Pio, Chini and Giovetto created a lasting impression on McDonnell’s path of spirituality.
“They were influencing me and they didn’t even know it – I wanted to be just like them,” he said.
His parents, Shirley (Petrello) and Tom Sr., devout Christians, also deeply ingrained their faith not only in Paul, but also older brothers Tommy and Kevin.
“His priesthood is the Grace of God and his hard work and I’m most grateful for, what Fr. Paul said during the Mass, that we are so grateful our parents are here to see this occasion,” Kevin said. “This is all he ever wanted to be and I would have been surprised if he didn’t become a priest.”
Six men participating in the anniversary ceremony were former altar boys that served Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church on Williams Street in Pittston. From 1993 to 1991 he served as assistant pastor and was appointed pastor in 1997, serving until 2006.
“It’s hard to believe I was in this rectory ready to be ordained and in a blink of an eye, 25 years is gone and we are here today,” McDonnell said on the day of his anniversary Mass.
Vito Forlenza, Mathew Maniskas, Mark and Mathew Sciabacucchi, and Joseph and Michael Struckus were a part of the celebration and all six agreed they felt honored to be called upon for the priest they admired since childhood.
McDonnell said he got in touch with all six men through the internet. “I reached out to them mainly on Facebook and gave them plenty of time to put the date of Aug. 7 aside,” McDonnell said. “Luckily they all agreed and I’m thrilled.”
McDonnell’s maternal grandmother Lena would have celebrated her birthday on Aug. 7. When planning the date, he had been torn between two dates: Aug. 7 or 14.
“Aug, 10 is my actual anniversary date but the tipping point was Gram’s birthday today (Aug. 7), so it is kind of a birthday a present from her,” McDonnell said.
Upon graduating from Wyoming Area High School in 1982, McDonnell entered the seminary formation program of the Congregation of the Oblates of St. Joseph at their seminary in Laflin, while attending King’s College, Wilkes-Barre, receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1986.
He then went on to Italy for the next five years from 1986 to 1991, where he served his novitiate year in Padua and then in Rome. He attended the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), earning a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology, and the Lateran University, where he earned a master’s degree in pastoral theology.
McDonnell made his vows as an Oblate of St. Joseph on Sept. 17, 1990 and later was ordained a transitional deacon at St. Joseph’s Church in Rome by the late Cardinal Pio Laghi, former Apostolic Pro Nuncio to the United States and Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education.
On Aug. 10, 1991, McDonnell was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in his native parish church of St. Anthony of Padua, Exeter, by the Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo, D.D., former Auxiliary Bishop of Scranton and current Bishop of Richmond, Va.
Aiding in the celebration Mass was longtime friend and peer, Fr. Brian Crawford, who became friends with McDonnell in Rome in 1988.
“I didn’t know anybody or anything when I went to Rome and I didn’t know anyone from Pennsylvania since I was coming from California,” Crawford said. “He was very kind and helped me relax when I got to Rome.”
Crawford said being the Homilist for his friend’s celebration Mass was an honor.
“It did go by fast and there’s been a lot of changes in our lives and I just think about my brother’s accomplishments in those 25 years and how his priesthood has grown and all the people he has touched and I’ve come to realize that and now on both coasts here and in California,” said McDonnell’s brother Kevin.
Today, McDonnell resides at the provincial headquarters of the Holy Spouses Province of the Oblates of St. Joseph, located in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he also serves as rector of the Shrine of St. Joseph, Guardian of the Redeemer. He travels to Pennsylvania and Rome during the course of the year tending to Oblates business.
“This is priceless and what I have I can’t put a price on it with my two wonderful boys in Tom and Kevin, but this is priceless to me even though I don’t deserve it but his mother and I are so proud,” said Tom McDonnell Sr. during the event.
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