FALL RIVER–The 80th Annual Catholic Appeal “Time to Gather, Time to Heal, Time to Love” has raised $2.8 million to date, with less than three weeks remaining in the annual campaign, which ends on Wednesday, June 30. There is still time to make a gift or pledge in support of the many agencies and apostolates that carry out the work of the Church throughout the Diocese of Fall River, assisting tens of thousands each year.
Gifts to the Appeal directly support the formation of our devoted seminarians as they prepare for lives as future priests, as well as the work of the Diocesan Office of Vocations, led by Rev. Kevin A. Cook, Director of Vocations and Rev. Jack M. Schrader, Assistant Director of Vocations. In a recent testimonial about his work in the Office of Vocations, Fr. Schrader said, “We accompany men in their journey towards the priesthood. We meet with them before seminary starts as they are beginning to wonder, ‘Is God calling me?’ We help them through their application process, and we remain with them during their years of formation.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person classrooms shifted to remote learning and our seminarians took up residence at parishes in the diocese. This included Matthew Laird and William O’Donnell, III. Now members of the transitional diaconate, Deacon Laird and Deacon O’Donnell joined the community of Holy Family in East Taunton while continuing their studies as part of the St. John’s Seminary Ordination Class of 2022.
Originally from Sandwich, Deacon Laird is the son of David and Kathleen Laird. His home parish is Christ the King in Mashpee. He is a 2011 graduate of St. John Paul II High School in Hyannis and a 2015 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Deacon O’Donnell grew up in Harwich. The son of Patty and the late William O’Donnell, Jr., he is a parishioner of Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich. He graduated from Harwich High School in 1996 and received a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Stonehill College in Easton in 2000.
The Catholic Foundation team sat down with Laird and O’Donnell to learn more about the experiences and perspectives that led to their discernment, their work at seminary, and their plans for the future as they prepare to become priests. The following are excerpts from that conversation.
Tell us a little about when you first heard the calling to the priesthood.
Laird: I first heard the call in high school, but it was really when I attended college and met others who were having similar experiences, a vocation to the priesthood became a real option for me.
O’Donnell: When I first got the call, I was working in the restaurant industry on the Cape. I felt there was something more for my life. I took courses at the Theological Institute in Boston and I prayed about it. The most important thing, when you sense you are being called, is prayer. Bring it before the Lord; get the answer. Accept the answer. The calling can be a subtle message — like the story of Elijah in the Book of Kings, in the cave in silence.
Who were some of your biggest influences growing up?
O’Donnell: There was plenty of faith activity in my family growing up. I did ECHO in high school and was also active in Campus Ministry. My biggest influence was Fr. Tom Frechette; I spoke with him the most about getting the call. He helped me remain focused and I often found myself asking, how does he know exactly what I need to hear, when I needed to hear it? Sometimes, others see what you aren’t seeing.
Laird: I went to Catholic school growing up; at St. Francis Xavier Prep in Hyannis, and John Paul II High School, the priests I met were my biggest role models. Fr. Frechette was a big influence on me, too, like he was for Bill. Also my pastor growing up, Monsignor Hoye, served as my spiritual director. I could always share my ideas with him.
What lessons have you learned in the seminary that have most resonated with you?
Laird: Formation at seminary engages the whole person: human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral. Prayer life flows over and into the classroom. In addition to our studies, we have assignments that bring us into the community and cover all aspects of our lives as Catholics. I have gone into the hospital, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Boston University Catholic Center.
O’Donnell: Seminary is prayer. It is not just academic. You engage in the development of a healthy prayer life. If you’re not praying, you’re just going through the motions: taking classes, nothing else. Prayer is so central to your formation.
What aspect of priesthood are you looking forward to the most?
O’Donnell: I look forward to administering the sacraments, and I look forward to the people. The Church’s treasure is its people: those who come to Mass, volunteer, and are always there for you.
Laird: I am looking forward to administering the sacraments too, and to being there for such important parts of people’s lives in a unique way. I look forward to being available for people to talk, to pray together, and to be there when people come seeking help.
What hobbies do you enjoy outside your studies and your work at parishes and in the community?
Laird: Music is a hobby of mine. I am part of a jazz group called Vatican III, we all met in the seminary. The group consists of me on saxophone, Fr. Matthew Gill on bass guitar, Larry Valliere on guitar, and Fr. Patrick Fiorillo of the Archdiocese of Boston on drums.
O’Donnell: I enjoy cycling, and also boating with my family and fishing.
Any final words of advice for someone who is considering a vocation to the priesthood?
O’Donnell: Prayer. It all starts there. We are always praying for the Lord to send more workers into the vineyard. The men who are out there discerning are the future of our Church. By reaching out to these men, you can build a strong future. We need our priests: to baptize, to anoint, to hear confessions, and to keep parishes vibrant.
Laird: Don’t be afraid to make use of the resources around you. Behind every seminarian is a large support group; our vocation is the fruit of many people. We need people to affirm our calling. Also, come up to the seminary for a visit. Spend the day. Give it a try!
On May 22, Laird and O’Donnell were ordained to the transitional diaconate at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Fall River. Along with Gregory Quenneville and Laurent Valliere, they have begun the final leg of their journey toward ordination to the priesthood next year. It was an especially joyful occasion as this was the largest group to be ordained together in the diocese in 20 years. “We have reason to be thankful to God for His generosity, to be thankful to these men for saying ‘yes,’ and to celebrate that they are on their way to serving God as priests and serving us, His Church,” said Fr. Schrader.
Currently, 14 seminarians from the Diocese of Fall River are at different stages of formation as they prepare for the priesthood. Your gift to the Catholic Appeal helps ensure all of them receive the foundation they need to realize their calling and do God’s work in our parishes, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, missions and other diocesan offices and special ministries.
This year you can watch a series of “Ministry Moments” videos featuring individuals reflecting on good works supported by the Catholic Appeal. The series, which includes Fr. Schrader talking about the Office of Vocations, can be found on the Catholic Foundation’s website: www.catholicfoundationsema.org/ministry-moments.
Contributions to the Catholic Appeal may be made as a one-time donation or through monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual pledges. Donations may be mailed directly to the Catholic Foundation office, 450 Highland Ave., Fall River, MA 02720, made online at www.givefrdiocese.org/2021, or dropped off at any parish in the Diocese. Please contact the Catholic Foundation office at 508-675-1311 with any questions.