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Sun., Oct. 4
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Rev. Michael O’Donnell will be installed as rector today at St. John’s Church


The Rev. Michael A. O’Donnell will be installed as the 22nd Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Ogdensburg, in a ceremony at 11 a.m. today.

The Rev. Mr. O’Donnell, with his wife, Rachel, comes to Ogdensburg from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he worked in various positions with both the Catholic and Episcopal churches.

Born and raised in suburban Philadelphia, Pa., the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell has lived in many places across the country, including Manhattan, Kan., where he received his doctoral degree at Kansas State University, and Rochester Hill, Mich., where he served as department chair of psychology and social work at Rochester College.

“I’m what’s called a late-life vocation,” the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell said, describing his arrival in the priesthood when he was 45 after a successful career in academia.

He co-founded the International Family Life Institute with University of Alabama professor Nick Stinnett, and has authored numerous books on adolescent development. In 1995 he presented his research to the United Nations in Vienna, Austria.

But the church was always on his mind.

“I think I had been running away from the priesthood,” he said.

Working with the Family Life Institute in Colorado Springs around the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell decided that his role as an academic was insufficient.

“I could see that my students were upset [after the attacks]. They were crying; they really needed ministry,” he said. “I couldn’t give them ministry as a professor, so I went to them as a priest.”

If he seems an unlikely priest considering his career in academia, his path to faith itself may be even more incredible – it’s a story of timing and need.

Coming out of a home he describes as “non-religious,” the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell said his parents’ divorce left him searching for stability.

By chance his mother lived across the street from an Episcopal Church and a born-again experience led him to commit wholeheartedly to its mission.

“It felt safe,” he said of the church. “Like this was going to be here forever.”

Never deserting his Episcopalian roots, the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell’s career has brought him in close contact with both Catholic and evangelical believers – a history of interdenominational respect and cooperation that he believes will help him serve the north country.

Serving as vice president for institutional development with Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs for the last four years, Mr. O’Donnell has also worked with the evangelical Focus on the Family Institute.

That appreciation for Christian liturgy and understanding of evangelical enthusiasm is something he believes he shares with parishioners in Ogdensburg.

The Rev. Mr. O’Donnell said St. John’s is a place where the old and new are blended in a way that strives to be inclusive, not offending older members who love the traditions while also not scaring off younger people who desire a more up-beat spiritual experience.

“It’s a church that has really embraced three streams,” the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell said, as it merges elements of Catholic worship with traditions coming out of the evangelical and charismatic movements. “I see that only growing.”

In his work with Catholic Charities that saw him operating as a marketing director as much as anything, the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell discovered the power of social media as a tool for evangelism.

“I was astounded at that world, at just how quickly you could communicate and how effectively,” he said.

Already the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell has been active on St. John’s Facebook account, adding more than 100 people to its network in one month.

As of Friday the church had 157 “likes.”

Coupled with the church’s revamped website,, the Rev. Mr. O’Donnell said he hopes to make St. John’s an intergenerational community that strives for community engagement.

“I like that St. John’s enjoys serving the community,” he said of the 200-member strong church. “They are not a closed community.”

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