Sister James Marie O'Donnell

Sister James Marie O'Donnell

August 15, 1923 – October 26, 2016

“It was Julie’s charism that attracted me,” Sr. James Marie remembered at the time of her Diamond Jubilee as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur. That same charism sustained her throughout her lifetime.

Julie had promised those who threw in their lot with her that their lives would be marked by the cross – a promise that proved true for James Marie. Physical pain was her constant companion; sadness often knocked at her door. Yet, SND friends remember her infectious, hearty laugh, her generous apostolic outreach and her gratitude for the smallest thing anyone did for her.

James Marie was especially grateful to her father for bravely giving his blessing to her decision to enter Notre Dame not long after his wife’s untimely death. “It must have been difficult for him,” she wrote. The same generous strength was to manifest itself in her own life. And there was to be an unexpected reward for both of them: “In the early 70’s,” she remembered, “I was among the pioneers who were privileged to be caretakers for parents. I looked after my father.” A favorite pastime for father and daughter alike seems to have been rooting for the other Notre Dame’s football team on TV. But the feelings ran much deeper: “You can imagine the joy this was for him and for me,” she smiled, “to be with him during the springtime of his old age until we said ‘Good bye until we meet again.’”

Most of James Marie’s active ministry was spent in teaching. “These were happy years,” she wrote, “and I loved every minute of them!” But her time with her father had awakened a realization that “there was much to do outside the classroom to alleviate the needs of the poor and suffering.” So it was that in 1981, she began twelve years as an in-home caregiver. She especially treasured her service of “a beautiful lady during her twilight years when she was very close to God.“ James Marie also reached out to the woman’s family and friends.

All her life, whether in full-time ministry or retirement, James Marie was what SNDs like to call “a community woman” - from head to toe. Wherever she hung her hat, “James-y,” as we loved to call her, wanted to know everything that was happening out in the houses! St Julie had resorted to letter-writing; James-y took to the phone! From Villa Julie, Emmitsburg or Mount Notre Dame, she opened lines of two-way communication, keeping all sides informed of the latest news. Was a Sister unwell? Out went the call to prayer! Had there been an SND guest from Africa or Latin America? Everyone should know the great work our Sisters are doing there! Yes, James Marie loved to talk; friends knew to allow a good half hour for her calls. But especially during her less active years, this was her way of living community and mission. A Sister who has worked for many years with migrants in Florida wrote, when she heard of James Marie’s death:  “She supported us in our ministry and always asked about the people we had the privilege to serve. We will miss her.”

James Marie was always ready to do what she could, whether it was teaching “a new class every six months” at Ridgewood (“an experience to remember!”); or helping staff the receptionist desk at Villa Julie; or helping the Tri-Province Development Office by writing thank-you notes to generous benefactors; or finding “real joy” in connecting with “pupils and friends of yesteryear.”

However rough the road at times, this valiant woman forged ahead. “I give thanks to our Good God,” she wrote in 2013, “for gifting me with 70 years as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.” Her choice of readings for her funeral Mass reflects at one and the same time her suffering and her abiding trust in the God she served so well:

"The Lord GOD~will wipe away
the tears from all faces . . . .
This is the LORD~to whom we looked;
let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
(Isaiah 25: 8 & 9)

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,~and I will give you rest.~Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Mt 25: 28-30)


Born Mary Ellen O’Donnell, August 15, 1p23, Philadelphia, PA
Parents: James and Ella Marie McAleer O’Donnell
Two brothers: James and Joseph

Transferred from Marple Newton High School to Notre Dame Moylan, 1941
Graduated 1943
B.S., Trinity College, Washington DC

Entered Notre Dame January 31, 1943, Ilchester, MD
Received the habit August 1, 1943
First Vows: July 30, 1945
Final Profession: July 30, 1950

Educational ministries include:
St. Francis Xavier, Washington, DC
St. Stephen, Washington, DC
St. Martin (T. St.), Washington, DC
St. Catherine of Genoa, Brooklyn, NY
St. James, Mt. Rainier, MD
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Ridgewood, NY
St. Bernadette, Philadelphia, PA (twice)
St. Eleanor, Collegeville, PA
St. Albert the Great, Philadelphia, PA
Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA
St. Maria Goretti High School, Philadelphia, PA (Library Assistant)

Home Care Provider
Initially, for her father, James O’Donnell (Drexel Hill, PA, early 1970’s)
Companion to Elderly (Philadelphia, PA, 1981-93)

Julie Billiart House of Studies, Washington, DC, 1993
Villa Julie Residence, Stevenson, MD, 1999 (Volunteer, Tri-Province Develoment Office)
St. Julie Hall, Emmitsburg, MD, 2008
Mount Notre Dame, Cincinnati, OH, 2009


Prepared by Mary Ann Cook, SNDdeN