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Monsignor Tim

I’m hardly alone in the profound joy I feel for a much-beloved local priest, Fr. Timothy John O’Donovan. Catholics throughout North Idaho are rejoicing at the recent good news in his behalf coming the Vatican.

Having answered to several names during his long tenure in the area (Fr. O’Donovan, Fr. John, Fr. Malachy John O’Donovan, Fr. Tim, T.J., etc.), the 86-year-old gentle Irish priest, who never forgets a name, now goes by a new title of honor.

On March 1, a Mass at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sandpoint honored his investiture to “Monsignor Timothy John O’Donovan.”

From Pope Benedict XVI comes the declaration: “It is with a willing and kind spirit that we hear the entreaty made to us that we indeed publicly demonstrate toward you our singular benevolence which you well deserve for your contributions to the progress and growth of Catholic faith.”

Msgr. O’Donovan, along with eight other Idaho priests, received word of the distinction in November. The other priests (one posthumously) were conferred their Papal honors February 2 at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise.

As for Msgr. O’Donovan, his parishioners, colleagues among clergy and friends from all faiths are both thrilled and filled with pride for the soft-spoken, loving man who has meant so much to their lives over the years.

More than 700 from several states and parishes gathered at St. Joseph’s as Bishop of the Boise Diocese Most Rev. Michael P. Driscoll read the Pope’s declaration. In his homily, Bishop Driscoll spoke of Lent and its reminder that “we need to serve God in prayer, charity and love.

“I think Timothy John reflects this with his love, charity and concern for others,” he added. “We can walk in the footsteps of Tim... we can say he served God well, he loved us well, he has prayed for us and served as a light to us.”

The Bishop’s words are echoed by those who have worshipped in the parishes served by Monsignor O’Donovan.

Bob Lange has known Msgr. Tim since the early 1970s.

“We first met Fr. Tim when we started coming to Sandpoint to visit Judy’s parents after they retired here... ,” Lange recalls. “We remembered him as the small, soft-spoken, joke-telling priest who made Mass a real celebration. When we moved here in 2003, we were pleasantly surprised to find him still here... and he remembered us. Imagine that!

“What an honor for Fr. Tim and what a blessing for us to have him appointed by the Pope... and, to have him become a Monsignor during his 60th year as a priest makes it all that much more special. Yes, he was ordained December 27, 1949.”

Originally choosing the monastic life of the Franciscan Order in California, Fr. O’Donovan became an assistant pastor, serving in Arizona, California and Washington before moving to North Idaho where he has resided as pastor in parishes at Rathdrum, Post Falls, Spirit Lake, Priest River and the Silver Valley.

Since retiring, he has served Sacred Heart Church in Clark Fork and helped out at Sandpoint, Priest River and Bonners Ferry parishes. Nowadays, even in frail health and with limited eyesight, he says Mass every fourth Saturday at Clark Fork, assists with Penitential rites at Christmas and Easter at St. Joseph’s and often substitutes for Fr. Carlos Perez at St. Ann’s in Bonners Ferry.

In his usual humble manner, Msgr. Tim (as he now prefers to be called) thrusts the pride associated with his new title right back toward his parishioners.

“I felt very unworthy, but I’m proud for St. Joseph’s and for Sacred Heart Parish,” he says. “These parishes have never had a monsignor.”

In the Roman Catholic Church, the title of “monsignor” is an honor designated to priests who have served the church in exemplary fashion.

Ironically, the only other priest ever named monsignor while serving in North Idaho once resided at St. Joseph’s in Sandpoint. Msgr. Patrick Ahern (at St. Joseph’s in the 1940s) was named monsignor while serving St. Alphonsus Parish in Wallace in 1960.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving and Investiture, which included a Knights of Columbus honor guard and the St. Joseph’s Pipe and Drum Corps, Msgr. Tim spoke nostalgically of his Irish parents, reflected upon his years as a priest, especially once he crossed the border into beautiful Idaho. He also told jokes, two at the conclusion of Mass and three during a festive luncheon prepared by Ivano’s Ristorante and St. Joseph’s Altar Society.

Msgr. Tim was first asked if he would be interested in being considered for the title on May 14 when Bishop Driscoll came to St. Joseph’s for Confirmation. It was also the anniversary of his mother’s death.

In a private conference, the Bishop said he had something to say.

“What did I do now?” was Fr. Tim’s first thought. “I was taken aback. He asked me to let him know within a week... I called the chancery office and said ‘yes.’” In November, Fr. Tim received a call from the Bishop, who was in Baltimore for the National Bishops Conference.

“Congratulations, you’re a monsignor,” Bishop Driscoll told him.

As official word of his new title spread, admirers of Msgr. Tim, across the age spectrum and from throughout the region, had no problem supplying words to acknowledge what he has meant to them.

Writing from Missoula, Peggy Miller remembers when her parents, Justin E. and Marj Miller, lived next door to Msgr. Tim in Hope. She often attended Mass in Clark Fork while visiting her parents.

“He would shake everyone’s hand during Mass,” she recalls. “Fr. Tim, as we called him, except for Dad, who often just called him Malachy... ‘Hey, Malachy, got any words today?’

“Fr. Tim would stop and chide Dad about always liking to sit near the pretty women,” Peggy adds. “Fr. Tim has been there for so many for so long. His memories are the memories of the entire valley and shores around Lake Pend Oreille.”

St. Joseph’s parishioner Dawn Kelly, a former Lutheran, appreciates his ability to preach with passion and purpose.

“He always was speaking to me, or at least that is how he made me feel,” she explains. “The joke at the end was always a treat. I feel blessed to have Fr. Tim placed in my path and fortunate that I did not just walk by and not notice. He deserves every kind word that is ever said about him.”

Anyone who’s ever attended Mass with Msgr. Tim can offer universal observations: the master storyteller providing a straightforward message in his sermon, the joke or two at the end of Mass, his uncanny ability to remember first and even second names of anyone he’s met, even if only once and if years before.

Sue Brooks and her husband Dave met Msgr. Tim six years ago.

“He not only remembered our names, but he always asked about family members and how they were doing,” she says. “He has an amazing memory and gift. There is a sense of grace when you are with this very dear man.”

For some parishioners, Msgr. Tim often boasts more than a lifetime of familiarity.

“I’ve known you since you were in your mother’s womb,” he once told Erin McGovern Roos with a twinkle in his eye. The 34-year-old Sandpoint mother of three young boys sees him as a great influence throughout her life.

“He is a gentle and kind man... a great listener,” she says. “Spending time with Fr. Tim has taught me the importance of slowing down and sharing stories and meals with friends and family. All that really matters in life is how well we’ve loved others, and Fr. Tim has loved us all.”

On a personal note, I’m happy to say that Msgr. Tim has presided over several meaningful events for our family. He performed Bill and my wedding ceremony 35 years ago at St. Joseph’s. Twenty-seven years later, again at St. Joseph’s, he teamed up with Presbyterian minister Rev. Dr. Nancy Copeland Payton for our son Willie’s marriage to his wife Debbie.

He also baptized our two children, only after bumping into me at the Post Office parking lot one day, when Willie and Annie were approaching adolescence, asking, “When are you going to get those pagan babies baptized?”

Well, I got the message, and they received the sacrament of Baptism about a week later.

Msgr. Tim has meant so much to us and to countless others. More than anything, he has demonstrated his love through continued kind words, genuine interest and well wishes. When I asked him recently how he’d like to be remembered, his answer was simple but poignant.

“As a friend of everybody, whether they are Catholic or whatever religion,” he said.

Well, Msgr. “Tim,” “John,” “Malachy” or whatever your name is, I’d say you’ve certainly achieved that wish. You’ve been a friend, indeed, and we are proud of you.

Photos: Top: Msgr. Timothy John O’Donovan with Arlene Howell from Careywood and Becky Jensen of Heron, Mont. Approximately 700 parishioners, colleagues and friends honored the newly-named monsignor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sandpoint, Sunday, March 1. Bottom:: Monsignor Timothy John O’Donovan, Most Reverend Michael P. Driscoll, Bishop of the Boise Diocese; and servers Katelyn and Kimberly Scholes during Mass on March 1,  honoring the Papal declaration of the title “monsignor” to O’Donovan, a beloved parish priest in North Idaho since the late 1950s. Photos by Marianne Love.

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Marianne Love Marianne Love is a freelance writer and former English teacher who enjoys telling the stories of her community. She has authored several books, the latest of which is "Lessons With Love."

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