Notre Dame College Honors Father Figure for Foster Children, Cleveland Neighborhood

Notre Dame College is honoring a Catholic priest who has raised more than a dozen foster children and helped raise up an inner-urban Cleveland community.

The Rev. James P. “Jim” O’Donnell will receive Notre Dame’s 2017 InnerCitySaints Award during a noon luncheon Thursday, November 16, at the Tudor Arms Double Tree Hotel at University Circle. The annual College award recognizes a secular or religious person or persons who are bringing hope to and transforming challenging situations in the local community.

O’Donnell has ministered by being present, living and serving for more than 40 years, in the near-east side Central neighborhood of Cleveland, where three-fourths of children live in poverty and more than two-thirds of residents live in publicly subsidized housing. O’Donnell has been instrumental in bringing Habitat for Humanity to the community to establish streets with homes and leading volunteer efforts to build a playground, a community garden and a neighborhood park.

The InnerCity Saints ceremony honoring O’Donnell will feature an address by Notre Dame’s Abrahamic Center Distinguished Lecturer for 2017, John Prendergast, an American human rights activist who works on behalf of the poor and marginalized around the globe, particularly in Africa. He is the founding director of the Enough Project and former director for African affairs at the U.S. National Security Council. His most recent book is Unlikely Brothers: Our Story of Adventure, Loss and Redemption, the featured selection to be discussed in the November meeting of the College’s Books that Change the World seminar.

All proceeds from the InnerCity Saints event benefit the College’s Caring Hearts Fund, which provides emergency grants to low-income students facing unforeseen hardships.

A Diocesan priest, O’Donnell co-founded the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist in the Central community with Sr. Maggie Walsh-Conrad, consecrated religious of the Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist. Through the years, they have opened the house, coined Visitation Home, to foster children, raising 15 youth to adulthood. Eileen McIlwee has since joined their community.

Their ministry, in partnership with the Cleveland Catholic Diocese Central City Ministry with the Poor, encompasses presence at the local juvenile detention center, the women's prison, faith and sharing retreats and the Oasis Prayer Center as well as neighborhood visitation and hospitality to those who come to the house.

The Central neighborhood is from East 22nd Street to East 71st Street and from Euclid Avenue to Woodland Avenue. Unemployment in the community is 20 percent, nearly twice the rate for the city of Cleveland and more than three times the rate for the state of Ohio. With regard to education in the area, less than 5 percent of those 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree and pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools in the neighborhood are considered in academic emergency.

Although now formally in retirement, O’Donnell ministers as a chaplain in the Northeast Ohio Pre-release Program for men and women in prisons and as a regular celebrant at St. Coleman, St. Malachi and St. Patrick churches.

In addition to his years of service as a parish priest, O’Donnell spent time in India working alongside Saint Mother Teresa and with world renowned French philosopher and spiritual leader Jean Vanier, the Founder of L’Arche Communities. O’Donnell established the first of four L’Arche homes in Cleveland for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities living interdependently with individuals who are not impaired.

Ordained in 1965, O’Donnell’s work prior to his ministry in the Central neighborhood also involved transforming the Catholic Youth Organization into a volunteer program engaging young people in service projects as well as athletics.

Seating for Notre Dame’s InnerCity Saints Award ceremony is limited. In addition to individual tickets and packages for four, tables of up to 10 and sponsorships are available. Reservations are required by Monday, November 13. Contact Ann Coakley, executive director of College advancement, at 216.373.6532 or

October 2017

About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

Notre Dame College is located at 4545 College Road in South Euclid. For further information contact Brian Johnston, chief communications officer, at 216.373.5252 or



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