Tag Archives: dr. timothy o’donnell

Remedy For Restless Hearts

For Timothy T. O’Donnell, the Sacred Heart has been part of his spirituality almost as far back as he can remember. “Devotion to the Heart of Jesus has been with me since my childhood, thanks to the faithful nuns who taught me in Catholic grammar school,” recalls O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia since 1992, and Northern Virginia Chapter Legate. “I remember making the nine First Fridays for the first time in seventh grade. I rode my bike to early morning Mass for nine consecutive First Fridays.” As an adult, O’Donnell learned of the theological richness of the devotion while studying at the Angelicum in Rome. Under his leadership, Christendom College has renewed its consecration to the Sacred Heart annually, and he continues to practice the devotion faithfully himself.

“The devotion has been a great blessing to me in my adult and professional life as it focused on developing and cultivating a deep interior relationship with the Lord Jesus,” O’Donnell said. “His Heart symbolizes His entire interior life and manifests His deep love and desire to be known and to be loved by us in return.”

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which the Church celebrates on the Friday following the second Sunday of Pentecost, falls on June 8 this year.

Origins of the Devotion 

In his book Heart of the Redeemer, O’Donnell recounts the foundations of the devotion.

Early Christians “contemplated the crucified Savior with deep veneration and love,” he writes. Meditating upon the wound in Jesus’ side opened by the soldier’s lance, popular piety turned to his pierced heart, “seen from the very outset” to symbolize Christ’s caring love for every person.

From the first centuries, the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side were understood as symbols of the Eucharist and Baptism. His pierced side inspired parallels with Genesis: Just as Eve was created from Adam’s side, so was the Church created from the side of Christ. The Apostle John reclining at Jesus’ breast, close to his heart, at the Last Supper suggested intimacy with Him. St. Augustine associated Jesus’ heart with His acceptance of His Passion through His merciful love.

Later spiritual writers called the wound in Christ’s side a “fountain of eternal life” from which living waters of divine grace flowed, revealing Christ’s immense love. By the 11th century, the heart of Christ was identified as the source from which these “treasures” emanated.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux frequently homilized about the Savior’s Heart, and prayers and hymns were circulated. Mystics like St. Catherine of Siena and St. Gertrude sought the union of their hearts with Christ’s heart. Gothic art depicted the crucified Christ with blood gushing from His side, often with an angel or saint collecting the blood in a chalice.

The Franciscans and Dominicans, led by St. Bonaventure and St. Albert the Great, developed the connection between the Sacred Heart and the Eucharist, instituted out of Christ’s boundless love. Jesuit thinkers wrote about it; St. John Eudes taught of a mystical unity of the Sacred Heart with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s Visions

In the 17th century, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French Visitation nun, had visions of Jesus. In December 1673, Jesus allowed her to rest her head upon His Heart as St. John the Apostle had done. He asked her to make His great love known throughout the world.

In 1675, Jesus showed Margaret Mary His wounded Heart, saying, “There it is, that Heart so deeply in love with men!” He asked that “a special feast in honor of my Heart” be celebrated annually on the Friday following the Corpus Christi solemnity. Jesus promised to “open my Heart to all who honor me” on that feast by receiving Communion and making a solemn act of reparation for the ingratitude and irreverence many show toward the Eucharist.

Jesus made other requests and promises. In one vision, He asked the faithful to receive Communion frequently and to observe a Holy Hour. In another, He said that anyone who receives Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays will not die unrepentant (see sidebar).

Once Margaret Mary’s visions were publicized, the devotion spread across Europe. Poland was the first nation to obtain papal approval for a feast and liturgy honoring the Sacred Heart in 1765, and requests soon poured in from everywhere. In 1865, Pope Pius IX extended the feast to the universal Church. In 1899, Pope Leo XIII dedicated the world to the Sacred Heart. Popes ever since have encouraged the devotion.

Divine Mercy

St. Faustina Kowalska was a Polish nun deeply devoted to the Sacred Heart. In the 1930s, Jesus appeared to her and revealed His heart filled with divine mercy. This devotion to Divine Mercy, now celebrated with a feast on the Sunday after Easter, has become popular, seemingly overshadowing the Sacred Heart devotion.

But Father James Kubicki, S.J., author of A Heart on Fire, describes Divine Mercy as “not a replacement for the Sacred Heart devotion but a further development in the expression of God’s love.”

The two devotions, he writes, “are inseparable but not identical…. In both we are called to have hearts like the Heart of Jesus – hearts that are merciful in thought, word, and deed.”

O’Donnell agrees. Just as rays of mercy stream from the Heart of Jesus in the familiar Divine Mercy image, “so too does Divine Mercy issue from devotion to the Sacred Heart,” he writes.

Practicing Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Sacred Heart devotion takes many forms. Individuals, families, and communities can be consecrated to the Sacred Heart. Jesus promised to bless homes where His Sacred Heart is displayed and honored, and so the image formally can be “enthroned” in a residence. A daily offering, a litany, and various novenas and prayers invoking the Sacred Heart are at our disposal. First Fridays and Holy Hours are hallmarks of the devotion.

Considering how it enriches his own life, O’Donnell “heartily” recommends this devotion. “Anyone who is interested in deepening his relationship with Our Lord should allow Him to speak ‘heart to heart’ in a conversation of friendship,” he said.

Recalling St. Augustine’s words — “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” — Fr. Kubicki believes the devotion is a pathway to quenching our natural desire for God.

“Only a heart that is infinite, that is capable of endless love, could satisfy the deep longing in every human heart. Only a heart that is human can be approached without fear of being overwhelmed and annihilated,” he writes in his book. “We find this heart in Jesus, the Son of God. We find the answer to our longing in the Sacred Heart.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

Scattered in letters to her spiritual director and others, St. Margaret Mary described various promises Jesus made to her regarding those devoted to his Sacred Heart. These were collected into a list of twelve in the latter 1800s and later published in more than 200 languages. These promises include:

I will give them all the graces necessary for their state of life.

I will establish peace in their families.

I will console them in all their troubles.

They shall find in My Heart an assured refuge during life and especially at the hour of their death.

I will pour abundant blessings on all their undertakings.

Sinners shall find in My Heart the source of an infinite ocean of mercy.

Tepid souls shall become fervent.

Fervent souls shall speedily rise to great perfection.

I will bless the homes where an image of My Heart shall be exposed and honored.

I will give to priests the power of touching the most hardened hearts.

Those who propagate this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart, never to be effaced.

The all-powerful love of My Heart will grant to all those who shall receive Communion on the First Friday of nine consecutive months the grace of final repentance; they shall not die under my displeasure, nor without receiving their Sacraments; My heart shall be their assured refuge at that last hour.

According to Father James Kubicki, S.J., author of A Heart on Fire, such promises constitute “a call to devotion, not superstition.”

“Through sincere devotion to the Heart of Jesus, the promises will be realized in one’s life,” he writes. “They are not magic, but the natural consequence of a life lived in union with the Heart of Jesus.”

Heart of the Redeemer

Timothy T. O’Donnell 
Ignatius Press
356 pages

Has devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus become outdated? This updated and revised edition of the modern classic originally published in 1989 provides a thorough historical and theological study of the Sacred Heart devotion, taking the reader from its scriptural and dogmatic foundations through the 17th-century visions of St. Margaret Mary Alcoque and to the reflections of recent popes. In doing so he makes a convincing case for the relevance and even urgency of devotion to the Sacred Heart. He describes how it is linked to the Eucharist and other forms of piety including the popular Divine Mercy devotion and closes with concrete suggestions for practicing it.

Order: Amazon , Ignatius Press

Rediscovered roots

The New Evangelization is taking root in the picturesque country setting of Donegal — a beautiful part of northwest Ireland where local traditions and Irish culture remain vibrant.

Legate Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College, gathers with students of the 2015 Columcille Institute

Legate Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom
College, gathers with students of the 2015 Columcille Institute

With a commanding view of the Atlantic Ocean, the bay, beaches and windswept hills, a small group of American and Irish college students gather at Ards Friary for three weeks every summer to learn how Catholicism shaped the soul of Ireland — and how they have a role to play in revitalizing the Christian roots of Western Civilization.

“Ireland is a country that, if it were to rediscover its Christian roots and really become fervent, could, within two generations, really turn around and have a profound impact on Europe and the rest of the world,” said Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Va.


O’Donnell, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter, said the St. Columcille Institute exists to form leaders for the New Evangelization. Since Christendom College instituted the program four years ago, dozens of students from Christendom and other American colleges have traveled to Ireland to study the Catholic faith with local Irish college students.

Timothy O’Donnell

Timothy O’Donnell

The students learn about the Catholic sacramental imagination, not only in the classroom but in nature. In the morning, they are attending Mass, classes and Eucharistic adoration, then later in the day they are hiking mountains, taking in scenic ocean views, visiting shrines or having a pint of Guinness in a local pub.

“They get a sense of what Catholic festivity really means, and what the true foundation of friendship is,” O’Donnell said, noting that the great Christian writers G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis used to vacation in Donegal.

“There is a Catholic-Christian pedigree in this area,” O’Donnell said. “It allows the students to get back into contact with the beauty of God’s creation and form really good friendships. So you end up having conversations not only in the classroom, but over meals and when you’re going on hikes and walks together in the evening.”

The St. Columcille Institute is named after a sixth-century missionary evangelist born in County Donegal who founded a number of monasteries in Ireland and on the island of Iona, where he began a great mission to Scotland. Trained in the school of Christian asceticism and monasticism, Columcille was one of the great lights of the early Middle Ages.


The institute grew out of an idea that O’Donnell and other Christendom leaders had been mulling over for several years. In 2012, during a Eucharistic Congress in Dublin where O’Donnell was a featured speaker, many Irish attendees expressed their desire for solid doctrinal teaching and catechesis.

Discerning the movement of the Holy Spirit, O’Donnell said Christendom College decided to launch the St. Columcille Institute in 2012. The program focuses on three areas: apologetics, history and literature.

With apologetics, students learn how to present and defend the Catholic faith. A theology course examines timeless questions surrounding the problem of evil, the historicity of the gospels and the resurrection of Jesus. Students also read papal encyclicals and writings on the New Evangelization.

“The New Evangelization is really the old evangelization, but new in the sense that there are many people in countries where the Gospel has been proclaimed previously who have not been evangelized at all,” O’Donnell explained.

Students also learn the importance of using modern means of communication, such as film, television, social media and the Internet to proclaim the New Evangelization. For example, Vatican Radio’s director of English-language programming teaches workshops for the institute on the art of communication.

Eily Weichert

Eily Weichert

“The whole focus of the apologetics class is learning to defend the faith gently, but strongly, so you can connect with people,” said Eily Weichert, a Christendom alumnus who graduated this past spring. Weichert, 21, attended the St. Columcille Institute in 2015, and said she learned a lot about her Catholic faith.

“The overall message of the program was defending your faith in really subtle ways,” she explained. “It was very moving.”

In addition to apologetics, students also learn Irish history and the incredible contributions that Ireland made to the Catholic Church — particularly from the sixth to ninth centuries. As O’Donnell noted, Pope St. John Paul II taught that a country which doesn’t know its history will have no future.

“We want to give the students a sense of the history, the patrimony, the remarkable story, oftentimes untold, about the role that Ireland had in Western culture and Western civilization,” O’Donnell said.

Closely related to the patrimonial lesson is literature. Students read several short stories and other writings by notable Irish and European authors that raise fundamental questions about the meaning of life, death, marriage, family and what it means to be a good man or good woman.


James Sheehan, a member of Legatus’ Dublin Chapter, presents a leadership talk at the St. Columcille Institute. He tells students the importance of their taking on leadership roles in society.

James Sheehan

James Sheehan

“It’s a dynamic program for young people,” Sheehan said. “Those students I spoke with seemed to be entirely enjoying the experience.”

Weichert said she not only learned a great deal in the classroom, but also from taking nature hikes with her peers and instructors — and while sitting in pubs and conversing with local residents.

“It was gorgeous scenery and the people were very genuine and interested in hearing about you,” she said. “It was a life-changing event for me in many ways.”

Of course, Catholic spiritual formation is woven through the three weeks that the students stay at Ards Friary, which is owned by Franciscan Capuchins and includes more than 200 acres of scenic waterfront countryside.

The program offers morning Eucharistic adoration, followed by breakfast, then classes, daily Mass and a common meal. Some of the local Irish college students who attend the program are not familiar with devotions like Eucharistic adoration, but they quickly learn.

“Everything is done to communicate that the faith should be like the air we breathe,” O’Donnell explained. “It’s not just something we do on Sunday. So you get into the rhythm of regular prayer, and it just flows out of the beauty of God’s creation.”

Christendom may expand the St. Columcille Institute to two summer sessions if interest and demand continue to increase, though he said the program as currently organized is working well.

Said O’Donnell, “We’ll just see where the Holy Spirit wants us to go.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Learn more: Christendom.edu/academics/st-columcille-institute/

Christendom comes of age

Northern Virginia college builds on its faithful past and plans for future growth . . .

cover-sept10When Dr. Timothy O’Donnell visited Christendom College 25 years ago to consider joining the faculty of the fledgling school, he thought he had just arrived at a day camp.

“Where’s the campus?” he asked. “This is the campus,” came the reply.

Back then, Christendom was only eight years old and part of the beginnings of a quiet, but powerful movement to reform Catholic higher education by establishing colleges that were boldly Catholic in identity and faithful to the Church’s Magisterium.

Joyfully Catholic

It was a time when Christendom and other newly founded schools like Magdalen College in Warner, N.H., and Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., “carried the banner for faithful Catholic higher education while most Catholic colleges and universities rapidly secularized,” said Patrick Reilly, president of the Cardinal Newman Society.

Today, Christendom is considered a successful model for authentic Catholic education, Reilly added, along with newer like-minded institutions such as Ave Maria University in Florida and John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego.

Although Christendom lacked the buildings to make it look like a real campus on O’Donnell’s initial visit to the school more than two decades ago, he said there was no shortage of students who were “joyfully Catholic.” Seeing them convinced him to relocate from California to the Front Royal, Va., college.

“I remember going over to Mass, and I saw students kneeling outside the door [of the original chapel] on a concrete slab,” said O’Donnell, a member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter. “I was so impressed. This was like Poland or Ireland in an earlier time. The chapel was packed. The beauty, devotion and reverence captivated me.”

After Mass, O’Donnell said, some of the students remained and continued to pray. When they went outside, they were talking, laughing and joking. “They were normal kids, but they were joyfully Catholic. I realized that if there was hope for the future, it was going to come from places like this where faith was being lived in an authentic way and where faith and reason can interact with one another.”

Campus expansion

In deciding to teach at Christendom, however, O’Donnell had no inkling he would become the college’s third president. Nor did he have any desire to go into administration.

But the ensuing years saw him taking on more responsibility, first as chairman of the theology department and later as a dean overseeing student life. When he was asked to assume the presidency in 1992, he agreed to accept, provided he could continue teaching theology and history — something he still does.

Under his leadership, Christendom has flourished in both its physical plant and enrollment, which now exceeds 400. O’Donnell also oversaw construction of most campus buildings.

Frank O’Reilly is a Christendom grad and member of Legatus’ Northern Virginia Chapter. His company, Petrine Construction, built all Christendom’s structures. O’Reilly said that O’Donnell has been responsible for building the Chapel of Christ the King, St. John the Evangelist Library, and St. Louis the Crusader Gymnasium.

O’Donnell is now planning a comprehensive 20-year master plan involving expansion of the chapel, athletic and fine arts facilities, a three-tiered piazza and two academic buildings.

The first project will be a cruciform Gothic structure enlarging the chapel and doubling the amount of seating. The new marble cornerstone to be used in the expansion has already been blessed by Pope Benedict XVI.

Longer-range aspects of the master plan include a retreat center and a marina on the Shenandoah River, which the campus overlooks.

Although O’Donnell considers development of the campus one of his most significant achievements as president, he said a more personal accomplishment has been starting the school’s study abroad program in Rome. About 80% of Christendom students participate in the program.

“That’s kind of my baby,” he explained. “We’re now in our eighth year of having this and it’s been a life-changing experience for students. I wanted this program because I know what a big impact Rome had on me when I went there to study.”

O’Donnell was the first layman to receive a doctorate in ascetical and mystical theology from Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Angelicum, where he also earned a master’s degree and a licentiate in sacred theology.

He also is pleased that of his nine children, five have graduated from Christendom — and two others are current students.

“Speaking as a parent,” he said, “I have been so happy that my kids have all wanted to go here, have gotten this education, are all successful professionally, and most of all, that they are deeply committed, articulate Catholics who want Christ as the center of their lives. The college has strengthened what we want to do in the home. To me, that is the greatest joy of my life.”

Intelligent leadership

cornerstoneJeffrey Karls, a member of Legatus’ Boston Chapter and president of Magdalen College, said besides O’Donnell’s “very intelligent and personal leadership” of Christendom, “he sets a wonderful example for all of us in that he is the father of a large family — as am I — and we know that the first and primary vocation is that of being a husband and father.”

O’Donnell has done an excellent job of balancing all his roles, making him a wonderful exemplar of Catholic leadership, Karls added.

Bishop David O’Connell, past president of the Catholic University of America, said he has great respect and admiration for O’Donnell and the work he has done at Christendom. “In so many ways, he is a model of fidelity to Christ and the Church,” said Bishop O’Connell of the Trenton, N.J., diocese. “He has made many an outstanding contribution to Catholic higher education.”

The Cardinal Newman Society’s Patrick Reilly credits O’Donnell with giving Christendom “a unique and recognizable branding in the Catholic Community” by hiring excellent liberal arts professors and securing funding for the college to continue its mission without accepting government aid. That unique branding is reflected in the school’s profile as it appears in the Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College: “While some colleges in this Guide may match Christendom’s Catholic commitment, it is unlikely that any exceeds it.

“It would be difficult for Christendom to have a fuller Catholic identity,” the Guide says. “It does truly permeate the campus. All faculty members are Catholic and annually make a profession of faith and take the oath of fidelity before the bishop of Arlington.”

Frank O’Reilly — whose late father Dr. Sean O’Reilly was a founding board and faculty member of Christendom — said O’Donnell has not only taken the college in the direction the founders desired, but has extended it in a way that is on target with the college’s mission and the founders’ intentions.

O’Reilly described O’Donnell as a “unifying figure” with a gift for bringing people together. “He is deeply, theologically sophisticated and intellectually alive in the history and the theology of the Church — and has a great love for the institutional Church and its traditions.”

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.