Kilian O'Donovan, former director of the John Paul II Bible School, is remembered as a passionate follower of Jesus.

WCR FILE PHOTO

Kilian O'Donovan, former director of the John Paul II Bible School, is remembered as a passionate follower of Jesus.

May 4, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Kilian O'Donovan spent his life serving the Lord and helping others get closer to Jesus. He touched thousands of lives both as leader of the charismatic movement and director of the John Paul II Bible School in Radway.

"He was a very passionate follower of Jesus," recalls O'Donovan's friend and former Bible School student Roger Lamoureux.

More than 1,000 young people graduated from the Bible School in its 25-year stint and most of them are serving in Church ministries across Western Canada and beyond.

"His legacy is getting the Bible school started and changing the lives of countless people," added Lamoureux, currently manager of Universal Church Supplies in Edmonton.

O'Donovan, who died April 18 at age 71, served as director of the school twice for a total of 10 years. He was at the helm in 2009 when the school closed after it lost the support of the bishop of St. Paul.

O'Donovan accepted the decision with humility and obedience, saying "We believe God works through the bishop; he is an apostle."

However, he maintained that the school had done "many wonderful things for youth right across the West."

For one, Bible school students led roughly 1,600 retreats for nearly 100,000 young people during its 25 years of existence.

The school's mission was to offer formation in Christian discipleship through immersion in prayer, the Word of God and community life.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, O'Donovan came to Canada in 1954 at the age of 10. He spent 10 years in the seminary, but when it discerned he didn't have a vocation to the priesthood, he left and became involved in the charismatic renewal, becoming head of the movement in Ontario in the early 1970s.

He married his wife Loretta in 1978 and served as a social worker for teenage boys in Ontario for a number of years. The couple raised two children: Kevin, now 33, and Honour Mary, 29. They also have three grandchildren.

O'Donovan moved his family to Alberta in 1982 to work as a provincial government social worker. Two years later he was hired as the founding director of the Bible school.

"He was an apostle of youth and he was like a father to the students," said Loretta, who assisted O'Donovan at the school.

DYNAMIC SPEAKER

"Kilian was very much an exhorter; he would really exhort the students. He also taught Church history at the school and he was a very eloquent and dynamic speaker."

O'Donovan lived at Madonna House in Combermere, Ont., for six months before he met Loretta and used the spirituality of the apostolate founded by Catherine Doherty to run the school. That meant prayer was central and everybody had to pitch in with the chores.

After serving as director for a few years, O'Donovan and family decided to move on and left Radway. He spent two years at the Way of Holiness Retreat House in Hinton and then returned to Ontario, where he set up a shoe repair shop.

In 2005 he was called back to Radway to serve again as director of the Bible school.

The closure of the school was "a blow" to O'Donovan but he also felt "we had to be obedient to the bishop," Loretta recalled. "He did get over it but it took time. He missed it very much."

O'Donovan never tried to re-start the school because "he knew his time was finished," Loretta said. "He was getting older and he didn't have the energy to put into it anymore."

KINGDOM OF GOD

O'Donovan was a voracious reader, loved gardening and enjoyed socializing. "I remember him as a loving husband and father and as somebody who put his heart and soul into building the kingdom of God," Loretta said.

Former school student Lynn Christini, who was the school's prayer journey coordinator for three years, said O'Donovan had "a sincere desire to serve the Lord and the students."

Christini said the O'Donovans' home was always open for a hearty meal, great companionship, good conversation and prayer.

"He was a very outgoing and warm personality," she said. "Being a world traveler, he was never lost for a story. He was the cream of the crop of a man."