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Fr Mark O'Donnell

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Mark O’Donnell, the brother of Scotland and Kilmarnock defender Stephen O’Donnell, isn’t what most people imagine when they think of a priest.

 
0_c9691f34-4566-4923-9a9b-1802b41e5e37JP Mark O'Donnell was ordained last year as one of Scotland’s youngest priests (Image: UGC)
When Mark O’Donnell was growing up, it was him and not his football star brother who liked to splash out on designer clothes.

Eight years on, Mark, the brother of Scotland and Kilmarnock defender Stephen O’Donnell, jokes he has traded his fashion labels for a much more toned down wardrobe of just black shirts, black jackets and black trousers – not forgetting his white collar.

Mark, 30, of Wishaw, was ordained last year as one of Scotland’s youngest priests.

With his boy-band looks, love of football and regular trips to his local gym, Mark isn’t what most people imagine when they think of a priest.

But the 6ft 4in former maths teacher hopes his relaxed manner will help break down barriers.

And his football connections are already giving him “street cred” with young worshippers.

Mark said: “When Stephen comes along to my services, it always causes quite a stir among our altar boys and, after the service, he has lots of requests to have his picture taken.

“When he’s not there, I get given Match Attax cards from youngsters in the church, asking me to get him to sign them. I’ve got quite a collection in my office.

“But Stephen’s always very generous with his time.

“He’s a very sensible, grounded guy – very down-to-earth and not into flash clothes or having a big fancy house, which is what people always imagine about footballers.

“Growing up, I would be the one who was buying the fancy clothes, a nice car – I was quite into all the designer labels, especially when I was teaching and had a decent salary.

“Now my wardrobe is a lot simpler – everything’s black.

“Both my brothers, Stephen and my older brother John, just laugh at how things have turned out.”

Mark was 19 years old and studying maths at Glasgow University when he first realised he might want to become
a priest.

 

0__DSC7369JPG.jpg
Mark and other trainee priests at St Peter's in Rome (Image: UGC)ling his family, including his brothers Stephen, 27, and John, 34, and parents Patrick and Mary Jo, wasn’t easy.

He said: “It’s difficult to try to describe how it feels to sense the call of God in your heart.

“I probably wrestled with it for around a year.

“When I told my family, it’s fair to say my parents weren’t over the moon.

“They wanted me to finish my degree, which I did.

“I went on to do a post-graduate in teaching, then worked as a maths teacher at a secondary school for a year.

“Eventually, I realised that answering the call was something I needed to do.”

Mark left Scotland to join the Pontifical Scots College in Rome.

Established in 1616, young Scots have travelled to the Scots College to train to become priests for more than 400 years.

But the challenging seven-year degree course has a drop-out rate of nearly 70 per cent, as the students come to terms with vows of obedience and celibacy and with simplicity of life.

From the 10 students Mark enrolled with at the Scots College, he was the only one in his year group to complete the training and be ordained.

The final year of his studies were captured on film by TV company Solus Productions as part of a captivating hour-long observational documentary Priest School, which will be shown on BBC Scotland on April 19.

Mark admitted he surprised himself by graduating.

 

82362648_2950152845028981_40927027175022
Mark at the baptism of Stephen's son, centre, with other brother John and family (Image: UGC) d: “I think some people go to Rome with a real conviction that becoming a priest is what they absolutely want to do. I didn’t feel thatuntil much later.

“I initially went to try to better understand the calling I had, to live the life I knew I would have to live out
there and see if it would bring contentment.

“I saw myself as dipping my toe in the water, then taking things step by step. It was a slow immersion for me,
which is what I needed and why I think I never felt overwhelmed and why I survived it.”

Mark and his fellow students from the Scots College are filmed meeting Pope Francis and presenting him
with the gift of a bottle of Oban Single Malt whisky.

On being given the bottle, the film-makers from Solus say they captured the Pope telling the trainee priests in Italian: “Ah now… this is the real holy water.”

But they were asked by the Vatican not to broadcast his comments.

Students from the college – who include a former law student, a radio DJ and a Navy Seal – are filmed studying subjects including philosophy and theology.

“They are also seen devoting a fair chunk of their time to a second religion – football. Mark said: “Football was a big part of my life in Scotland, so it was good to take that normality to Rome too.

“In Scotland, I didn’t start playing until I was 15 but went on to play at amateur level and with a graduate team for Glasgow University.

“Stephen plays right back and I play left back, with the joke being that I was normally left back in the changing rooms.

“In Italy, we played on one of the hills of Rome, next to the Vatican, with the pitch overlooking its dome.

“We made it to the final of the Clericus Cup three times but sadly never won.”Mark returned to Scotland in summer last year and was ordained in front of a packed congregation of family and friends in his home parish of St Thomas’s in Wishaw.

He is now the priest for St Joseph’s RC Church, in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, and over the past year has, among his many duties, performed the marriage ceremony of one of his former school friends and the baptism of his brother Stephen’s baby son. Mark said: “My brothers both have children now and my friends are getting married and having children.

“When you think about becoming a priest, obviously you have to think about whether God may have been calling you to do that and of the things that you are giving up.

“I enjoy being an uncle but I’m doing what I want to be doing and I’m much happier and content now than I was before.

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“I’ve had comments from people that I don’t look how they expect a priest to look but I’ve always tried just to be myself.

“I’m the chaplain at a local high school and I’m always happy to give the kids back a bit of banter – nothing untoward or offensive.

“They might see me at the football – I go to watch Stephen’s games when I can. They might see me out at the shops or even at the gym.

“Sometimes it’s the little things that break down barriers.”

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scotland-aces-younger-brother-ditched-21814143

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Mark said: “When Stephen comes along to my services, it always causes quite a stir among our altar boys .....

ffs the Catholic Church has a bad name and this won’t help lol.

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