Octogenarian a successful evangelizer in his door-to-door ministry

Robert "Bob" O'Donnell spends much of his time at St. Michael's Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in Hot Springs since an injury sidelined him from door-to-door evangelization.
Robert "Bob" O'Donnell spends much of his time at St. Michael's Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in Hot Springs since an injury sidelined him from door-to-door evangelization.

Hot Springs — Robert "Bob" O’Donnell was looking for something to fill his time after his wife died in 1990.
The retired Mid-America Exchange commodities trader from Chicago developed a simple, but effective evangelization ministry. He said he did the ministry at every parish he attended through the years.
He spent summer months in Illinois and the winter in California, dividing his time between the homes of his children. He spent several weeks in the Hot Springs area in the spring until he eventually moved to the city and started evangelizing for St. John the Baptist Church.
His approach was very simple, requiring no training, no office supplies, no books, not even a telephone. Just lots of shoe leather. Here is what he did.
After checking with his pastor at whatever church he was attending, O’Donnell started taking home 50 to 100 bulletins after Sunday Masses. On a couple of days during the week, he would go door-to-door in neighborhoods near the church, talking to residents and leaving a bulletin with an invitation to attend church if they so chose.
"I say, ’I’m from St. John’s Church on Grand Avenue, and we’re taking a survey in the neighborhood. Is anyone in the household Catholic or baptized Catholic?’ "Most of the time, people say, ’No.’ Then I say, ’Are you going to any church at the present time?’ If they say, ’Yes’ then I thank them and I leave. "If they say, ’No,’ then I give them a bulletin and tell them, ’You are always welcome at St. John’s.’
"If they say they are Catholic, then I ask if they get to Mass on Sunday. If they say ’Yes,’ then I thank them and leave. If they say ’No,’ then I encourage them to come to Mass and get back to the sacraments. I give them a bulletin and maybe a booklet on the Church."
Occasionally, if the resident was Catholic, but not attending church, O’Donnell said he would return later with another bulletin to offer encouragement.
That’s all that’s involved with this ministry; reaching out to strangers and offering them encouragement, he said.
O’Donnell said he knows of at least 43 people that he contacted who either returned to the Church or joined the Church after going through Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
"The work is not hard because the Holy Spirit does all the work," he said.
When asked if he had ever encountered hostility, O’Donnell said, "I probably have talked to thousands of people in the 13 years I did this, and you could count on one hand the number who were unfriendly."
Even those who attended other churches recognized O’Donnell was doing the "Lord’s work" and wished him well, he said.
"Strangely enough, there are people out there waiting to be invited back to church. You’d think they would come on their own, but they don’t," he said.
O’Donnell is now in his 80s and is no longer physically able to go door to door. Now he uses his energy "in prayer and good works." Much of his time is spent at the Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration Chapel in Hot Springs.
A fall resulting in broken bones caused O’Donnell to give up the ministry, but he said he hopes someone else in the Diocese of Little Rock will take it up.
"The first few doors you knock on, you wonder, ’What am I doing?’ But after you talk to a few people, as you go down the street it becomes quite enjoyable," he said.
"People are friendly, you have nice conversations with them and it is pleasant work."
If anyone has questions or would like to talk further with O’Donnell, he said he could be reached at (501) 623-1246.

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