On his first day as vicar general for the Archdiocese of Portland in 2000, Msgr. Dennis O'Donovan accompanied Archbishop John Vlazny to the federal courthouse to take part in mediation over clergy sex abuse.
It was not something he ever imagined doing as a priest. But he knew it was for the good of the victims and the rest of the church, so he repeated the task dutifully for years. He chaired the group that wrote the archdiocese's sex abuse policy and was on a review board to assess abuse claims.
"It was a challenging time. We are a safer, better church at the end," says Msgr. O'Donovan, 72. He retires this week and moves to Arizona to be closer to family. "This brought the issue out more into the open," he says. "I think it helped society as a whole."
As vicar general, Msgr. O'Donovan also helped lead the local church's effort to advocate in the halls of government for the poor and for the church's values. He oversaw Catholic cemeteries and the offices of development and worship.
Before being called in to archdiocesan administration, he was a "very happy pastor," a teacher and a monk.
He attended high school in Des Moines, Iowa and then went on to Conception Seminary in Missouri, St. Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He was ordained for the Benedictines in 1969.
He earned a master's degree in English in 1973 and taught that subject, plus religion, at Mount Michael Benedictine High School in Elkhorn, Neb. He also served as dean of students and treasurer of the abbey and school.
Interested in becoming a parish priest, he was incardinated into the Portland Archdiocese in 1979 and served as associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Albany, pastor of St. Anthony in Forest Grove and pastor of St. Cecilia in Beaverton, one of the largest in the the state. He also served briefly at St. Philip Benizi in Redland before being called into the cabinet by Archbishop Vlazny. Despite his affection for parish work, he assented.
Now, in retirement, Msgr. O'Donovan will get back to parish life somewhat. He is already signed on to help at parishes in the Phoenix area. "I will still do priestly stuff for as long as I'm able," he says.
This week, he and a couple friends will load his books and a few pieces of furniture into a U-Haul for the drive to Phoenix. But he will be back on occasion. He is already committed to a 50th anniversary celebration and may return for priest meetings.
"It has been a very happy and a very fulfilling life," he says. "I just always have felt very much at home here. I feel very blessed. I am thankful for being a priest and all the more for being a priest here."