By Michelle Johnson
Special to The Texas Catholic
In the more than two decades that John and Dorrie O’Mara have been parishioners at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church of McKinney, they have donated their time and effort to various charitable causes. This year, they will receive the Bishop’s Award for Service to the Church to honor their benevolence.
“One of the more fun aspects of being a pastor is getting to nominate people for the annual Bishop’s Award for Service,” said Father Don Zeiler, pastor of the church. “That is also challenging as St. Gabriel has a tremendous number of amazing volunteers. And you only get to select two people per year! If you’ve met John and Dorrie, you know they both have servant’s hearts, and we are thrilled to present them with this award.”
The O’Maras joined St. Gabriel six months after it was built and immediately got involved. They served as eucharistic ministers and began sponsoring couples in marriage preparation. Married 45 years themselves, they were well-qualified but said they still learned from the couples they sponsored.
“I was on the road for 15 years of my life so when I would come home it was important that we did things together,” John said. “Being marriage sponsors, every session we learned something about marriage and about ourselves.”
After a few years, Dorrie was asked to take over the program. She also volunteered at the Community Health Center in McKinney, ultimately serving there for 20 years. She balanced her time between volunteering and raising two children. Once John retired in 2015, they both stepped up their involvement as a way to do things together. They were able to reach even more couples turning to the church for guidance.
“We have a lot of couples who have gone through annulments or got married outside the church,” John said. “Quarterly, we hold a four-hour session for those couples to reconnect. We include people who have changes in their lives. The diocese has come to us and asked us to train folks at other churches that want to start a similar program.”
Additional ministries to which John contributes his time include leading the quarterly blood drives with Carter Bloodcare, participating in Christ Renews His Parish, and counting weekend collections every Monday morning. He is also a fourth-degree Knight with the Knights of Columbus.
“They are so present, so faithful,” Zeiler said. “Everything they do is with great joy and love. In years past, they have been on my mind for this honor and this was their year. They are almost like staff members. I have to remind myself they’re volunteers.”
Both O’Maras are golfers, so Dorrie leads the Outreach Golf Committee and John heads up fundraising through the church’s annual golf tournament. But perhaps their most meaningful and impactful volunteer activity is with the Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador. Each has traveled to the center several times over the years, bringing supplies and donations.
“The center was started in 1964 by a Catholic priest to get shoeshine boys off the street,” John said. “They provide education; they are an accredited high school and trade school, teaching sewing, crafts, brickwork, and other trades to boys and girls.”
John, 71, and Dorrie, 73, spend their free time visiting their son, daughter, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild. They also go on cruises, visit Europe, and, of course, Ecuador. But they said their volunteering life is what give them the most joy and sense of purpose.
“We are a selfish couple in that we wouldn’t do it unless we felt good about it,” John said. “The way we view it is we’ve been blessed; St. Gabriel is a big part of that. The community is just so giving that we also feel compelled to give. There’s some selfishness there because we do enjoy it and people appreciate it.”
Dorrie agreed. “We enjoy it because we can come back and talk about what we did together. In the sense that we get to do it together, it feels good, we have a connection with something that’s so rewarding.”
Editor’s Note: The annual Bishop’s Award for Service to the Church recognizes the lay men and women whose volunteer efforts are so essential to the parishes in the Diocese of Dallas. This year’s Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. April 2 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.