ANTIGONISH, NS - A couple that left an indelible mark on arts and culture and their communities – in not only northeastern Nova Scotia, but also globally – was honoured Dec. 2 in Antigonish.
A Celebration of Life, Remembering Jack and Judy O’Donnell, took centre stage for a full house at historic St. Ninian's Cathedral.
The gathering – through stories and songs – included performances from members of the O’Donnell family, Men of the Deeps, Scott MacMillan and Mary Jane Lamond, along with other musical guests, friends, and colleagues.
"It means the world to us," emcee John O'Donnell, the couple's eldest child, said, adding how "humbled" the family was by the turnout for the celebration.
He noted they continue to receive messages from around the world, ones of comfort and reflection, from the likes of L'Arche founder Jean Vanier.
John said the goal, as the family and supporters planned the event, was to reflect the importance of "faith, love and service" in his parents' life journey.
"I was left to fill the most giant shoes on the planet," Stephen Muise, who replaced Jack when he retired as Men of the Deeps' director, said with a laugh.
He added, "To say we are honoured would be an understatement" of the choir's participation in the celebration.
"We are blessed and honoured to remember our beloved Jack," Muise said.
Married for more than 57 years, Jack (Oct. 25) and Judy (Nov. 19) passed away, 25 days apart, earlier this year.
Judy, a 1958 graduate of St. F.X.’s Mount Saint Bernard College, started her career in adoption and foster home services.
In the early 1970s, she helped establish the CAMR (now CACL) in Antigonish, eventually serving as program director.
In 1976, she was a key to forming a board of directors that would establish L’Arche Antigonish.
"It changed the face of Antigonish," John said of the establishment of the local L'Arche community.
He noted the first L'Arche Antigonish meal took place on the same day 39 years ago, Dec. 2, 1979.
Judy helped spearhead the establishment of the Antigonish Creative Dance Association, served on the Antigonish Recreation Commission, and worked with the then Nova Scotia Department of Recreation to establish the Antigonish Town and County Arts and Crafts Association.
She was also a member of St. Ninian’s Cathedral Choir, which also performed during the celebration, and volunteered for years with the Antigonish Community Food Bank.
Jack was professor emeritus and former music chair at his alma mater, St. F.X., where worked for 40 years.
He also served for 50 years as conductor and musical director of the well-known Cape Breton coal miners’ choir, The Men of the Deeps.
Jack was a member of the Order of Canada and received honorary degrees from Cape Breton and St. F.X. universities.
His myriad of honours also included the East Coast Music Association’s Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.
Senator Mary Coyle, as she took the podium, described the evening as "a magnificent celebration of our two friends and neighbours."
"Jack and Judy had an uncanny ability to be the most effortlessly cool people I have ever met," she added, to laughter from the audience.
After a final commendation from Father Donald MacGillivray and the St. Ninian's Cathedral Choir, the Men of the Deeps led everyone in You Raise Me Up.
Donations collected during the celebration will benefit the St. Martha's Regional Hospital Palliative Care Unit.