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Missionary priest led province through transitions

 
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Father Donald Skerry, 1935-2021

Father Donald Skerry SVD, who served as provincial administrator during a time of transition and as director of the World Alive Exhibit, died at Techny on February 3.

For more than 50 years, Father Skerry, 85, helped to lead the Society of the Divine Word in North America through changing times.

Recognizing his academic gifts, Divine Word leadership sent Father Skerry to the Collegio del Verbo Divino in Rome after his ordination in 1962. In 1966, he successfully defended his dissertation, entitled “The Theology of Preaching,” and received his doctorate in Sacred Theology.

When Father Skerry returned to the United States, he undertook assignments in education, formation and administration. Changes initiated by the Second Vatican Council colored the late 1960s and early 1970s; the times ushered in many changes in the Catholic Church, and Father Skerry was in the forefront of updating and giving a new focus to Divine Word education and formation.

From 1966 to 1969, he served as director of studies at St. Mary’s Seminary at Techny. When the Society of the Divine Word joined the academic collaborative of Catholic Theological Union, he and the Divine Word seminarians moved to Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where he served as rector at Divine Word Theologate for five years before being assigned to the faculty of Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa.

In the late 1970s, the Society of the Divine Word began discussing news ways to use the magnificent, large building that was St. Mary’s Seminary and is now Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center. Father Skerry was brought back to Techny to be a part of the renovation process. In addition to being the director of the conference and retreat center, he oversaw the conception of the World Alive Exhibit, which told the story of Divine Word Missionaries bringing social change and the Gospel message to people in economically disenfranchised countries throughout the world.

In 1979, he was appointed vice provincial of what was then the Northern Province based at Techny. When the Northern Province merged with the Eastern Province to form the Chicago Province, he became the provincial administrator. During that time, the Province Center at Techny was built. After five years as provincial administrator, he once again was appointed vice provincial.

In addition to administration and pastoral ministry, Father Skerry was a member of the Marriage Encounter Leadership team and led approximately 200 marriage encounter weekends. He also served as director of Miramar Retreat Center and worked in retreat ministry there.

The youngest of Joseph and Nora (nee Foley) Skerry’s six children, he was born in Brighton, Mass., on March 15, 1935. In 1948, the young Don Skerry followed his older brothers into Divine Word Seminary at Miramar in Duxbury, Mass. He professed religious vows in 1954.

Father Skerry’s parents and four siblings—William and Joseph Skerry, Father James Skerry SVD and Mary Fountaine—predeceased him. He is survived by his brother George Skerry of Ellicott, Md.

Father Skerry’s wake and funeral will take place in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny on Feb. 9. Attendance will be strictly limited because of COVID-19 protocol. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Donald Skerry can be made for the care of elderly and infirmed missionaries and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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