Missionary priest Donald Ehr excelled in African-American ministry

Father Donald Ehr, 1928-2016

Ehr,_DonDivine Word Father Donald Ehr, 87, a beloved parish priest in African-American parishes in Chicago, died on Friday, August 19, at Techny, Ill.

"He was a mentor for my work in the Black community here in the Southside when I arrived at Holy Angels in 1995, teaching me so much by example and spoken wisdom," said Father Robert Miller, pastor of St. Dorothy parish on the city’s Southside. "He helped me begin Genesis Housing Corporation, and he was an anchor and rock in Genesis for at least 10 to 15 years until recently."

Father Ehr was a charter member of the Board of Directors for Genesis Housing Corporation, an affordable housing initiative in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. Founded in 1996, Genesis is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-approved housing counseling agency that has served more than 1,000 clients and saved more than 100 homes.

Father Ehr saw the need for affordable housing in Chicago when he served the city’s two oldest African-American parishes. He became pastor of St. Elizabeth in 1984 and remained until 2000 when he turned 72. Not ready for retirement, Father Ehr served as a priest-in-residence at St. Anselm until the week before his passing.

Donald Ehr was born in 1928 in Jesup, Iowa, the eldest of Irvin and Marie (nee Staebell) Ehr’s six children. In 1943 at age 14, he entered the Divine Word high school seminary at East Troy, Wis. He professed religious vows in 1948 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1955.

Recognizing his academic abilities, his superiors sent him to Rome to complete a doctorate in systematic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University. When he returned to the United States in 1960, he served as professor of dogma at St. Mary Seminary in Techny, Ill.

In 1968, he was elected provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word’s Eastern Province and served three consecutive three-year terms. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Father Ehr was rector of Divine Word Seminary in Washington, D.C. and Bordentown, N.J., while also working as a hospital chaplain.

In 1982, he was assigned to Our Lady of Divine Shepherd parish in Trenton, N.J., before moving to Chicago’s St. Elizabeth parish two years later.

In addition to his many assignments through the Society of the Divine Word, Father Ehr also was chairperson for the United States Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) Liaison Committee and served as CMSM’s liaison with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

He is survived by three brothers, Ronald, Irvin and Francis Ehr, and two sisters, Mary Vogel and Marlene Chaudoir.

A viewing and funeral Mass took place at the Divine Word Residence at Techny on Aug. 24. A second viewing and funeral Mass will be held at St. Elizabeth Church on Friday, Aug. 26. The viewing will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by the 6:30 p.m. Mass. St. Elizabeth is located at 50 E. 41st St., Chicago, Ill.

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