Noted Irish-American priest and gifted administrator leaves legacy

Father John Donaghey, 1928-2013


Rev. John Donaghey, SVD, 85, chaplain to the Shamrock American Club of Chicago for the past 38 years, died Saturday, Oct. 26, at Techny, Ill.

"John cherished his Irish heritage," said Father James Bergin, SVD, rector of the SVD Epworth (Iowa) Community at Divine Word College. "He maintained strong ties to the Irish Catholic community in the Chicago area—both North Side and South Side alike. Until his health began to decline in 2009, hardly a weekend went by when he did not preside at a wedding or baptism for a family of Irish heritage. For some families, he officiated at the weddings and baptisms of two, and sometimes three, generations."

Margaret Haran, who came to Chicago more than 40 years ago, is the matriarch of one of those families. Southsiders, the Harans did not know many people in the city when they arrived. They were thankful to receive Father Donaghey’s phone number through one of Father Donaghey’s cousins who had married Mr. Haran’s brother in London.

"I was in touch with him [Father Donaghey] right away," Margaret Haran said. "He came that Saturday and just about every Saturday after that. We were so happy to see him."

Father Donaghey baptized eight of the Haran’s 13 children and at least 25 of their 36 grandchildren. He presided over the marriage of six of the children and served as godfather to their son John Paul.

"He loved to eat. I’m not a good cook, but he made me feel like I was," she said in an Irish brogue. "And he never forgot Mother’s Day. He was a wonderful, kind person."

Nor did he forget patients in hospitals. "Anybody who was in the hospital, he’d go to visit—every weekend," said Pat McKenna, past president of the Shamrock American Club, which meets at the Irish American Heritage Center on Chicago’s North Side. "Sometimes, he’d spend his whole weekend at hospitals." In 1992, McKenna’s own son was hospitalized for three weeks. "Father Donaghey visited every morning and spent 30 minutes to an hour with him every day," the Irishman said.

John James Francis Donaghey was born in Charlestown, Mass., on June 2, 1928, the first of Fanny Anne (nee Canney) and Hugh Donaghey’s two sons. His parents had emigrated from Donegal, Ireland, before he was born, but the family kept close ties to their homeland.

The young Donaghey entered the Society of the Divine Word seminary at Miramar in Duxbury, Mass., in 1941 and professed religious vows six years later. In 1954, he was ordained to the priesthood at Techny.

Immediately following ordination, Father Donaghey went to Rome to continue his education. He completed his master’s degree and doctorate in philosophy from the Gregorian University and defended his dissertation summa cum laude.

In 1959, he returned to the United States and taught philosophy and theology as an associate professor at Divine Word Seminary at Techny. He later held faculty and administrative positions at other Divine Word schools in Conesus, N.Y., and Epworth, Iowa.

From 1970 to 1979, Father Donaghey served three terms as provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Northern Province. At the time, the province extended from Montana to Ohio and from the U.S.-Canadian border to Missouri.

In 1980, he became vice president of Academic Affairs at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa. The following year, he moved into the office of college president, a position he held for six years. His leadership is still commemorated through the annual Donaghey Award, which Divine Word College gives in recognition of long standing service to the school.

"John had a great gift for developing administrative practices, policies, guidebooks and handbooks," said Father James Bergin, SVD.

For his religious congregation, Father Donaghey developed the Handbook for SVD Superiors, a detailed 435-page book of procedures for every aspect of religious community administration. The handbook continues to be used worldwide today.

He also produced the 1980 administrative handbook for Fu Jen University in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He even had an impact on the Roman Catholic seminary in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Father Donaghey’s professional experience led Archbishop John Bukovsky, SVD, Vatican ambassador to Federated Russia, to rely on him for the administrative and formation handbook for a major seminary in the Russian city.

In the early 1990s, the Soviet Union had recently disintegrated, the Russian Federation came into being, and the Russian Duma ratified a constitution that took religious freedom into account. "Archbishop Bukovsky knew exactly whom to call when he needed assistance in rebuilding the Roman Catholic seminary and formation programs in the newly emancipated Federated Russia," Father Bergin said.

Not surprisingly, Father Donaghey remained active in retirement. When he moved back to Techny in 1987, he was named special projects director for the province administration at Techny.

Father Donaghey appreciated the importance of family. "He got me home when my mother had a stroke and couldn’t talk," said Father Michael Bonner, SVD, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling, Ill. "He told my dad, ‘I’m going to get you the best medicine possible. I’m going to bring your son home."

Father Bonner was doing missionary work in the Philippines at the time, and Father Donaghey contacted the SVD Generalate in Rome and made arrangements for Father Bonner to return to the United States. The latter remained home through his mother’s three months of therapy. "She lived for another seven and a half years," said Father Bonner, who had known Father Donaghey since their school days. "She was the joy of our lives. Father Donaghey did that [made it possible for me to stay in the United States]."

During Father Donaghey’s career in higher education, he was a member of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Metaphysical Society of America, National Association of Student Personnel Administrators and Charles S. Pierce Society. In addition to English, he spoke Italian and German fluently and could read French.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his younger brother Bernard Donaghey, who also was a Divine Word Missionary.

The wake service for Father Donaghey will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, in the chapel of Divine Word Residence at Techny. His funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Techny.

The Divine Word Residence is located at 1901 Waukegan Rd. at Techny (Northbrook), Ill. The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is located in the Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center at 2001 Waukegan Rd., Techny (Northbrook), Ill. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations for the care of retired missionaries may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

Return to Main Obituaries page