Father Cecil Donahue, O.S.B. Called To Eternal Life
by Father Jerome Day, O.S.B.'75 & Father Francis McCarty, O.S.B.'10
November 27, 2023
On the nineteenth day of November 2023, our confrere, Father Cecil John Donahue, O.S.B., in the 75th anniversary year of his monastic profession, died at Mount Carmel Nursing Center, Manchester, NH.
Father Cecil was a beloved monk, priest, educator, administrator, and music composer at Saint Anselm Abbey for more than three quarters of a century.
July 2nd, 2023 marked the 75th jubilee of monastic profession for Fr. Cecil and his monastic confrere, the Most Rev. Joseph J. Gerry, O.S.B., retired abbot of Saint Anselm Abbey and bishop of Portland, Maine. Bishop Joseph died early that very day, with Father Cecil living another few months, thus making him the longest serving monk in vows in Saint Anselm history.
The oldest of six children of Charles and Pauline (Strittmatter) Donahue, Father Cecil was born on Nov. 23, 1928, and spent most of his early youth in Hastings, PA, where he was awarded the Ad Altare Dei Award for Catholics, and the Eagle Scout Award of the Boy Scouts of America. As a young man he entered Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. In 1946, at the end of his sophomore year, he was accepted into the novitiate of Saint Vincent Abbey to become a Benedictine monk. Fr. Cecil transferred to Saint Anselm Abbey professing vows in 1948.
Father Cecil was graduated from Saint Anselm College in 1950, and began seminary studies at Saint Anselm, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 22, 1954, by the Most Rev. Hugh Lamb, bishop of Greensburg, PA. The next four years were spent in Rome at the Pontifical University of Sant’ Anselmo, pursuing monastic and theological studies.
Returning to the U.S. in 1958, Father Cecil taught in the college as assistant professor of German and theology until his appointment as director of physical plant operations in 1972. Prior to his appointment as director, he also served for several years as one of the college chaplains, then for several years as assistant dean of students and as a house master in campus dormitories.
Father Cecil was something of a Renaissance man whose activities were legendary, although they were rooted in a wise balance of prayer, worship, study, manual labor and community life according to Saint Benedict’s Holy Rule. For many years, Father Cecil served as the abbey’s choirmaster and cantor, composing music for the monastery’s daily Masses and Divine Office. In addition, he was a member of the abbey’s formation team, teaching novices a survey course on Western monasticism – a course he first offered in 1958. For years, Father Cecil assigned the “labora” for novices and junior monks, always himself participating in the work, despite being more than twice the age of those he supervised.
A member of the Manchester chapter of the American Red Cross, Father Cecil was an active promoter of blood drives on campus and was himself a major donor. He was an indefatigable worker, establishing a nursery and overseeing the planting of trees, flowering bushes and various plants that grace the Saint Anselm campus. His hobbies included stamp collecting, and the building and flying of radio-controlled model airplanes. In addition, for many years, he was involved with the Anselmian Summer Theatre group.
In 1984, Abbot Joseph assigned Fr. Cecil to Woodside Priory in Portola Valley, CA, where for several years he served as treasurer for the monastery and school.
In 1989, Fr. Cecil returned to Rome to serve for two years as secretary to Abbot Primate Viktor Dammertz, O.S.B., head of the world-wide Benedictine order. While in Rome he also served as the monastery’s guest master. Fr. Cecil recalled that during this time he had the great honor of celebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II, now a saint of the Catholic Church.
Upon completion of his Roman assignment and back once more at Saint Anselm, Father Cecil was assigned to the college Office of Campus Ministry and become a Knight of Columbus in order to serve as chaplain to Saint Anselm Council 4875. In 1996, he was appointed financial secretary to the council, then the following year became a Fourth Degree member of the K of C, serving the Bishop Bradley Assembly of the Knights of Columbus in the position of “faithful friar,” and later as assistant chaplain to the New Hampshire State Council.
Father Cecil was also an adviser to the Organization for Life, which promoted the sanctity of human life at every stage of development. He often accompanied students attending the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., to advocate for life and for an end to legalized abortion.
In more recent decades, Father Cecil was known as a powerhouse player on his team in the weekly “Trivia Night” games at the college pub. He was known to use multiple ways of getting around campus, even when he sometimes relied on a wheelchair, which he motorized himself, until a more contemporary and purpose-built motorized chair was provided.
This past July 2, Fr. Cecil and his monastic community marked the 75th anniversary of his profession of vows with selections from music he wrote over many decades.
He leaves a sister, Marie Antoinette (Donahue) Parsons of Medway, MA, and a brother, Denis, and his wife, Barbara (Amico) Donahue, of Phoenix, AZ, as well as many nieces and nephews, and two in-laws, Evelyn Donahue and Gilbert Kirkpatrick. He was pre-deceased by three other members of his immediate family, Lois (Donahue) Byrnes, Ann (Donahue) Kirkpatrick and Patrick Donahue.
The monastic community will receive Fr. Cecil’s body in the Abbey Church at 12 noon on Tuesday, Nov. 28. Visitors will be received until 9 p.m. The following day, Wednesday, Nov. 29, a Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 A.M. in the Abbey Church. Burial will follow in Saint Leander’s Cemetery on the Abbey grounds.