Rev. Donald C. McDonnell
Rev. Donald C. McDonnell, an Alameda native who assisted for many years in his retirement at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Oakland, died Feb. 20 of complications related to pneumonia. He was 88.
Father McDonnell spent most of his priestly life working in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where he was a passionate advocate for the poor who was a counselor to and confidant of Cesar Chavez years before Chavez would launch the farm labor movement in California, and just as intense a champion of right-to-life causes.
Father McDonnell was born Nov. 21, 1923, in Alameda, the son of an Oakland police officer and a homemaker. He was ordained June 13, 1947, by Archbishop John J. Mitty, at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. He lived in Oakland in recent years and from 2004 helped out, often concelebrating Masses, at St. Margaret Mary Church. His funeral Mass was celebrated Feb. 25 at St. Mary's Cathedral.
"The people liked him very much. … He was a very simple, quiet man," said Rev. Stan Zak, pastor at St. Margaret Mary. "He was very talented," Father Zak recalled. Father McDonnell was a pilot, a man who spoke many languages and who wrote poetry. He celebrated his 60th anniversary as a priest in 2007 at St. Margaret Mary.
Father McDonnell spoke Spanish with braceros he ministered to in the then-agricultural Santa Clara Valley, Mandarin with Chinese who changed the demographic around Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Francisco, where he was pastor from 1970 until his retirement in 1989, as well as Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and other languages that he fancied.
Father McDonnell was particularly well known for his work, beginning as a young priest in the 1950s, in the East San Jose barrio of Sal Si Puedes — meaning Escape If You Can, or escape from poverty and suffering — and later for his advocacy on the front lines of anti-abortion campaigns, including his willingness to be arrested for the cause.
Father McDonnell was among the first people arrested at an Operation Rescue demonstration in the Bay Area, in Daly City in the mid-1980s. He was also synonymous with Project Rachel, a post-abortion ministry. "He was dedicated to all aspects of Respect Life — the pastoral, the prayer and the activism," said Mary Ann Schwab, the Project Rachel coordinator at the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Sal Si Puedes was home to Cesar Chavez, and he and Father McDonnell became close friends. Father McDonnell introduced him to Catholic social justice thinking and to the writings of St. Francis and Mahatma Gandhi — who believed that non-violence will bring positive change.
He understood the nexus between the Catholic faith and politics, and he introduced Chavez to an iconic labor leader, Fred Ross Sr., who taught Chavez organizing — concepts he applied in creating the United Farm Workers. Chavez, according to Bardacke, said, "Father McDonnell radically changed my life."
Father McDonnell at the time was in residence at St. Patrick in San Jose, but he spent a great deal of time at what was then Mission Our Lady of Guadalupe in Sal Si Puedes, where on Good Friday he led a candlelight procession, holding forth in his Jeep and directing the event through a bullhorn, recalled Salvador Alvarez, now a deacon in the Diocese of San Jose, who worshiped at the mission as a high school student.
Also in those years, Father McDonnell had radio programs on KSJO and KLOK, reading the New Testament, prayers and hymns and explanations of encyclicals. By 1958, his following was so great that people wanting to hear him preach jostled for space at St. Patrick.
At the request of Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, and responding to an appeal from Rome for priests to serve in Latin America, Father McDonnell was posted in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in 1961, teaching an intensive formation program in Spanish language, culture and history for priests, brothers, sisters and lay volunteers en route to assignments in Latin America. Then he was off to Tokyo to learn Japanese and, in 1964, was sent to Brazil to minister to Japanese immigrants. He remained there through the 1960s, ministering and celebrating Mass in Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Spanish and English.
He returned to the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1970 to begin his assignment at Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Here, he became a force in right-to-life causes, and once spent 30 days in jail in Sunnyvale for blocking a Planned Parenthood entrance.
Contributions in Father McDonnell's name may be made to Project Rachel of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, One Peter Yorke Way, San Francisco 94109.
Brother Raphael Willeke, FSC
Brother Raphael Willeke (George Philipp Willeke), a member of the De La Salle Christian Brothers for 67 years, died on March 12 at Mont La Salle in Napa. He was 85.
He was born in San Francisco, and completed his elementary and high school education in Catholic schools in The City before joining the Christian Brothers as a novice in July 1944. He received the religious habit in December of that same year and pronounced final vows in August 1951 at Mont La Salle.
Brother Willeke, an alumnus of Saint Mary's College in Moraga, began his career as an educator in Los Angeles in 1948. He went on to serve as principal at schools in Bakersfield, Fresno and Pasadena. He also served his community as director of student Brothers (1954-59) and as director of novices (1966-72).
His cousin, Penny De Paoli of San Francisco, survives him.
The funeral Mass was held at St. Apollinaris Church in Napa on March 17. Burial was at the Christian Brothers Cemetery at Mont La Salle.