Fordham University mourns the death of John W. Donohue, S.J. (FCRH ’39), a longtime member of the Fordham community who served as a trustee, professor of history and philosophy in the Graduate School of Education, and as the first dean of Thomas More College.
Father Donohue died on Feb. 17 at Murray-Weigel Hall in the Bronx, N.Y., at age 92. A Mass of Christian Burial was held for Father Donohue on Feb. 22 in the University Church.
“Father Donohue was a Fordham institution,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the University. “He served, and served brilliantly, as a trustee, as the first dean of Thomas More College, and as much-loved faculty member. In his long career he has done as much to shape the character of the University as any single person. Father Donohue will be greatly missed by Fordham, by his Jesuit brothers, and by generations of grateful students.”
Known to friends as “José,” Father Donohue entered the Society of Jesus in 1939. He earned a doctoral degree in education from Yale University and taught for 13 years in GSE before being chosen as the first dean of Fordham’s women’s college, Thomas More, where he served from 1963 to 1966. He received an honorary doctor of letters from Fordham in 1997.
In Fordham’s sesquicentennial oral history project, As I Remember Fordham (FU Press, 1991), Father Donohue lightheartedly recalled his time as dean at Thomas More, saying that he was chosen for his looks rather than his qualifications.
“They chose as the first dean somebody who looked like Cardinal Spellman, and thereby could reassure the parents and project a kind of sound image,” he wrote in the memoir.
Father Donohue worked on the staff of America magazine for 35 years, writing on a wide array of topics that included everything from the lives of the saints to the ethics of stem cell research. He retired as an associate editor in June 2007. James Martin, S.J., culture editor for the magazine, recalled Father Donohue as a “wonderful man, priest, colleague, confessor and Jesuit.
“He was among the best of writers here, always elegant, witty, concise,” wrote Father Martin. “All of us here loved John not so much for his lucid writing, but for him. Unfailingly polite, refreshingly mild, hard-working into his 90s, ever ready with an encouraging word, frequently very, very, very funny . . . and, most of all, to use a simple word, kind.”
Father Donohue also served three terms on the University’s Board of Trustees between 1969 and 1989, and that year was elected trustee emeritus. During his board service, he was chair of the academic affairs committee and was secretary of the board on several occasions.
The author of several books, including St. Thomas Aquinas and Education (Random House, 1968), Father Donohue wrote many articles and editorials for America and other publications.
The burial will be held in the Jesuit Cemetery, in Auriesville, N.Y. Notes of condolence may be sent to Father Donohue’s sister:
Mrs. William J. McCarren
62 Parkview Drive
Bronxville, N.Y. 10708