Jerome A Donnelly, OFM
1914 – 2003
Jerome A. Donnelly, OFM, was born in Cortland, N.Y., on April 19, 1914. He studied at St. Bonaventure College in Allegany, N.Y., from 1931 to 1934.
He was received into the Province’s novitiate in 1934 and made his first vows at St. Bonaventure Friary in Paterson, N.J., a year later. Fr. John professed solemn vows in 1938 at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. In 1939, he was ordained a priest at the Immaculate Conception Shrine in Washington.
Fr. Jerome’s first assignment was to St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City. He then served as assistant formation director at Holy Name College for three years. In preparation for his assignment as a missionary in China, he began to study the Chinese language at Yale University, and in 1946, Fr. Jerome went to Shasi, China. His five years there were spent dodging communists and caring for his Christian community.
Despite being confined to a one-room jail with some 30 others and brainwashed on a regular basis, Fr. Jerome never spoke ill of his communist captors. He never talked about his ordeals or his sufferings, and yet tears would fill his eyes when he recalled some of his nightmares. In July 1951, he was released from jail after a six-month term, and he finally made his way to Hong Kong on Dec. 12 of that year.
Fr. Jerome returned to the Province and was sent to Holy Name College in Washington, D.C., where he served as procurator for three years. In 1955, he joined five other friars to began his second missionary adventure in the Far East. He spent a total of 50 years of his life as a missionary, serving in Japan for 45 years in a variety of ministries. Fr. Jerome worked in parishes of Gumma Prefecture and was loved by the people because of his humor, common touch, earthiness and evident faith. He was elected superior regular of the Japanese mission by the friars. He served with genuine humility and common sense.
In 1976, Fr. Jerome was asked to serve as chaplain to St. Mary’s International Hospital in Tokyo, a role he filled dedication and devotion for 24 years. He loved caring for his patients, and he loved the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who staffed the hospital.
Ill health forced Fr. Jerome to return to the Province and retire in December 2000 — almost 49 years to the day of his expulsion from China in 1951. In 2003, he left St. Anthony’s Friary in Butler, N.J., for Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J.
He died Sept. 7, 2003 in Ringwood. Fr. Jerome was 89 years old, a professed friar for 68 years and a priest for 64 years. As the last living missionary of the 35 Holy Name Province friars who served in Shasi, his death marked the end of an era.