The Rev. Cecil John Donahue, a beloved monk, priest, educator, administrator, and music composer at Saint Anselm Abbey for more than 75 years, died Sunday morning, 19 November 2023, at Mount Carmel Nursing Center, Manchester, NH.
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. He entered Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. In 1946, having finished 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.
He was graduated from Saint Anselm College in 1950, and began seminary studies, 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. During this period, he served for several years as one of the college chaplains, then several years more as assistant dean of students and as a house master in campus dormitories.
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.
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 and the monastery of San Anselmo to serve for two years as secretary to Abbot Primate Victor 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, Abbot Matthew Leavy, O.S.B., requested that he assist in 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 as “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 the sanctity of life and for an end to legalized abortion.
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. He was preceded in death by his sisters, Lois (Donahue) Byrnes and Ann (Donahue) Kirkpatrick, and brother Patrick Donahue. He also leaves Evelyn Donahue, Barbara Donahue and Gilbert Kirkpatrick, several in-laws, and many nieces and nephews.
The monastic community will receive Father 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 a.m. in the abbey church. Burial will follow in Saint Leander’s Cemetery, on the campus of Saint Anselm College.
To livestream his funeral Mass, please click link https://vimeo.com/event/3913254