Yesterday’s dedication of the Jack and Rhodora Donahue Plaza at the Oratory of Ave Maria University was yet another milestone in our 10th anniversary year of celebrations.
Jack and Rhodora have been special friends of the University from the time Tom Monaghan first mentioned to them his vision of it – and long before a shovel turned the rich soil of Immokalee tomato fields into what today is the foundation for our beautiful campus. Jack was chairman of the Board of Trustees and has remained a trustee to this very day. Outside of Tom and Marge Monaghan there is no family more responsible for the establishment of Ave Maria than the Donahue family (and daughter Patty Dolan is a trustee, too).
So it was fitting that yesterday, on the grounds where children play behind the Oratory and families come and picnic, that some Donahue family members joined the 12:30 Mass congregants for a brief ceremony where we named the plaza for Jack and Rhodora. Why Jack and Rhodora? Is it because later this month they will have been married for 67 years? Is it because they have 13 children, 84 grandchildren and as of this writing, 78 great grandchildren? Is it because they have done so much for Catholic education and countless other causes of the Church? Yes, all of that and more. The Oratory grounds should be named in their honor because there may be no couple in America that better exemplifies exactly what we hope our Ave Maria graduates become.
On the occasion of his 50th wedding anniversary in 1996, Jack penned a brief card called “Thoughts for a lifetime.” He summarized his points by writing:
Seek Heaven as your primary goal in life.
Seek to know and do the will of God.
Pray so that you keep your faith.
Receive the Eucharist as often as possible.
Love one another.
That summary says everything you need to know about why this sacred ground surrounding the Oratory is now named the Jack and Rhodora Donahue Plaza. For the record, they have strenuously resisted having anything named after them and we did this over their objections (it was the same for the Rhodora J. Donahue Academy for the K-12 students just up the street from the plaza). Tom and I felt it was important that a lasting tribute be publicly displayed in honor of Jack and Rhodora so as to encourage others to follow in their legendary footsteps.
And we intentionally chose to dedicate the plaza on December 8th, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, because they, like Mary, have fearlessly followed the promptings of the Holy Spirit and held nothing back. We will always remember them on this feast because they were present for Ave Maria University at both its conception and inception. And they remain by our side as we begin the second decade of our proud, young history.
Who benefits from Jack and Rhodora’s many acts of kindness? Well, let’s start with the students from Ave Maria University’s honors program pictured below who came to the President’s house for dinner last evening in advance of next week’s final exams (my wife Mary took this photo from the upstairs balcony overseeing our backyard). These wonderful young men and women would not have the manifold opportunities presented in our classrooms, labs and library were it not for what Jack and Rhodora and their family have done for us.
So if you get a chance, stop by and look at the new dedication tablet on the Oratory plaza – and when you do, say a prayer of thanks to God for sending to Tom and all of us such incredible people of faith as Jack and Rhodora Donahue. We are so lucky to have them in our lives!