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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chaplain, Bronze Star winner, heads to West Point

From Grand Forks Herald.com
By Stephen J. Lee

The North Dakota Catholic priest, who won a Bronze Star as a chaplain in Iraq and who resigned this year from parish ministry to go back to the war, reported Wednesday for duty as chaplain at West Point, the Army’s elite academy in New York.

Monsignor Brian Donahue was set to return to Iraq with a Texas National Guard unit this fall, a unit he had served with in 2005 when he earned the Bronze Star.

But Army authorities decided recently to send him to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.

Meanwhile, his clothing, chaplain supplies and personal effects are on a ship headed to Iraq, a news release from the Catholic Diocese of Fargo said.

Donahue already had been stationed in Texas with the 3-133rd Field Artillery Unit this summer when he learned the Army was assigning him to West Point.

He was saddened he wouldn’t remain with the troops he got to know well, Donahue said in the news release.

“I pray for them every day.”

Donahue, a former Grand Forks priest, grew up in Fargo, and as a teenager kept track of three of his brothers serving in combat in the Vietnam War.

He graduated from South High School in 1973 and after a stint as a television cameraman, studied for the priesthood and was ordained in 1983.

He retired last year as a major after 20 years as a chaplain with the North Dakota National Guard. He also recently became a monsignor, a rank of honor among priests, and was serving as vicar general of the Fargo diocese, a key lieutenant of Bishop Samuel Aquila.

Aquila gave him permission to follow his latest calling, to serve full time as a military chaplain with troops in harm’s way in Iraq. He had served on active duty during the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and in 2005 in Iraq. During the past year as a parish priest near Fargo, Donahue said he felt called to go back to Iraq, realizing his heart “has never left the military,” he told his parishioners last spring.

But this summer in Texas, Donahue said it became clear the complications of getting him unretired and back into the correct channels to head to Iraq with the Texas Guard unit would have taken too long and the unit would be returning by the time he got over there.

“At that point, I had to make a decision. And realizing that the very reason I was in Texas was slipping out of my hands, we made a decision to just start the process for (joining) the active Army.”

So, his assignment was changed to West Point, where he’s on temporary active duty until his transition back into the regular Army is completed.

“When they first told me, I was in shock. It is quite an honor to be assigned to West Point. I am really looking forward to getting settled and getting to work.”

He arrived at West Point on Wednesday morning and had a full day of duties, including waiting for his clothes, chaplain supplies and personal belongings to be returned. It will take several months to get them back, so he had to go out and buy stuff, he said.

For now, he’s temporarily in the Army Reserves, on a one-year assignment to West Point, on active duty starting today.

He will be working with a regiment of cadets, one of many chaplains of all denominations at West Point, he said.

Today, Donahue will say Mass in the Catholic chapel on campus.

Before he left Fargo for West Point this month, he looked up all the cadets from North Dakota.

“There are about 10,” he said. “I e-mailed all of them and told them I was coming.”

One is the son of a fellow chaplain of Donahue, the Rev. John Flowers, a Baptist pastor and chaplain with the North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo.

“His son is in his final year here, so I will get to meet him,” Donahue said Wednesday evening by telephone from West Point.

Being at the hallowed site that traces its history to the American Revolution and where generals such as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, “Black Jack” Pershing and Douglas MacArthur started out as cadets, is a kick, Donahue said.

“It’s amazing. I was looking out over the grounds today and it seems like a dream.”

1 comment:

Terry said...

My son is in his first year at West Point and active in the Catholic community on post. I am so happy that he has guidance from priests as dedicated and enthusiastic as Monsignor Donahue seems to be.
God bless the chaplains and cadets!
Terry Fernandes (Maryland)