By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 16, 2012
Pallbearers escorted the casket bearing the remains of Msgr. Walter Donovan out of All Saints Church to the waiting priests of the Atlanta Archdiocese lined to honor the long-serving former pastor.
Led by Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, the men, wearing white vestments, sang “Salve Regina,” as a prayer for the “pioneer pastor” before the casket and mourners left the Dunwoody church for Arlington Cemetery in Sandy Springs.
Msgr. Donovan “touched the soul of the church in Georgia … and left us blessed that he did,” said Archbishop Gregory in his homily.
Msgr. Donovan, who was 96, died on Sunday, July 22, after serving as a priest for close to 70 years. His funeral was Wednesday, Aug. 1. He was ordained in 1944 for the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta, a time when Catholics in the state numbered an estimated 30,000. The work he started in parishes and schools throughout Georgia leaves a legacy, especially in Athens, where he was pastor of the parish and founding pastor of the school.
Scores of priests, uniformed students in blue and khaki from Msgr. Donovan High School, Athens, and friends and family filled the church Wednesday, Aug. 1, for the funeral.
Readings were from the Book of Wisdom, the first Letter of St. John and the Gospel of St. Matthew. The All Saints Resurrection Choir provided the music.
Joining the Atlanta clergy was Father Daniel Firmin, who serves as the chancellor of the Diocese of Savannah. Msgr. Donovan initially served in the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta before Atlanta became a diocese in 1956 and then an archdiocese in 1962.
Archbishop Gregory called the monsignor a member of the Greatest Generation, a generation of women and men who during the Second World War era performed great acts of courage and selflessly shaped the country after the war.
Msgr. Donovan’s ordination followed the Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day by three weeks and “began a legacy of pastoral service that stretched nearly seven decades,” said the archbishop, who gave the homily during the Mass.
Msgr. Donovan, like many other priests at that time, came from elsewhere to serve in the mission territory of Georgia, joining men from Pennsylvania, New York and Ireland in service to the church.
“He came here with a missionary heart,” said the archbishop. When Msgr. Donovan arrived in Georgia, his task was to find the Catholics scattered across the state, sometimes in the face of hostility and skepticism of people, said Archbishop Gregory.
Msgr. Donovan “dared” to bring the values of the Beatitudes to the people he served, values that continue to confound people, he said.
He started Blessed Sacrament Church, Atlanta; served as the executive director for Catholic Social Services of Metropolitan Atlanta; served as chaplain of the diocesan Inter-Racial Council; and served as pastor of St. Thomas More Church, Decatur, and Good Shepherd Church, Cumming.
Among his accomplishments was a stint in Athens when he served as pastor of St. Joseph Church, during his service from 1948 to 1960. While there he started the first accredited Catholic elementary school in the state. That mutual feeling of respect and love was returned to him from the community when an independent Catholic school was dedicated in 2002 and was named after the beloved pastor.
With his voice welling with emotion, Archbishop Gregory pointed out the students in the crowd and said they were, in effect, grandchildren to Msgr. Donovan.
Archbishop Gregory said Msgr. Donovan was of a generation of priests who expected to “die with his boots on.” Indeed, from 1988 to 2006, he lived and served at Sacred Heart Basilica, Atlanta, after he retired.
“He was, after all, a good teacher of the faith,” said the archbishop.