Daniel Joseph Donohue, a Catholic philanthropist who supported Catholic high schools in low-income areas, backed programs serving the poor and was instrumental in the construction of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, died Dec. 3. He was 95.
Donohue oversaw the donation of millions of dollars to support hospitals, social programs, schools and the L.A. cathedral as president of the Dan Murphy Foundation. He was president and chairman for 40 years.
Donohue also founded the Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museums and the Papal Foundation in Philadelphia.
Centered on Christ
“His entire life was centered on the good of the Church and his love for Christ,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony. “At the very core of his being, he was a great churchman — even though he didn’t become a priest. His whole life was centered around the Church.”
Donohue — or “Sir Daniel,” as he was known across the Los Angeles Archdiocese — was born to Daniel Joseph and Julia (Walter) Donohue on July 30, 1919 in Newark, New Jersey.
After completing his secondary education, Donohue joined the Franciscan Friars of Atonement as a postulant, later studying philosophy at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
When his temporary vows expired, Donohue affiliated himself with the Hospitaller Brothers of Saint John of God at their foundation in Los Angeles, moving to the West Coast in 1940.
In 1947, Donohue took solemn vows as a Brother of Saint John of God. On the advice of family friend Cardinal James Francis A. McIntyre of Los Angeles, he decided to apply to become a priest in the Diocese of San Diego.
He briefly worked for the United States Steel Corporation in their newly-formed psychological screening program before being accepted by the seminary.
Once accepted, Donohue served as a special assistant to San Diego Bishop Charles Francis Buddy. Before long, he was spending more time coordinating events than studying.
Donohue eventually discerned he was not called to priestly ministry and, after moving from San Diego, grew closer to his friend, Bernardine Murphy, whom he’d met in 1940.
On Jan. 16, 1954, the two married, eventually establishing the Dan Murphy Foundation as a charitable trust in 1957. Bernardine’s father, Daniel Murphy, was a prominent California philanthropist and industrialist.
Saint John XXIII conferred the title of “Papal Countess” on Bernardine in recognition of the foundation’s service to the church. It was the only title given to anyone from the United States during his pontificate.
Blessed Paul VI conferred the title of “Gentleman of His Holiness” o nto Daniel. This is the highest award bestowed on a layman in the Church and the first time someone from the United States had received it.
When the countess unexpectedly died in 1968, Donohue gave the family’s Los Angeles home to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
“He was a wonderful extemporaneous speaker,” said Richard Grant, president of the Dan Murphy Foundation. Donohue would regularly visit inner city high schools to speak to students and learn about the needs of the school.
Donohue would encourage the students to make the most out of their education, Grant said. And Donohue always stressed gratitude. He would refer to the Lord’s healing of the 10 lepers — only one came back to give thanks.
Donohue also particularly enjoyed visiting Thomas Aquinas College, which he helped establish, and discussed the works of the great 13th century Dominican friar with the students.
“As president and chairman of the Dan Murphy Foundation, Sir Daniel was principally responsible for the foundation’s generosity to the college,” said Michael F. McLean, president of Thomas Aquinas College.
The foundation supported the college’s scholarship fund and contributed to the construction of many buildings, including St. Bernardine of Siena Library and Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel.
In 1993, the college awarded Donohue its highest honor — the Saint Thomas Aquinas Medallion. McLean said that, were it not for the support of the Donohues and the foundation, the college would not exist.
The mother church
Archbishop John J. Cantwell had considered building a new cathedral for the Church of Los Angeles well before 1950. Cardinal Francis McIntyre, refurbishing St. Vibiana, turned his attention on the need for Catholic education, building schools throughout the archdiocese.
Under Cardinal McIntyre, Donohue and the foundation began supporting lower-income schools, funding more than $1 million in necessary repairs each summer.
But on Jan. 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake took a heavy toll on St. Vibiana.
“Maybe we need to build a new one, not restore the old one,” Cardinal Mahony recalls Donohue saying. “Friends, we need to spread our wings and soar.”
Donohue believed that the new cathedral should reflect the traditions of cathedrals built in the past, but also reflect the Church today.
“Without Daniel’s vision and mission and perseverance, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral wouldn’t exist,” Cardinal Mahony said.
In 1995, Donohue sat down with The Tidings in his downtown Los Angeles office on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
“The Church has been a blessing in my life,” Donohue said, noting particularly the nuns and priests he had as teachers. “I’ve been so blessed to know many bishops and archbishops, many wonderful priests and religious, and many wonderful laypeople who do so much for our Church.”
For many years, Donohue worked closely with the Holy See and with cardinals and bishops around the world. Three Holy Fathers — Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI — honored him as Knight Commander of St. Gregory, Knight Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of Holy Sepulchre, and Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
He is survived by his sister, Rosemary E. Donohue of Santa Barbara, and his nieces, Julia Donohue Schwarts and Rosemary Donohue.
Remembering Sir Daniel
A vigil service and holy rosary will be held at 7 p.m., Dec. 14 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 555 W. Temple St., Los Angeles.
The funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Dec. 16, at the cathedral.
Donations in memory of Sir Daniel Donohue may be made to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for the benefit of the Catholic Community Foundation of Los Angeles, 3424 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010-2241.