Fr. Donald McDonnell, longtime friend of Cesar Chavez, dies

Funeral Mass was held Feb. 25 at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco for Father Donald Charles McDonnell, 88, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco who died Feb. 20 of complications related to pneumonia. 

Father McDonnell was a longtime friend and associate of Cesar Chavez, the late UFW founder, who credited the priest with introducing him to the social justice teachings of the Catholic Church and the idea that non-violence could be an active force for positive change.

Born in Alameda, he was ordained by Archbishop John J. Mitty at St. Mary’s Cathedral on June 14, 1947. After initially serving a couple of years at St. Joseph Church in Mountain View, by 1950 he was assigned to serve the Spanish-speaking people of Santa Clara County. 

In 1951, Father McDonnell began his residence at St. Patrick Church in San Jose, and, in 1952, was appointed archdiocesan director of the Catholic Rural Life Conference. Two years later, he was actively engaged with the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese populations of the Bay Area and participated in a number of panel discussions on the effects of unemployment on seasonal farm workers, under the auspices of the California Conference of Social Workers.

In his extensive ministry to Mexican workers, Father McDonnell met Cesar Chavez when they both were in their early- to mid-20s, and they became close friends. According to Paul F. Chavez, Cesar Chavez’ middle son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, his father often spoke about how much Father McDonnell influenced him during his early years, before he became a community organizer in 1952 and long before he started building the United Farm Workers in 1962.

Cardinal Roger Mahony recalled his days as a seminarian, when “it was my privilege to serve with Father McDonnell one summer in Santa Clara County, where he inspired me with his love for the migrant workers who came to that part of California each year to work in the various harvests.”

“During that summer,” the cardinal noted, “my heart and soul were converted to the work of service to our migrant brothers and sisters, and since then, my life and ministry have been focused upon them.”

In the 1960s, Father McDonnell ministered in Mexico, Japan and South America, where he piloted a plane over Brazil’s vast wildernesses and in and out of its cities, celebrating Mass in Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Spanish and English. In 1970, he returned to the Archdiocese of San Francisco as pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where he served until his retirement in 1989. 

Most recently, he lived with family in the Diocese of Oakland, helping at St. Margaret Mary Church. Ardently pro-life, Father McDonnell prayed the rosary daily for the unborn. 

“He was a priest of generous and hope-filled heart,” said L.A. Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson, auxiliary bishop for the San Fernando pastoral region and president of the California Catholic Conference in a statement on behalf of the California bishops.

Sr. Dolores Pardini, SNDdeN

A Memorial Mass was held Feb. 3 at Nativity Church in Los Angeles for Sister of Notre Dame de Namur Dolores Marie Pardini, who died peacefully Jan. 28 at St. Columbkille Convent surrounded by family members and her Notre Dame community. Considered by many as the compassionate “Grandmother” of Nativity and St. Columbkille parishes, she served the twinned parishes for 28 years.

A graduate of Notre Dame High School, San Jose, and College of Notre Dame, Belmont, she entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1960. She later received an advanced degree in Spanish from Stanford. In 2010, she was honored for her significant contributions “to the spiritual enrichment of the lives of African-American Catholics.”

Anyone who needed assistance with food, housing, medical help or immigration issues found a friend and advocate in Sister Pardini. “She brought Christ to the neighborhood,” said Msgr. Timothy Dyer, pastor. During her last days, a steady stream of parishioners and friends came to her bedside to thank her, pray for her and ask her blessing. 

Family survivors include Maryknoll Sister Daniel Joseph (Loretta) Pardini, Daniel Pardini, Richard (Sharon) Pardini and Loreene Giansiracusa. Burial was at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Province Center, 1520 Ralston Ave., Belmont, CA 94002 or at