A restorer of hope

First slide

Deacon Jeb Donelan wants to be a priest because he wants to give God's people a sense of hope, even when all seems lost. This dream he has been working toward for the past six years will become a reality June 11 when he is ordained to the priesthood at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.

Born April 1, 1983, and raised in Warrenton, Donelan, 28, first felt called to the priesthood his senior year at Liberty High School in Bealeton after one of his classmates committed suicide.

"It was hard for (people) to find hope in the midst of such a tragedy," he said in a phone interview recently from the Pontifical North American College (NAC) in Rome, where he was finishing up four years of study. "From that point I really felt called."

Donelan, a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Warrenton, graduated from the University of Virginia (UVA) with a degree in history, then started his formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. Two years later, he moved to Rome.

At UVA, he participated in the campus ministry program, made close friends and felt their support as he continued his discernment.

"It was a good time to grow in the Faith and be nourished," he said, "and really to see God's hand at work in my life."

Several priests played significant roles in Donelan's formation, he said, including Dominican Father Brian M. Mulcahy, a former priest of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Charlottesville, which serves the UVA campus; Father Christopher D. Murphy, now serving at the diocesan mission in Bánica, Dominican Republic; Father Jerome W. Fasano, current pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal; and Father Brian G. Bashista, diocesan vocations director. The example and the counsel of these men kept Donelan stable and focused.

"At key points when I had questions, doubts … they were always there as a good balance to keep me on the right track," he said.

Donelan was ordained a transitional deacon last October in Rome, cheered on by his parents, Kevin and Donna, and one of his three siblings, Jessica. His time studying at the NAC has been "beautiful," he said - "the best four years of my life."

He's especially enjoyed working at the Vatican-operated Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital and at the Centro San Lorenzo youth and evangelization center.

Seeing the burdens that people from all over the world would carry with them to the center inspired Donelan even more to spread the hope of God to others through his ordination. Specifically, he wants to do this by hearing confessions.

"The power of forgiving sins really strikes me as something indescribable," he said. "Everybody carries some kind of burden. To help people to walk with that burden and to realize that happiness and joy is still possible even with whatever sin and whatever pain they carry … is a really great gift and privilege to be able to give to somebody."

Preaching to religious communities has been one of the "highlights" of the last seven months, he said. Through preaching, he not only brings others close to God, but really has to make sure he understands what he believes.

"It challenges you to continue your own journey and not just become complacent," he said.

A couple of weeks before his ordination, Donelan still has to finish a paper, fly back to the United States, see his family and go on retreat. Following his ordination, he will celebrate his first Mass June 12 at St. John.

Then, "a month from now I'll probably be in a parish somewhere getting ready for Sunday Mass," he said. "It's a big shift."

Donelan's ready for it, though - especially for seeing his family and friends on his ordination day. At his diaconate ordination at the Vatican "I saw that excitement and joy in my parents," he said. "I look forward to (experiencing) that with all my family and friends back at home."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2011