Biographies

Father Gerard A. Donovan, MM

Born: October 14, 1904
Ordained: June 17, 1928
Died: February 11, 1938 (Body found)

Born in 1904 in McKeesport, Pennslyvania. Gerard Donovan was one of three brothers to come to Maryknoll. Joseph preceded him, while Thomas was to follow. Gerard entered the Venard in 1917 immediately after completing parochial school.

He was ordained June 17, 1928 and, much to his joy, he was assigned to the new and difficult mission of Wuchow, South China. However, he was not to realize this opportunity for, while he was preaching on Promotion in a Brooklyn church, he became ill and was hospitalized for treatment. Upon his recovery he was assigned to the Venard where he taught Latin and Mathematics as also the duties of procuration.

The assignments in the spring of 1931 brought joy to Father Jerry, for once more he was mission bound but this time his destination was Fushun, Manchuria. Here, as in the seminary and at the Venard, his good humor and love of a pun brought a light spirit and a frequent laugh into the routine of mission life.

On the evening of October 15, 1937, Father Jerry was in the sanctuary of his parish church leading the Rosary when a stranger entered with a sheet of paper in his hand. Father Jerry led him into the sacristy where the server, Francis Liu, a 17 year old seminarian was lighting charcoal for Benediction. Then the stranger drew a revolver and forced both Father and Francis out into the yard where another bandit was waiting. A short distance farther on the two were joined by three more. Into the darkness and cold went Father Jerry and Francis, the priest clothed only in cassock and surplice, and the boy in only a cassock, having been ordered to remove his surplice. The Japanese officials, the Chinese people, and the American Consul made every effort to bring about the release of Father. After a time, Francis was let go in order to bring a note demanding fifty thousand dollars ransom. In line with the general policy of refusing to pay ransom for missioners kidnapped by bandits, this demand had to be rejected.

The frigid winter months of Manchuria went by with only unfounded rumors of his presence among the bandits until on February 11, 1938, the frozen remains of the dead missioner were found about a mile and a half from the town of Huai-Jen. A bruise over the right temple suggested that he might have been killed by a blunt instrument, after which he was strangled. The body showed tooth marks of animals. The feet, without shoes, were in such bad shape that it was obvious he could no longer walk. This was very probably the reason the bandits dispatched him. When found, the body was frozen hard as stone, making it difficult for the medical examiner to determine how long Father had been dead. However, he was quite certain that the end had come some time in January.

The body was being prepared for burial at Fushun when Maryknoll cabled instructions to return the remains of Father Jerry to the Motherhouse for burial.

At Fushun a Pontifical Mass of Requiem was celebrated in the presence of government officials as well as the American Consulate. Members of the Protestant community were present to offer their tribute. St. Joseph’s Church was too small for the Christians and non-Christians who sought entrance. Monsignor Lane preached the eulogy in Chinese and Japanese. Father Thomas Donovan was unable to reach Manchuria in time for the funeral but arrived in Japan to salute his brother’s remains and to watch for some hours at the bier in the cabin of the oceanliner. Father Joseph, Jerry’s eldest brother met the body in the States. The interment took place on May 2nd at Maryknoll, N.Y.