Monsignor Brian Donahue has announced that after Easter, he will return to active duty as a military chaplain. Msgr. Donahue currently serves as one of two Vicars General for the Diocese of Fargo, North Dakota and also as pastor at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Wild Rice and St. Maurice Catholic Church in Kindred.
Born in 1955, Msgr. Donahue attended public and Catholic schools in Fargo, ND, before entering Cardinal Muench Seminary, Fargo, then Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, MD. He was ordained to the priesthood in May 1983, entered the Army National Guard on Feb. 2, 1987, and served in active duty during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2005, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service as battalion chaplain in Iraq.
In 2007, Msgr. Donahue retired from the Army National Guard after 20 years of service, which included serving in active duty during the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was honored May 4, 2007, for his service during an awards ceremony at St. Benedict’s. However, even in retirement, he told his parishioners, “my heart…has never left the military.”
When the commander of the Army unit he had served with in Iraq, the 3-133 Field Artillery unit of the Texas Army National Guard, invited Msgr. Donahue, age 52, to serve as their chaplain again when they return to Iraq this fall, his heart told him to say “yes”. His bishop, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo, consented to his return to active duty and the process of transferring out of Retired Reserve to the Individual Ready Reserve began.
In his announcement to parishioners, Msgr. Donahue said, “I certainly do not take this move lightly. From my perspective, I have the best assignment in the Diocese of Fargo. You are wonderful people. You accepted me after returning from combat and loved me back into life. It is a great honor and privilege to be your pastor. My heart, though, has never left the military. I cannot tell you the number of times I have watched the news and wept as I hear of another wounded or fallen soldier.”
Msgr. Donahue said his desire to serve soldiers began at a young age. “My heartfelt care for soldiers started at the age of 13 when I so closely tracked my three brothers in Vietnam. I knew the map of Vietnam by heart and would place pins where my brothers were last known to be located. I remember feeling, after my brother in the Marines was wounded the second time, that if I ever became a priest I would do my best to be with soldiers during times when they feel most alone.”
Bishop Aquila, in a written statement to priests of the diocese, said, “For his parishioners, his family and for me personally, it will be difficult to see Msgr. Donahue return to active duty. However, as his bishop, it would be even more difficult to deny his return to the military. The unit he served with in Iraq specifically requested his return as they will return to Iraq in the fall. Our soldiers need priests with them, to minister to them and to offer them the sacraments. As I prayed about releasing Msgr. Donahue, I sensed that this is what God is calling him to do. I have peace in the decision and I thank Msgr. Donahue for his willingness to answer God’s call.”
In his announcement, Msgr. Donahue said he does not plan to return to the Diocese of Fargo when he completes his mission in Iraq. “I will petition to remain on active duty and serve soldiers and their families as long as my health allows me to do this. Bishop Aquila also supports this plan. I am very happy about this. I am very, very happy to give my life to American soldiers because they offer their lives for me and for you.”