Meet the Chaplain: Fr. Bill Donovan – Philadelphia Chapter
For the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia a little more than a year ago, Fr. Bill Donovan, 57, was America’s “Man in Rome.” He served as Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s personal representative at the Vatican for two years as he helped plan the international gathering. Father Donovan returned stateside earlier this year and was named pastor of St. Agnes Church, a historic parish in West Chester, Pa., founded in 1793, when George Washington was president of the United States.
A former accountant who discerned a priestly vocation, Fr. Donovan says he’s enjoying life as a parish priest. He spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.
What was your role for the World Meeting of Families?
My title was the Liaison of the Archbishop of Philadelphia to the Vatican. Basically, my work was to be his representative at various committees and offices that were involved in the planning, whether it was the papal household, the Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican security or the Vatican press office.
It was a wonderful opportunity to get to meet some of the highest-ranking people in the Church and to represent the archbishop’s ideas to them — and to take back information to the archbishop. It was also a privilege because I was in the company of the Holy Father maybe 40 times. That was a great joy.
You went from a job in accounting to the priesthood. How did that happen?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a priest. I went through a Catholic grade school, an all-boys Catholic high school. Then I went on a full academic scholarship to the local Jesuit college. I double-majored in philosophy and accounting. The call was always there. Some people date for six months and they’re ready to marry, and others date six years and they’re ready. I thought maybe the life of a priest would be lonely, but in time I came to realize that you’re gonna have a very joyful life as a priest. It doesn’t have to be lonely.
How are you enjoying your current assignment as a parish priest?
Being in a parish is a chance to live out my priesthood in a very concrete way. I like the variety of the parish, from the children in the school and baptisms to preparing young couples for weddings, being present to middle-aged people, and then caring for the sick and elderly and dying.
Not only does St. Agnes have a storied history, but it’s also one of the largest parishes in the archdiocese with over 10,000 parishioners. We have a big school, a huge social service program. We serve 12,000 free breakfasts and 18,000 free lunches every day.
It’s a very fascinating parish, with a whole different variety of socio-economic people. Within the parish territory, over 1,000 children come to the campus for formation every week, and then we have responsibilities for a prison, a cemetery, a hospital, four nursing homes and two hospices.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading and getting together with family and friends. I like art and to visit museums. That’s about it. These last few years, I’ve had little free time.
How would you describe your experience with Legatus?
I’ve had an affiliation with Legatus for about four years now. I think it’s a really wonderful opportunity for people to get together, to share their experiences about trying to live out the faith, not only in their family, but also in their business and work environment. I think that’s a significant contribution Legatus can make in a very practical way. It’s necessary in an increasingly secular society.
BRIAN FRAGA is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.