People talk about the “luck of the Irish,” but it takes a lot more than mere luck to be invited into the esteemed ranks of the Irish American Hall of Fame. In addition to being able to trace your roots back to the Emerald Isle, you also need a long record of noteworthy accomplishments and contributions to American life.
Mercy Home for Boys & Girls was bursting with Irish pride in April when our very own Fr. Scott Donahue, whose ancestors can be traced back to Counties Cork and Kerry, was inducted into the Hall. Located inside Chicago’s Irish American Heritage Center, the Irish American Hall of Fame was created in 2010 to preserve the story of the Irish in America. Its work recognizes and honors the outstanding contributions of Irish Americans to society in the areas of arts and humanities, business and industry, public service, sports, religion, education and science, and to pay tribute to exemplary Americans of Irish heritage who have shaped the Irish-American identity in the United States.
Fr. Donahue entered the Hall in the religion category for his 37-year ministry as a Catholic priest, the majority of which he has spent overseeing the care, therapeutic services, educational support and career preparation for children and teens living at Mercy Home, which was founded in 1887 by Chicago’s first Archbishop, Patrick Feehan, who originally hailed from Tipperary, Ireland.
“I am honored and humbled to have been chosen as just one example of the mark that the Irish have left on this great country,” Fr. Scott said. “But I really want to dedicate this honor on behalf of Mercy Home’s donors and friends who have made so much possible in my own ministry and in the lives of so many children and families over the years. I am deeply grateful.”
Since Fr. Scott began working with the Home in 1990, he has extended our services to more people in need, including families and former residents, than at any time in our history. His advocacy on behalf of children and mental health issues has led him to play significant roles in the Chicago Archdiocese’s violence prevention initiative and in the Kennedy Forum of Illinois, which seeks to combat the stigma of mental illness. Fr. Scott is also an advocate for education. In addition to earning three master’s degrees himself, he established a department within Mercy Home for academic and career preparation for our young men and women, which has led to our high school seniors’ graduation rate of 100 percent year after year, despite coming to Mercy Home three years behind their peers in school on average.
Fr. Scott also promotes the spiritual development of children and professionals. In 2002, for example, he established a faith-based volunteer service program for recent college graduates, known as MercyWorks, for volunteers to work directly with our young people.
A parish priest since 1982, he also served in significant roles in the Chicago Archdiocese, including vice chairman of the Association of Chicago Priests and vocations director. Today, in addition to his leadership of Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, Fr. Donahue serves as the principal celebrant of the televised Sunday Mass at Mercy Home program.
Mark Schmeltzer is a Chicago-based writer who works in non-profit communications.