Father Michael Donahue passed away peacefully after a long illness on May 4, 2017 in Tarija, Bolivia, surrounded by his loved ones.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. August 5 at St. Ann Church in Avon.
Father Michael was born in New Britain on November 17, 1947, son of Muriel and Edward Donahue. He entered La Salette junior seminary in Cheshire at the age of 13. He obtained his degree in philosophy from Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., in 1969. He then received a master's degree in theology in 1972 and in education in 1974, also from Merrimack. He was ordained a La Salette priest.
He was the director of theology seminarians in Washington D.C. from 1975 to 1981. He was a missionary parish priest in Sicuani, Peru, from 1982 to 1986. In 1986, he moved to Tarija, Bolivia, to become a parish priest of San Lorenzo until 1999. He was released from the La Salette order and joined the Diocese of Tarija, serving as the treasurer of the diocese from 1996 until 2002.
Father Michael was the president of the National Special Olympics from 1994 to1997 He was also responsible for developing the Committee for People with Disabilities in Tarija.
His major work from the ‘80s onward was the creation the Friends of Exceptional Children Tarija, known by the Bolivian acronym ANET, which funds five centers in Tarija and three others in Yacuiba, Bermejo and Villamontes. The centers provide surgeries for cleft palate, hare lip, eye problems and osteoporosis. In 2016, 6,148 children and youth received help in Tarija and the surrounding provinces. There is also a group home for "street kids."
Father Michael also was a writer. He wrote a column in the local newspaper in which he addressed the needs of the poor and handicapped. Among other results, his articles influenced the authorities of Tarija to create a new law requiring folic acid in wheat-based products. Lack of folic acid has been linked to fetal deformities.
After retiring, Father Michael taught himself Bolivian Sign Language so that he could communicate with deaf children. He created a group for them so that they could "sing" and pray with the community by signing.
Donations in his memory may be made to the Michael Edward Donahue Trust and will be used only to help maintain and grow the work of ANET. Donations may be sent to his sister, Mary Ellen O'Rourke, at 355 Swallow Circle, Venice, FL 34285.