Thoughts & Views: ‘Prince of the Church’ recalled

Photos courtesy Richard Donato. The late Bishop Thomas Donato (c.) fl anked by cousins Richard Donato and Joan Donato of Kearny in May 2015.
Photos courtesy Richard Donato.
The late Bishop Thomas Donato (c.) flanked by cousins Richard Donato and
Joan Donato of Kearny in May 2015.

When the Most Rev. Thomas Donato died on Aug. 25 after a short battle with cancer, it signified the end of life for a man who spent more than 50 years of his own life as a Roman Catholic priest.

Of those years, 11 were spent as the bishop and vicar for his native Hudson County.

And while his death was felt everywhere across the four counties [Hudson, Bergen, Union and Essex] of the Archdiocese of Newark and beyond, his loss was certainly felt locally, especially by two of his cousins, Richard and Joan Donato, of Kearny, known locally, also, as the proprietors of Arlington Jewelers.

Richard Donato took time last week to reflect on the life that was his cousin’s.

“Bishop Donato started out in life as a wonderful, loving child in a beautiful family with his five siblings,” Richard said. “He took the road less traveled by most. He took the high road to the priesthood of Jesus Christ. He took the road of a lifetime of service to his Lord, to the Catholic Church and finally, service to all the souls he felt privileged to minister … to give comfort and service to.”

Richard says his cousin was seen my so many as a master priest, a one-of-a-kind, someone only to perhaps be matched, but never surpassed.

“Many have said before, ‘No one has done it better as a priest and bishop than Bishop Tom Donato,’” Richard said. “He served with grace and elegance, with a style and demeanor filled with humility.

“He was truly a prince of a human being and certainly a prince of the church.”

The Most Rev. John Flesey, who was Bishop Donato’s fellow auxiliary bishop, eulogized his friend of 50-plus years on Aug. 31. Flesey’s words were very personal and at times, brought humor to the 1,000-plus mourners gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark for Donato’s Mass of Christian Burial.

Beginning his homily and eulogy, Flesey recalled a particular attribute of Bishop Donato that tended to get under his skin. He expanded on that feeling in these words:

“I knew him for 51 years: one as a seminarian and 50 as a priest. During all that time, whether it was a liturgical event, an ecclesiastical event or just a casual event, Bishop Donato always looked like he had just stepped out of a tailor’s shop.

“Compared to him, I always felt sloppy and inferior no matter how hard I tried. He was an artist at heart.” And he heard reminders of the prelate’s artistry everywhere.

Flesey said that no matter where he went as a bishop himself — whether it was to a confirmation somewhere in the archdiocese or to various other events and gatherings — inevitably, Bishop Donato’s name would come up in conversation with those assembled.

“In the 11 years I served as a bishop, everywhere I went to preside at confirmation or some special event, sooner or later, someone would come up to me and say: ‘How is my friend Bishop Donato?’” Flesey recalled of the late bishop. “This was everywhere I went. If I asked where they knew him from, they might say: ‘I knew him as a young priest in St. John’s in Hillsdale,’ or ‘He’s my pastor now at St. Henry’s in Bayonne.’

“Or, ‘I knew him years ago when he was the pastor of St Vincent de Paul Church.’ It wasn’t simply that they considered him a friend, it’s that he was someone who touched their lives as a priest or a bishop.”

And echoing Bishop Donato’s cousin’s assessment, he added this:

“For over 50 years, as priest and bishop, nobody did it better,” Flesey said. “Thank you, my friend, and farewell, sweet prince — and may the angels guide you on your way.”

While he was bishop and vicar for Hudson County, Donato, at the time of his death, was also serving as pastor of St. Henry’s Church in Bayonne.

Prior to St. Henry’s, Donato also served at several other parishes across the Archdiocese of Newark, including stops at St. Raphael’s, Livingston; St. Paul’s, Ramsey; Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Vincent DePaul, Bayonne; and St. John the Baptist, Hillsdale.

Donato was born in Jersey City on Oct. 1, 1940, one of six children. He was ordained a priest in 1965. He was 75 at the time of his death.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.