Meeting Father Robert

Since traveling to the Netherlands, I’ve been working on a story about sustainable burials–approaches to leaving the world in the most eco-efficient way. The story is nearing completion, and I’ll be submitting it to an editor who has expressed interest in publishing the piece next week. Fingers crossed.

In the process of researching and composing the story, I came across a long-lost relative who was rumored (among members of my family) to have been buried in a less than conventional way in the early 1970s. Father Robert Donovan, my great-great uncle, was a Benedictine priest who taught English and religion at St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois, and served at parishes in Florida and California, in addition to Illinois.

Benedictines take a vow of poverty, and their funeral rites, I’ve learned, reflect this vow. I’ll leave the details for the article (which I hope I’ll be able to post soon on my blog), but I can say that following the trail of facts about Father Robert’s life and death has been an amazing experience.

Over the course of a few months, I’ve shared long conversations with my dad about his memories of Father Robert. Emails with members of the Donovan clan, people I’ve known all my life but never collaborated with in quite this way. A phone call to the current abbot at St. Bede’s, who knew Father Robert personally and provided some colorful stories about him. An interview with my parish priest, Father Thomas Kelly, who offered a perspective on funeral rites in the Catholic Church in Ireland as well as the United States.

It’s been a journey, and well worth the effort to meet Father Robert.

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