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Putting his money where his heart is

Joe Donelan ’72 is as candid as he is deeply passionate about his motivation for giving $1.2 million to Holy Cross to establish The Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning. Though Donelan places his decision to make that extraordinarily generous commitment within the simple context of “putting your money where your mouth is,” there is a foundation of personal history, love of family and roots, and desire to see Holy Cross stand out, upon which that decision truly rests.

Donelan, the eldest of eight children, takes pride in his family history. He was named for an uncle, Msgr. Joseph P. Donelan ’34—the oldest of his father’s seven siblings—who dropped out of Boston College High School at 16 to work and help his immigrant parents support the family. At 18 he was able to return and graduate from high school two years later. With a loan from the parish priest, the future monsignor attended Holy Cross and then St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass. Donelan saw that his uncle never forgot where he came from and always remembered who helped him get there as he served in the Archdiocese of Boston until his death.

In 1997, to honor his uncle and the family tradition of giving back, and also to provide resources to create opportunities for others, Donelan endowed the Rev. Msgr. Joseph P. Donelan ’34 Scholarship Fund. The fund was set up to assist students—who are the children of teachers, who are from single-parent homes, or who are children of immigrant parents—attend Holy Cross.

With characteristic candor Donelan explains that this most recent gift comes, in part, because of what he didn’t receive at Holy Cross. He describes what was missing from his own living and learning experience at the College. “At the end of my junior year, having spent the year abroad studying history in Vienna, I returned to the College realizing for the first time how little I knew about the city of Worcester.” He thought it was shameful that he and other students could spend so much time at Holy Cross without having had any meaningful interaction with the city. “Holy Cross and the city operated in their own separate spheres,” Donelan says. He intends his latest act of philanthropy to help fill in the “gaps.”

“When I was at Holy Cross, the College was isolated from the city, and it was a loss for Worcester, for the students, and for the College,” Donelan says. The new Donelan Office for Community-Based Learning, which builds on and enhances the First-Year Program, will combine experiential learning in the Worcester community with rigorous academic classroom activities designed to explore basic philosophical, religious, social and ethical questions. Donelan expects the office will help strengthen the College’s ties with Worcester, while enhancing the curricular offerings for second-year students.

Donelan keenly believes that the best learning is interdisciplinary and “hands-on” and that this mission-centered program will give students an invaluable experience that will distinguish their education from that which they would receive at any of the other elite liberal arts colleges. Holy Cross is the only college within this select group that has a living link to a faith tradition, which makes it unique and gives it an “unfair advantage,” in Donelan’s words. “I want our students to win while doing good things for others.”

Holy Cross President Michael C. McFarland, S.J., says “This is a very important gift for us. It will allow us to integrate better three very successful elements of a Holy Cross education: outstanding academics, with a particular focus on the close working relationship between faculty and students; serious engagement with moral issues; and a highly successful tradition of community service by both students and faculty.” Fr. McFarland explains that community-based learning is particularly successful in enhancing both student learning and moral development, “and for that reason we are especially interested in promoting it here at Holy Cross.”

Donelan takes very seriously his commitment to Holy Cross as a vested member of the Board of Trustees. He shares with the College a vision for making a positive difference in the world. He believes The Donelan Office for Community-Based Learning will make a difference to students and faculty, the Worcester community, and ultimately the communities in which Holy Cross graduates reside and work. To paraphrase him, Joe Donelan is “putting his money where his heart is.”

J. O’C. D.



Joe Donelan ’72

Joe Donelan ’72

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