Obituary: Benedictine Father Donald LeMay

Father Donald LeMay died on March 11 in the retirement center at St. John’s Abbey. The monks, family, and friends will celebrate the Eucharist of Christian Burial for Father Donald at 3 p.m. on March 17 in the St. John’s Abbey and University Church. Interment in St. John’s Cemetery following the service.

Father LeMay, the oldest of five children, was born on September 24, 1922 to Edward and Alice (Demers) LeMay of Cloquet, Minnesota. Donald attended the Catholic Grade School of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart graduating in 1936 and then enrolled at Cloquet High School.

After graduating from high school in 1940, Father LeMay decided to work before going on to college and secured a job at the Northwest Paper Company in Cloquet. With the start of World War II, he was notified in 1942 to report to Fort Snelling and was surprised by his classification as a 4-F because of a heart murmur. Donald continued at his office job at Northwest Paper until 1944, when he decided to leave his job and attend St. John’s University. Because of the war, enrollment at St. John’s was small, allowing for students to become acquainted with the Benedictine monks who impressed him with their devotion to prayer and personal interest they took in each student. He recalled that his freshman year in college as one of the happiest years of his life.

As the war continued, military entry standards were relaxed and by the middle of August 1945, Donald was on a troop train bound for Little Rock, Arkansas. He was assigned to Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.

After his discharge from the army, Donald returned to St. John’s and continued studying for his B.A. degree in business and economics, graduating in 1949. From 1950 – 51, he worked for Golden Rule Insurance Company in Lawrenceville, Illinois. He liked his employment but did not feel fulfilled. The local pastor, Father Mannion, a former World War II chaplain who had been badly wounded in the war, inspired him and when he died suddenly in 1951, Donald decided that he would return to St. John’s and begin studying for the priesthood. He entered the novitiate of St. John’s Abbey in 1952, receiving the religious name of Lanfranc, and professed vows as a Benedictine monk on July 11, 1953. After his novitiate, Lanfranc continued his studies for the priesthood and was ordained on June 1, 1957. He resumed his baptismal name of Donald after the Second Vatican Council.

In the summer of 1957 Father Donald studied Gregorian chant with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Purchase, New York.

From 1957 – 61, Father Donald taught Gregorian chant and theology in St. John’s Preparatory School and University. In 1961 he became the first Director of Admissions for St. John’s University. Father Donald recalled “I enjoyed admissions so much, always making a point of trying to remember the name of every student I met and keeping tabs on students after they enrolled.”

In 1974, Father Donald was appointed Director of Planned Giving, beginning his long career in development for the abbey and university. He became widely recognized as the “grandfather of planned giving” in Minnesota. With his many development calls and travels, Father Donald probably distributed more Johnnie Bread to friends and donors than any other monk. From 1981 – 84, Father Donald served as Vice President of St. John’s University Institutional Development and then Director of Planned Giving until 1989. He continued his role as senior stewardship officer of the abbey and university until his retirement in 2002.

Father Donald enjoyed immensely social gatherings of alumni and friends as well as within the monastic community.  He often attracted attention as a versatile piano accompanist at community sing-alongs at times treated also to Father Donald’s famous bread pudding!  Students fondly remember Father Donald on the keyboard and Father Gordon Tavis OSB playing the violin or trumpet on Wednesday nights for many years in the campus pub, Der Keller. Favorite oldies included When you and I were young, Maggie, When Irish Eyes are smiling, and Take me out to the ball game.

At the St. John’s University homecoming in 1999 Father Donald was given the Father Walter Reger Distinguished Alumnus Award. His warmth and personal touch made him an exceptional ambassador of good will to generations of alumni and friends of Saint John’s. Father Donald embodied the sense of hospitality for which St. John’s is known and went out of his way to make guests feel welcome. Even in retirement he stayed busy visiting and keeping in touch with friends of the abbey and university with whom he had become acquainted over his long tenure. Father Donald not only helped people in making planned gifts, he was ever present to them as a generous, loving and affable minister.

He is survived by a brother, Edward, Boston, additional immediate relatives, and the community at Saint John’s Abbey.

Author: The Central Minnesota Catholic

The Central Minnesota Catholic is the magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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