Sister Donna Donovan
Last November Sr. Donna Donovan wrote in a “Nun’s Pocket” blog about a trip by helicopter to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines in June 2016. She said, “I asked God to let me go quickly like my father but that apparently was not the plan.” Well, she had her wish a little more than two years later when she died within a couple of hours of a similar helicopter flight from Ottumwa to Des Moines on Wednesday night, September 12. We can surely hope that her experience that night was similar to what she had said earlier, “During the ride I felt very close to heaven and experienced great peace.”
Donna Lea Donovan was born on June 21, 1941, to James J. and Sally Rush Donovan in Clinton, Iowa. Both parents are deceased. She was an “only child” and they tell me that such children are often very close to their parents. In a thank you note after her mother’s death in 1996, she had written, “…I sure do miss my ‘good buddy’! She was my best friend.”
Donna entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Ottumwa on September 8, 1960. That following summer she received the habit and her name in religion, Sister Mary Vianney. She made vows in 1963. She was one of the largest group of women to enter the congregation. Surviving classmates are Sisters Judith Carrara, Kathleen Hanley, Kathleen Henneberry, Catherine Linnenkamp, Rosalind Restelli, Johanna Rickl, Nancy Schwieters and Penelope Wink.
Sister Donna had graduated from Ottumwa Heights Academy and received an associate degree from Ottumwa Heights College. She received a BA in Biology from Marycrest College. With grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) she got a Master’s degree from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, and had other post-graduate work at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and Iowa State University in Ames.
She taught junior high school science in Des Moines and Fort Madison, Iowa. But she is remembered especially for her many years teaching biology at Assumption High School in Davenport. In May 1988 she was one of the first 25 educators to be recognized as “Outstanding Teachers in Scott County.” She received a brass “golden apple award” at an event at the Adler Theatre. At the time she noted the irony in the award when she stated that, growing up, “I loved to play school but never wanted to be the teacher.” Even back then she said, “Students today are accustomed to more ‘entertainment’ because of TV, videos, etc., so it is a constant challenge to interest them in subject matter and show what application it might have for them personally.” Part of her teaching strategy was having students bring science news clippings from current publications or topics from TV programs to keep the subject matter contemporary.
After 16 years of teaching at Assumption, Sr. Donna returned to Ottumwa to care for her mother. She began her ministry of care-giver through a range of involvements in her home-town. She served for 15 years on the Salvation Army Advisory Board and was a longtime member of the Citizens’ Advisory Board of the Ottumwa Courier. At St. Mary of the Visitation Church she was a choir member and served on the Ministry of Care Committee. She also played the organ at the church when called on.
After the Salvation Army left Ottumwa in 2014, Sr. Donna and several volunteers organized a committee to continue the tradition of serving Thanksgiving dinner to the public. In their second year, they served 720 home deliveries and around 200 dine-in guests. Sr. Donna was quoted then, “We had lots and lots of people working behind the scenes...it’s a wonderful day of the legacy of truly thanks-giving.” In that same year Barb Arland-Fye wrote in The Catholic Messenger about having gone, with her two sons, to the Knights of Columbus Hall in Ottumwa for that very Thanksgiving dinner. Barb and her sons echoed a hearty “Amen” to Donna’s comment.
Sr. Donna herself leaves a legacy as an outstanding teacher, community volunteer, and compassionate friend. I think she can be sure that her conviction that “a teacher’s job is to instill in young people the desire to learn” has borne fruit beyond measure. Ottumwa, especially, is mourning the loss of one of its own. But we celebrate her reunion with her beloved parents, with members of her religious community, and with many other friends to whom she was so special.
Sister Mary Rehmann