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Issue Date:  February 27, 2004

Celebrating two hell-raising priests


Recently, the Chicago archdiocese lost two of its finest priests. It is a vast diocese, peopled by many good priests who keep their eyes focused on heaven. But Bill Hogan and John Donahue preferred to raise hell on earth.

Jean and I first encountered Bill Hogan when we walked into a peace protest in early Vietnam days. Suddenly, we spotted a man with a microphone in his ear and a camera in his hands. He was taking our picture. We got giddy.

But we flattered ourselves. The protester they were after was Bill Hogan, a tall, intense, bearded man who was leading the protest and who likely has an entire drawer at the FBI’s Hoover Building in Washington.

We chatted with Bill as he passed out broadsides protesting the slaughter in Vietnam. We were a trifle nervous about having our picture taken by a trim, suited man with a bulge under his suit coat. However, Bill Hogan seemed overjoyed.

Ordained in 1952, he was a curate at Holy Angels, St. Martin de Porres, St. George and Our Lady of Lourdes -- all in rapid succession, largely because he got under the birettas and beanies of his pastors and bishops.

His classmate, Bill Flaherty, said at Hogan’s funeral that it wasn’t easy being his friend. He made one stretch.

He protested against the nuclear arms race, marched with comedian Dick Gregory and the Rev. Jesse Jackson when it would have been more prudent to lead May processions. He picketed outside Holy Name Cathedral to promote the appointment of black pastors. He reminded others that Catholic parishes in African-American neighborhoods were emptying out, although he showed that, with integration, membership could increase by 300 converts each year.

Bill marched to integrate the city’s beaches. When the Chicago River was dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Hogan dumped red dye to protest a bloody war. He was arrested at a Selective Service Office and taken to prison where he promptly began a hunger strike.

Finally, the dyspeptic cardinal suspended him and ordered him out of the parish rectory.

Some fellow priests took him in. Some time after, the Association of Chicago Priests, an organization of some 500 Chicago priests, petitioned the cardinal, the late John Patrick Cody, and Hogan was reinstated. Further, the association voted to give him its John XXIII Award -- its highest honor.

Of course, the honorary vaccination didn’t take. Bill continued to live with his widowed mother and at a rectory but drove a taxi at night and worked for a peace coalition by day.

Eventually, he faced the issue of celibacy, found it lacking, and married. He became a probation officer.

He died on the last day of 2003 and was waked and buried from St. Bride’s Parish where he had sung in the choir. His best work was done some years ago, but everyone talked about him for days.

John “Juancho” (it means wide) Donahue was ordained a dozen years after Bill Hogan. Assigned to Visitation Parish, a changing parish presided over by a devout racist, Donahue was soon in hot holy water.

Visitation was mixed Latino and African-American. Juancho went to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish and marched with Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1971, he volunteered for the archdiocese’s San Miguelito Mission in Panama where he lived in a squatters community without electricity or water. After eight squatter children died because of unsanitary conditions, he organized a group of women who washed their clothes in a public fountain. He was arrested.

Donahue returned to Chicago and again to Panama. By this time, he had married Icela “Chelin” (“Little Che”) Patino. They would have six children, one of whom died.

By 1990, he was back in Chicago where he was hired as the executive director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

He fought for affordable housing, a living wage, health care, the restoration of single room occupancy hotels and a host of other supports that helped keep the homeless off the park benches, and out of the airports, train stations and bus terminals. In 2003 alone, the coalition provided 10,000 families with shelter.

Donahue did it with style and courage. Perhaps his most audacious act was to dress a colleague like a tree and take him to the City Council meeting with a sign that read something like: “The city plants thousands of trees, but the homeless have nowhere to live.”

John Donahue could be a thorn in the side of institutions. He had a lot more mileage in him when cancer killed him at 64.

His wake and funeral were a riot in slow motion. There were 16 priests on the altar at St. Gertrude’s and more in the congregation.

Bill Hogan and John Donahue asked a lot of society and the church. Most of us could only admire from afar -- and do a little.

Tim Unsworth writes from Chicago and can be reached at

National Catholic Reporter, February 27, 2004

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