NEWARK, New Jersey — The late Bishop Charles J. McDonnell, retired auxiliary bishop of Newark, who died Feb. 13 at age 91, is being remembered as a humble man who answered the call to serve God and country.
As a priest, McDonnell was a chaplain in the New Jersey Air National Guard from 1962 to 1965. In 1965, he was commissioned as a U.S. Army chaplain. By the time he retired from active duty in the Army 34 years later, he held the rank of brigadier general and had served as deputy chief of chaplains.
“He was a humble, true man of God,” said retired Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, New Jersey, in his homily at McDonnell’s funeral Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark Feb. 20.
“He had a deep love of God’s people,” said the bishop, who also celebrated the Mass. McDonnell’s motto on his coat of arms, “Lord Jesus, Send Me,” guided his ministry, Bootkoski added.
The late bishop participated in the civil rights movement and even marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. “When he saw the young people in his parish being sent to Vietnam, he enlisted,” Bootkoski said. “He was always there, always kind.”
Following his funeral Mass, McDonnell was entombed in the crypt of the cathedral. Members of the military served as pallbearers at his funeral.
Charles James McDonnell was born July 7, 1928, in the New York borough of Queens. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Newark Archdiocese May 29, 1954. After ordination, he served 11 years as parochial vicar at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Cedar Grove. The last three of those years he served as a chaplain in the New Jersey Air National Guard, then he became an Army chaplain.
In 1983, during his chaplaincy, McDonnell was named a monsignor by St. John Paul II.
In August 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated him for a promotion to the rank of brigadier general, which was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. In November of that year, the Senate appointed him deputy chief of chaplains, where he remained until he retired from active duty with the U.S. Army in 1989.
Upon his retirement from the military, McDonnell was pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Ridgewood until he was appointed vicar general and moderator of the Curia for the Newark Archdiocese in 1991. He was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange in 1993.
On March 15, 1994, McDonnell was appointed auxiliary bishop of Newark by St. John Paul. His episcopal ordination was May 12, 1994. He served as regional bishop for Essex County for one year until he was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Parish in Hackensack.
He then was regional bishop for Bergen County until his retirement in 2004; remaining pastor of Holy Trinity until 2009. He was named state chaplain for the Knights of Columbus in 2004 and served the organization faithfully for many years.
McDonnell’s awards and decorations with the Armed Forces include: the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit (with oak leaf cluster), Soldier’s Medal, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with three oak leaf clusters), Air Medal (with “1” device), Army Commendation Medal (with two oak leaf clusters), Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnamese Campaign Medal (with four campaign stars), U.S. Army Reserve Medal (with hourglass), Army Service Medal and the Parachutist Badge.
Upon hearing the news of McDonnell’s death Feb. 13, Newark Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin said: “Today, this local Church of Newark mourns a truly remarkable individual — someone who not only answered God’s call to serve His church but also answered the call to serve his country.”
Marsicano is editor of New Jersey Catholic, the magazine of the Archdiocese of Newark.
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