Remembrance of the Life of Evelyn Donohoo CoL
Loretto Co-member Evelyn Donohoo died Nov. 6 in St. Louis, just three months short of her 100th birthday and in the 29th year of her Loretto life. She made every minute of her life count!
Evelyn was born in St. Louis during the Roaring Twenties. Of her family Evelyn wrote, “My mother gave me unconditional love and support. She taught me to take risks … to be athletic and to dance and act. She was playing volleyball at age 60 and running for the bus at age 70. My mother taught me how to have fun! … My father taught me to help the poor and Blacks and to be political. He was a politician and worked for St. Louis Mayor Ray Tucker. I used to help him with his campaigns, and I found it exciting and stimulating.
“An experience that was indicative of the lifestyle I would follow occurred in the eighth grade. The year was 1937, and I was determined to be the first female president of the class. I had a tough competitor. John was handsome, intelligent and athletic. Everyone loved him. I decided I would campaign for the office, and I gave a speech my dad helped me compose. I did it! …The first female president of the eighth-grade class at Woodward School! I enjoyed the victory.
“My pioneer, Irish grandmother was sanding gliders for the World War II effort at age 70. At the same time, she was helping women who were 10 years younger and traveling miles to her farm in Ashley, Ill., to find out what was being done about school buses for the children. She was a very strong woman and somehow, she financed my education through St. Louis University. She always told me that nobody could ever take that from me. She also managed to give me $300 for my first car because my father and brother had both died [while I was in high school.]”
Evelyn’s earliest acquaintance with the Loretto Community took place at St. Cronan Parish School, which she attended until seventh grade when the family moved to South St. Louis, and she transferred to Woodward School. From there she attended Cleveland High School and then St. Louis University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in social science and history, expanding on the training in social justice and politics which her father had begun with her. In the 1960s she earned a master’s in teaching at Webster University.
Evelyn met and married James Michael Donohoo in 1946. The couple raised seven children, although Evelyn characterized herself as “never very domestic.” She wrote, “I was raised to be a doer, and I guess I raised my children the same way. I have learned a strong sense of responsibility and have become more mature since I married Jim. I expected him to treat me like my mother and grandmother did. He didn’t even try! He expected me to be a mature partner in this marriage, and I grew up fast. I learned that helpful direction is good, and I stopped being sensitive and became responsible for my own happiness. Someone once asked me why I didn’t grow flowers, and I remember saying that my children were my flowers, and I needed to spend all my time nurturing them.”
As the children grew, Evelyn added volunteer activities, which, over decades, included teaching religion to mentally retarded children, and volunteering at the mental hospital with depressed women and at Barnes Hospital with indigent families. She worked with women from abusive environments, conducted self-esteem workshops for the children of hospitalized parents and counseled prisoners on parole.
In 1964 Evelyn reconnected with Loretto, enrolling her eldest daughter Chris at Nerinx Hall — two more daughters would follow — and joined the staff as a teacher of history and social studies. She brought creativity and energy to the Nerinx curriculum and engaged the whole school in the practical work of social justice and politics. She led the Model UN work at Nerinx and chaired the Social Studies Department.
When Evelyn retired in 1992, near the age of 70, she applied to become a co-member of the Loretto Community. Said Evelyn, “I have a need for a community of dedicated and spiritual women who will support my voice when I speak for justice, and I want to support their voices as well. As if by osmosis I have felt their spirit of courage and love.”
Sister Barbara Roche, Nerinx’s president at the time, said of Evelyn, “Evelyn has been a part of Loretto’s spirit and mission at Nerinx Hall. She has exhibited that ‘spirit of courage and trust,’ and a willingness to meet the challenge of bringing education and the Gospel to others as Loretto describes our vocation in I Am the Way. If there is a way to encourage her students to ‘work for justice and act for peace’ or to ‘reach out beyond the boundaries imposed by any differences that tend to separate us,’ to quote two more familiar phrases from I Am the Way, Evelyn is first to put it into action.”
Loretto celebrated the 25th anniversary of Evelyn’s co-membership in 2018. Living then in the skilled nursing section of Delmar Gardens, Evelyn was busy keeping up her commitments to the two most significant parts of her life: her family and the work of justice and peace.
“I am [still] interested in the work and prayer life which focus on human rights and equality for all humans; I’m working especially to save our environment for future generations. … ”My greatest joy is being able to watch all my children achieve and struggle to reach their goals. I feel very fortunate to have all this goodness in my life and at the same time to be surrounded with wonderful little flowers — my grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Evelyn’s joy in living, her willingness to take risks, her desire to protect and improve the earth, her deep spirituality and her love for her family — all this has given life to Loretto. Thank you, Evelyn!
Please keep Evelyn, her family and all who loved her in your prayers. May she rest in peace.