The Duquesne University community mourns the passing of Rhodora J. Donahue this week at the age of 97.

Rhodora was a remarkable woman of deep faith and selfless service, the matriarch of a family whose name is synonymous with philanthropy and whose impact in Pittsburgh and beyond is immeasurable.

A Pittsburgh native, daughter of a Duquesne alumnus (William Jacob, L’19), and 1947 graduate of Mount Mercy College (now Carlow University), Rhodora married West Point graduate and Air Force veteran John F. “Jack” Donahue that same year, forging a bond that endured for 70 years until Jack’s passing in 2017. Jack built one of the world’s preeminent financial companies—Federated Investors. Starting at their kitchen table, the firm now called Federated Hermes manages nearly $650 billion in assets for clients around the globe.

Together, Rhodora and Jack raised 13 children, and her approach to family life was decidedly traditional. She cooked every meal for each of their children, every day, as they were growing up. As the years passed, she famously sent handwritten notes on birthdays, holidays and other special occasions to her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who eventually numbered well over 100.

Her habit of handwritten notes extended well beyond the confines of the clan. In December 2020, I received a beautiful Christmas card and letter from Rhodora. Earlier that year, she—along with John G. Rangos, Sr. and Jack McGinley—became the first benefactors to make seven-figure gift commitments to our proposed College of Osteopathic Medicine. In her heartfelt letter, she suggested that we consider offering a curriculum in fertility awareness, a personal passion of hers.

In quintessential Donahue fashion, what began as an idea is now reality. Duquesne’s planned medical school will include a Center for Fertility Awareness-Based Education and Research, which will provide our medical students with fertility-awareness training as part of their overall medical education. This Center will be a distinctive expression of Duquesne’s mission as a Catholic, Spiritan medical school.

Rhodora’s support of our medical school continued the Donahue family’s proud legacy as benefactors of Duquesne and other Catholic causes, here in Pittsburgh and around the world. Jack and Rhodora endowed our graduate business school and an endowed chair in business. Other local beneficiaries of their generosity have included Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic high schools, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Extra Mile Foundation and Holy Family Institute. Nationally, they have supported John Carroll University and Ave Maria University, a Catholic institution in southwest Florida founded by entrepreneur Tom Monaghan. Rhodora’s abiding Catholic faith guided her philanthropic spirit as well as her devotion to family.

The week before Rhodora passed, I received her beautiful 2022 Christmas card in the mail – an elaborate 26-page photo album of each of her children’s families, along with pictures celebrating new weddings, new births, and new gatherings of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. That card encapsulated everything that this great matriarch of the Donahue family – and of Pittsburgh’s community – deemed most precious in life: The central importance of family as the building block upon which everything else rests.

At the dedication in 2009 of Rhodora J. Donahue Academy of Ave Maria, a grammar and prep school that now bears Rhodora’s name, its headmaster quoted from an 1834 poem by American philosopher and writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Rhodora, on Being Asked, Whence is the Flower, which Jack Donahue often read to his future wife during their courtship. “Beauty is its own excuse for being,” Emerson wrote, comparing the loveliness of the shrub’s lavender flowers to that of the more heralded rose, while observing the simplicity and humility of the rhodora.

Rhodora Donahue’s beauty, her strength, her faith and her fidelity to God and her family were understated, but ever present, and always a powerful force for good. She will be deeply missed by the entire Duquesne community, and by the larger community that she enriched through her determined, loving spirit.


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December 14, 2022