Mother’s Day came early for Fr. Scott Donahue this year. A week and a half ago, on the morning of his birthday, when he opened his eyes, someone special was on his mind.

“The first person I thought about when I woke up was my mother,” he said. “She was the one who gave me life.”

Marion Donahue was full of God’s grace. When she smiled, her eyes gleamed with light. Her breezy laugh echoed throughout the house where Fr. Scott and his siblings grew up in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

“We had a typical middle-class family and life was good, until my father suddenly passed away when I was in seventh grade,” he said. “Life changed dramatically.”

As dark and painful as this time was for Fr. Scott and his family, his mother responded to the tragedy with a level of courage, dignity, and elegance that would forever be etched in her son’s memory. She refused to wilt and instead became a pillar of strength for her grieving children. But she didn’t do it alone.

“My mother went to work. My grandmother moved in to live with us,” Fr. Scott said. “Between the two of them, they restored a sense of normalcy to our home. It’s only in reflection that I look back on what my mother did raising four teenagers at the same time that I begin to appreciate even more what she was for me and my family.”

Marion, then a widow with four children, stepped forth with grit and conviction. She took a full-time position at the Illinois Bell telephone company, in the Final Bills department. Such a caustic job pushed her patience to the brink. Every day she spoke to belligerent customers, behind on their bills.

“…she did it with grace and she did it with a great sense of humor. I appreciate all she did. It’s a mother’s love.”

“But she did it with grace and she did it with a great sense of humor. I appreciate all she did. It’s a mother’s love,” Fr. Scott said. “And without my grandmother – her mother – it would have been impossible.”

Fr. Scott recognizes his fortune of having caregivers who provided a stable, nurturing environment in the face of tragedy. Yet he still finds parallels between his life and the lives of the boys and girls he mentors every day.

“My life is not so different than many of our kids here at Mercy Home,” he said. “So many of our young people come from difficult life situations by no fault of their own. It just is. It’s life. And so many of them don’t have fathers. Often times they’re being raised by dedicated, loving mothers and grandmothers. ”

In fact, 93 percent of the children at Mercy Home come from single parent homes, often without fathers.

For those single mothers and grandmothers striving against the odds for their children, Fr. Scott sings their praise.

“First of all – thank God for them!” he said. “They try and create the environment that you would hope every mother wants for her child: to feel loved, to fell cared for, to give them proper nourishment, clothing, a good education for the future.”

However, in spite of their best efforts, there are times when mothers are simply unable to care for their children in such a way. And often times for grandmothers, either because of health or the challenges of raising teenagers, they simply don’t have the energy or bandwidth to do so. That’s when Mercy Home enters the picture.

“What we try to do at the Home is give these children normalcy,” Fr. Scott said. “We try to give them the family experience. We try to give them the emotional and therapeutic support they need. We try to give them the best in education, a sense of safety, and a sense of purpose through work.”

He added: “We try to be a family that works in partnership with a child’s biological family, if possible. We show them that they are the children of God – that it takes a village, it takes the community – and we’re a part of that network that helps.”

Marion Donahue continued to work into her mid 70’s and never took a sick day. Sadly, she was called home to God in 2014. Reflecting on her wonderful life, Fr. Scott says she met every challenge, great and small. As a testament to her fortitude, one memory sticks out: a wintery Sunday morning after a tremendous snowfall.

“Our church was probably two miles from our home. So my mother went to get us up, and none of us would go. She couldn’t drive the car – nothing was plowed,” Fr. Scott recalled.

“But, by God, she dressed and walked over to the church, went to church, and walked back. I’ll never forget that – the example she set. She didn’t scream or yell. She just did it. That always stayed with me. It’s not even so much the church going, but holding to her convictions and teaching through example.”

The spirit of Marion Donahue’s conviction and leadership lives on here at Mercy Home. Her son inherited these ideals. Their moral fibers are ingrained deep within his soul, and sustain his call to serve others.

“It’s a privilege for me, it’s a privilege for our donors, and it’s a privilege for our co-workers,” Fr. Scott said. “And united, we work together to provide opportunity for these youth.”

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