By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

Father Donnell Kirchner CSsR died at home at the Holy Ghost Redemptorist rectory in Houston on May 13. He was 79. 


Father Donnell Kirchner CSsR


Father Kirchner lived out the Redemptorist missionary charism, serving the poor and abandoned for 54 years, 40 in the Amazon Region of Brazil.  

He also spent one year in the Diocese of Baton Rouge assisting with the Hispanic Apostolate and serving as parochial vicar at St. Gerard Church in Baton Rouge.  

“In the midst of all the tribulation that we are going through now due to COVID-19, receiving the unfortunate news of the departure of our dear (Father Kirchner) is like receiving a blow to a bleeding wound,” said Julia Scarnato, director of the Hispanic Apostolate. “I thank God for the opportunity that our Hispanic community had to receive the gift of the priesthood through the Redemptorist community and, in this case, Father Donnell, who possessed extraordinary human and pastoral qualities.”  

Father Kirchner was born Dec. 24, 1940 in Fort Benning, Georgia but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska and considered Nebraska his home. He made his first profession of vows Aug. 2, 1961 and professed perpetual vows Sept. 2, 1964.  

He was ordained to the priesthood June 22, 1966.  

Father Kirchner served in parish and formation ministry in Manacapuru, Belem and Manaus in the Amazon Region of Brazil. He wrote several booklets in Portuguese and frequently contributed articles to newspapers and magazines.  

Father Kirchner was nearly 70 years old when he returned to the United States. He joined the Liguori Mission House mission team in St. Louis, Missouri and was a popular and effective preacher.  

He also served a brief stint at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Whittier, California. He learned Spanish while he was in his early 70s and in January 2018 was appointed to St. Gerard and quickly became a valued member of the Hispanic Apostolate team.  

“What I admired about (Father Kirchner) was his giving spirit,” Scarnato said. “He understood that we put limitations on ourselves, but with God all things are possible.”  

Scarnato said Father Kirchner’s homilies were well received by the Hispanic community, to the point where she sent copies to Hispanics detained in
immigration centers and prisons who sought spiritual assistance to keep their faith and hope in God alive.  

Scarnato said Father Kirchner accompanied her to several meetings with local immigration and law enforcement officials advocating for the rights of immigrants.  

“His desire to work for the Hispanic community in Baton Rouge inspired him to overcome language and health obstacles,” Scarnato said. “I thank God on behalf of our diocese and the entire Hispanic people for the gift of having a priest with the human and evangelical values ​​of Father Donnell. Now, as we pray for him, we look to his life and example to help us to have the strength to continue this mission.” 

In mid-2019 Father Kirchner was appointed to the Holy Ghost Community in Houston.