Monsignor Donald Dunn, a longtime Colorado Springs priest who helped establish the Marian House in Colorado Springs and spent more than 50 years working for Catholic Charities, died Sept. 5 at age 82.
Born in Denver on Dec. 12, 1936, Dunn was the oldest of three sons born to Francis and Mary Dunn. He graduated from Regis High School and later enrolled at St. Thomas Seminary in 1954. He studied at the North American College in Rome four years later and was one of the 54 men ordained at St. Peter’s Basilica in 1961 by Bishop Martin O’Connor.
Dunn’s first assignment was as an assistant pastor at Notre Dame Parish in Denver from 1962 to 1966. He received his master’s degree in social work from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. It was when he returned to Denver in 1968 that Dunn was named assistant director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver.
He was a humble leader with a heart for others, said the people who knew him.
“He was lovable, he was kind and he was sympathetic,” said Chuck Murphy, a longtime friend of Dunn’s. “(He had) a quick smile and a laugh … he always took time for people.”
Dunn’s work with Catholic Charities brought him to Colorado Springs, where he worked to establish Catholic Community Services, which later became Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. He was instrumental in building the Marian House facility that serves more than 500 people a day, including many of the city’s homeless, said Andy Barton, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.
“It was his passion and care for the poor, for children, for families and for the homeless that stands out, especially for me,” Barton said. “His entire life changed when he was told ‘You’re going to run and start a Catholic Charities’ and he dedicated his life to it.”
Dunn invariably had a love for mission work, his friends said. After visiting Monteria, Colombia, for a mission, he remained there for five years as a parish priest. He learned Spanish so that he could better minister to the people he served there.
“His learning of the language is actually kind of a metaphor for his ministry,” said Martin Nussbaum, a former attorney for the Archdiocese. “He learned how to connect with all of us, rich and poor, or professional and lay.”
Dunn returned from Columbia to Denver in 1985 due to a serious illness, according to an obituary from the diocese. Unable to continue the international mission work he loved, he focused his efforts on Colorado Springs.
In 1987, Dunn was named pastor of Saint Patrick Roman Catholic Church.
“I loved every minute of being a pastor at St. Pat’s,” Dunn said, according to the diocese obituary. “The church had just been built; it was a wonderful time.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who was the first lawyer for the Diocese of Colorado Springs in 1986, described Dunn as an “incredible pastor.”
“He was everything you’d want in a pastor,” Suthers said. “Just a marvelously warm and friendly person. You felt incredibly comfortable in his presence … I just have nothing but great things to say about Don.”
In 1991, Dunn was named vicar general of the diocese. Five years after that, he was named rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Nussbaum recalled when the cathedral was fundraising for money to renovate. Dunn had recently received a small family inheritance, which he promptly donated in its entirety to the church’s project.
“The priesthood rightly understood is a very special gift, and he had it,” Nussbaum said.
In 2007, Dunn retired from full-time ministry. Two years later, he was one of the three priests in the Diocese of Colorado Springs to be elevated to the level of Prelates of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI, with the title of Reverend Monsignor.
Dunn was a man of great kindness and humility, said former Bishop Richard Hanifen. He was also a man who understood humor.
During his work in Denver for Catholic Charities, Dunn would often fly to pick up a baby that was going to be adopted, Hanifen recalled. Dunn loved laughing at the attention a priest — garbed in a Roman collar while carrying an infant — received from fellow travelers, Hanifen remembered.
“He was really dedicated to the poor and marginalized in our society,” Hanifen said. “He worked with Catholic Charities most of his life, and was tremendously dedicated to helping folks that really needed help in any number of different ways.”
Dunn was proud of the work being done at Catholic Charities, Barton said. He recalled when two years ago, Dunn called him about bringing some friends from his retirement home in Denver to see the Marian House.
“We were excited to see him,” remembered Barton, laughing. “I think we thought that he’d have two or three people with him, and he pulled up in this kind of charter bus and proceeded to lead what must have been 25 or 30 of the residents at this facility, off the bus and on a tour of the Marian House.”
“It was the house that he had built,” Barton said resolutely.
“The deepest joy of priesthood for me is the incredible blessing of walking with people in their good times and their hard times,” Dunn said, according to the diocese obituary. “I’ve been blessed to have these incredible experiences, but in the end it’s always walking with people.”
Dunn is survived by his brother, Michael, sister-in-law Peggy, and several nieces and nephews.
A Denver vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Holy Family Parish, 4377 Utica St. A Colorado Springs vigil will be held at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, 6455 Brook Park Drive.
Dunn's funeral will be at 1 p.m. Monday at St. Patrick’s.
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