Skip to main content

Villanova University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Awarded Ellis Island Medal of Honor

The Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, Villanova University President

VILLANOVA, Pa. – Villanova University President the Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA, PhD, was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor at a ceremony Saturday, May 9, on Ellis Island. Sponsored by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO), the Ellis Island Medals of Honor are awarded annually to a group of distinguished American citizens who exemplify a life dedicated to community service. These are individuals who preserve and celebrate the history, traditions and values of their ancestry while exemplifying the values of the American way of life, and who are dedicated to creating a better world for us all.

Father Donohue received the medal along with Sandra Day O'Connor, retired Supreme Court justice; Mariano Rivera, retired New York Yankees pitcher; Howard Lutnik, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald; Bon Unanue, CEO of Goya Foods; Meredith Vieira, American journalist and television show host; and Rear Adm. Paul Becker, US Navy, among others. Past recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor have included six US presidents, one foreign president, Nobel Prize winners, and leaders in industry, education, arts, sports and government. Click here for more information about the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Father Donohue is the son of an Irish immigrant, his father having arrived in the United States in 1929. In 2006, Father Donohue became the 32nd president of Villanova University, which was founded in 1842 by a group of Irish Augustinian friars committed to opening a school to educate Irish immigrants.

Father Donohue has built upon the Villanova legacy with his commitment to providing opportunities for first-generation students. The University has a number of programs dedicated to supporting first-generation students, including the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship Program, the O’Toole Family Presidential Scholarship Program and the St. Martin De Porres Grant Program. Father Donohue has also expanded upon the University’s Irish heritage and tradition. Villanova has one of the oldest Irish studies program in the country and each spring welcomes a distinguished Irish writer to serve as The Charles A. Heimbold, Jr. Chair of Irish Studies. In 2012, the University introduced a new theatre exchange program with the prestigious Abbey Theatre in Dublin.

During Father Donohue’s nine years as president, Villanova has introduced a new Strategic Plan designed to build upon its success and guide the University through 2020, and launched a $600 million comprehensive capital campaign, “For the Greater Great®: The Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change.” The most ambitious in the University’s 173-year history, the Villanova Campaign to Ignite Change is aimed at enhancing financial aid and student opportunities, cultivating academic innovation across its schools and colleges, retaining the finest teacher-scholars and continuing to build a premier living-learning environment on the University’s 260-acre campus.

Father Donohue believes strongly in the important role that community service plays in the Villanova educational experience and has instituted an annual Day of Service, held each September, as a way for the University community to put its Augustinian ideals into action. The St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service – one of the largest single-day service initiatives in the region – serves as a symbol of Villanova’s commitment to the community throughout the year. Villanovans provide nearly 250,000 hours of service annually in communities locally, regionally and globally.

A member of the Board of Trustees for Villanova University, Father Donohue also serves on the boards of Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass.; Malvern Preparatory School in Malvern, Pa.; St. Augustine Preparatory School in Richland, N.J.; the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce; the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania.

Born in the Bronx, N.Y., and raised in Royal Oak, Mich., Father Donohue earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a concentration in Theatre and Communication Arts, from Villanova University in 1975 and was ordained an Augustinian priest in 1979. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Theatre from The Catholic University of America, an M. Div. degree from the Washington Theological Union, and a doctoral degree in Theatre from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While pursuing his doctorate, Father Donohue taught theatre at the University of Illinois, where he received honors for outstanding teaching. He is a member of Phi Kappa Phi, the nation’s oldest, largest and most selective all-discipline honor society.

Father Donohue is a tenured associate professor at Villanova who served as chair of the University’s Department of Theatre from 1992 to 2006. He annually directed musical theatre productions on campus, earning six Barrymore Award nominations and one Barrymore Award for Outstanding Direction of a Musical from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia.

About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them. For more, visit