Tesse Donnelly

Mary Therese “Tesse” Donnelly, 91, completed her life on Jan. 4, 2022, in her home, surrounded by family. Born on Oct. 20, 1930, she was originally from St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Vincent and Theresa McNulty Hartigan and older sister to Vincent Emmet and Helen Patrice Hartigan. After attending Fontbonne College in her home state, she transferred to the College of New Rochelle, in New York. An active member of the Young Christian Students and the National Students Association, she served as chair of the latter’s Missouri-Kansas region in 1949 and continued her education at the University of Chicago, studying under Yves Simon, earning her master’s degree in history. At the time, she was the only woman enrolled in the university’s graduate history program. It was during her time at the University of Chicago that she met the man she would marry, Bill Donnelly.

Together, they led a household of five children in Oak Park, and right into the fray of public life. She maintained a fever pitch of community action. From the La Leche League, to a 1970s women’s consciousness-raising group, to a Friday “Lauds” women’s prayer group, to “Limina” a women’s spirituality organization, she worked with women to foster mutual flourishing. During the ’70s, she was active in the Open Housing movement in Oak Park, which focused on retraining real-estate agents to prevent racial steering and encouraged Black home-seekers to live in the village. She served on the board of the C.G. Jung Institute in Evanston, for a time as its president, and was a founding member of Arbor West Neighbors and the Experimental Program at Oak Park and River Forest High School.

As often as her activism drew her from the home into the world, she would bring the world into her home, inviting guests to join them for gatherings characterized by ritual and song. As founding members of the St. Giles Family Mass Community, the Donnellys also hosted Mass in their home. An avid organic gardener, she delighted in visits from all manner of birds to her always-full birdfeeder.

Asked how she would like to be remembered, she replied, “As someone who cared.” Her life and legacy provide abundant evidence of that.

Tesse was the wife of Bill Donnelly, M.D. who predeceased her in 2016. She is survived by her children, Thomas (Anne Wicker), John, Theresa (John Irwin), Patrick (Jessica Daniels), and Maura (Matthew O’Halloran); and her grandchildren Claude, Ambrose, Liam, Lucy, Gabriel, Beatrice, Fiona, Finnbar, Ronan, and Emmett.

Visitation was held on Jan. 7 at Salerno’s Galewood Chapel. Requiem Mass was celebrated on Jan. 8 at St. Giles Catholic Church in Oak Park. 

Save the date: Memorial for Tesse on Saturday May 28.

If you would like to make a donation in lieu of flowers, please consider supporting Arbor West Neighbors (arborwestneighbors.org). Their mailing address is P.O. Box 1584, Oak Park, IL 60304-1584. Arbor West’s mission is to support and enrich aging through community building and advocacy. They are a 501 (c)3 and donations are tax deductible.

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