Salvatorian teacher, pastor dies at age 82
Kaukauna native Fr. Donald Verhagen taught at the seminary in St. Nazianz
Fr. Donald Verhagen, SDS, a native of Kaukauna and a former teacher at the Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz died Sept. 20 at St. Mary's Nursing Home, Manitowoc, where he had lived since 1999.
Fr. Verhagen was born Jan. 21, 1919, one of 13 children of Henry and Wilhelmina (Weyers) Verhagen of Kaukauna. He went to St. Nicholas School in Freedom and attended high school and his first two years of college at Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz, before completing his college studies at Divine Savior Seminary in Lanham, Md. After additional studies at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., he was ordained a priest May 19, 1945.
From 1945 until 1953, Fr. Verhagen taught biology and was dean of students at the Salvatorian Seminary in St. Nazianz. He then completed his master's degree in biology at Catholic University, then taught at St. Mary's High School in Lancaster, N.Y., where he also was principal and religious superior.
He then held those same positions at the new Marian Catholic High School in Mishawaka, Ind., starting in 1964. The Marian High School Alumni Association in 1994 established the "Fr. Verhagen Distinguished Alumnus Award" as "an ongoing tribute to the spirit of service which you first nurtured in Marian students so many years ago."
In 1971, Fr. Verhagen shifted his focus to parish work, first at St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa, where he was the associate pastor for four years. From there, he moved to St. Mark Parish in Phoenix, where he was co-pastor until 1985.
From 1985 until 1987, he was associate pastor at Queen of Peace Parish in Mesa, Ariz., and then was pastor of the Shrine of St. Rita in Vail, Ariz., until his retirement in 1997. He then moved to Jordan Hall in Milwaukee, where he remained until 1999, when ill health required him to move to St. Mary's Nursing Home in Mani-towoc.
In addition to his other duties, Fr. Verhagen served as provincial consultor from 1955 to 1958 and from 1965 to 1968. In 1965, he was a province delegate to the Salvatorians' General Chapter in Rome. While ministering in the Phoenix Diocese, he was a member of the Presbyteral Council, Diocesan Vocation Board, and was a vicar.
When Fr. Verhagen celebrated his 60th anniversary of profession as a Salvatorian in 1999, Fr. Dennis Thiessen, SDS, provincial, said, "Wherever your ministry has led you, people remember you with much fondness. Perhaps it is your gentle voice, the sparkle in your eye, your ready sense of humor, or your attentiveness to each individual's concerns and situations. You have certainly been an outstanding example of what our Society's mission statement expresses as one of our charisms: 'to be one with those we serve.' Wherever you have been assigned, you have walked with people and have not preached at them. You continue to make me proud to be a Salvatorian."
He is survived by brothers Fr. Norbert (MM), Raymond, Richard, and Sylvester, and sisters Agatha (Nussbaum) and Millie (DeBruin). He was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers Ben, Ed, Larry, and Lloyd, and his sisters Martha (Schuh) and Ceil (Meulemans).
Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Verhagen was celebrated Sept. 24 in St. Gregory Church, St. Nazianz. Burial was at the Salvatorian Cemetery in St. Nazianz.