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Beloved priest returns to Janesville

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Greg Peck
October 28, 2013

He's thinner now. His hair is shorter, too. You might expect both from a military man.

Donn Heiar returned Sunday on his new assignment as parish priest at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Janesville. To me, he will always be “Father Donn,” as I called him when greeting him in a receiving line after services Sunday. Still, his official title is Monsignor Heiar these days.

If the handful of years that have passed since he last presided over St. John Vianney parish have changed Father Donn, much has changed about Janesville, as well. For one thing, Janesville is no longer home to a General Motors plant. We're still striving to regain our economic footing. Still, Father Donn told us Sunday, he believes Janesville is a special, united community.

As proof, he told how much the troops he served with in the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing appreciated the packages of soap, deodorant and toothpaste that Janesville people and businesses donated and shipped to the Middle East. The personal items came in handy where Father Donn and his companions sweltered in 115-degree heat in his second of two overseas deployments.

I've heard mighty fine orators among the priests I've heard through the years, but Father Donn is the best. I still recall one sermon in which he had us both laughing and crying. I was among St. John Vianney parishioners who were upset when the bishop pulled Father Donn out of Janesville for a position in the Madison Diocese. Father Donn later clashed with the bishop over some issue and was reassigned to a parish before taking the Air National Guard post.

Upon his return Sunday, he reminded us how the Marines shout “Oorah” as a motivational cry before heading out. He told us that when an F-16 fighter jet takes off, those in the Air Force just gaze up and utter “cool.”

“It's cool to be back in Janesville,” he said.

It's cool to have you back, Father Donn.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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