Diocesan News

Navy Chaplain Rise in Rank Draws on Experiences in NYC

Lt. Commander Donelson Thevenin (second from left) is congratulated by (left to right) Father Michael Gelfant, Rear Admiral Michael Steffen, and Father Patrick Keating following the promotion ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Father Michael Gelfant)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Father Donelson Thevenin considers himself lucky to have had a wide range of experiences as a priest — from ministering to parishioners at churches in the Diocese of Brooklyn to counseling young sailors aboard battleships as a U.S. Navy chaplain.

“It’s an awesome ministry,” he said of his role as a chaplain. “In parish life, you see your parishioners once a week on Sundays. As a Navy chaplain, you live with your parishioners. Wherever they go, you go as well. When they are deployed, you are on the ship,” he said.

Father Thevenin’s commitment to military service earned him a promotion to the rank of lieutenant commander. The ceremony, which took place in Washington D.C. on Sept. 4, was attended by two old friends from the Diocese of Brooklyn, Father Patrick Keating and Father Michael Gelfant. The three men were ordained together in 2005 and remain close. “I was so happy to see them, and I’m grateful they took the train all the way down from New York to be there,” Father Thevenin said.

With his promotion, Lt. Commander Thevenin will be responsible for training new chaplains.

Father Thevenin is no longer a priest in the Diocese of Brooklyn, having been released from his duties by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in 2012. He is currently a priest in the Archdiocese for the Military Services in Washington D.C. However, he has fond memories of his service in Brooklyn: “I have built lasting friendships that I cherish.” 

During his time in the diocese, he served at Holy Cross Church, Flatbush, and was the director of the Haitian Apostolate, where he worked closely with the late Auxiliary Bishop Guy Sansaricq, a fellow Haitian.

Born and raised in Haiti, Donelson Thevenin lived with his grandmother and came to the U.S. in 1993 at age 20 to live with his mother, who had settled in Brooklyn years earlier.

Even though he felt God’s calling to become a priest, he resisted. He took pre-med courses at Brooklyn College, intending to become a doctor. While pursuing his education, he was active in the church he attended, St. Jerome, East Flatbush, where he served as the youth minister. Auxiliary Bishop Sansaricq was the pastor at St. Jerome at the time.

Finding himself drawn to the priesthood, Thevenin transferred to St. John’s University to study philosophy and lived at the Cathedral Seminary House of Formation.

He graduated from St. John’s in 2000 and attended Immaculate Conception Seminary. When a Navy chaplain visited the seminary to talk to the students, Thevenin was intrigued.

Thevenin realized that, in addition to the call to become a priest, he also felt a calling to become a chaplain. He was commissioned by the Navy in 2001 and traveled to Newport, Rhode Island, to begin his training.

Both the Diocese of Brooklyn and Archdiocese of the Military had to approve of the move, which they did.

Following his promotion, Father Thevenin is preparing to move across the country. His new assignment will take him to Washington State.