August 2, 2018 // Obituaries

St. Bernard Parish mourns loss of Father Sextus Don

Father Sextus Don, 66, passed away suddenly July 28 in Fort Wayne. He will be missed by St. Bernard Church parishioners and others and is being remembered for his love of music, children, computers and teaching others about the faith.

“He loved to turn up the bass subwoofer,” recalled Tom Elshire, a cantor, choir and Knights of Columbus member at St. Bernard. Father Don enjoyed hearing the band God’s Country (of which Elshire was a member) play and listening to Neil Diamond, the Eagles and Dire Straits, among others.

“When Sandy (Elshire’s wife) and I counted (the collection money) once in a while at the rectory,” Elshire continued, “Father would grab me and drag me back to listen to some stuff. Sometimes it was rock music, sometimes recordings from his (favorite) kids in Sri Lanka.”

Father Sextus Don

Father Don was a native of Sri Lanka. He was born on July 10, 1952, in Negombo, a large Catholic community that goes back to the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in 1500.

As a young boy he felt the calling to be a priest, often taking the part of a priest in childhood games. The young Don attended Salesian Minor Seminary in Negombo, from grade seven to grade 10.  He proceeded to India to continue his further studies, for almost 10 years. He was ordained on Dec. 22, 1979, at the age of 27. 

After his ordination to the priesthood, Father Don was assigned as administrator to the Salesian Minor Seminary in Kandy, Sri Lanka, from 1979-83. From 1983-87 he was in Rome, where he worked on his Master of Science in Education degree. In 1987, he was appointed rector of the Salesian Minor Seminary of Dankotuwa, Sri Lanka.

In 1992, Father Don came to the United States and was an associate pastor for four years at St. Ann Catholic Church in Nyack, New York.  With the little Haitian Creole that he learned, he also served the Haitian community.  

Bishop John M. D’Arcy invited Father Don to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 1997. Accepting the invitation, he was immediately assigned as administrator of St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City, serving there for four years. In July 2001, Father Don was transferred to St. Bernard Church, Wabash.

Parish member and five-term Knights of Columbus grand knight Ron Garlits is another St. Bernard parishioner who was touched by Father Don’s love of music. “The only miracle he did was he taught me to play guitar when I was 65,” said Garlits, now 76. “He started me on it, gave me lessons four to five months and eventually I played in God’s Country.”

But Father Don also appreciated good liturgical music. “He liked when people sang and were part of the liturgy,” remembered Mike Bechtol, St. Bernard music director. “He appreciated good music and good liturgy; that’s always been a high point in our relationship … For the (church’s) sesquicentennial, we put together a fantastic celebration.”

Rock and roll music was combined with computer work, according to KOC fourth-degree knight Roger Wertenberger. “Time has just flown by,” he said. “I can’t remember how many years we’ve worked together (on school computers). … He was my best friend; he wasn’t just my pastor. He was just a down-to-earth person and loved Jesus so much. He talked about Him a lot.”

Just like Jesus, Father Don cared for children, according to Sandy Kunkel, St. Bernard liturgist and sacristan. “The kids at school — they just loved him,” she said. “When he walked from the rectory to the church, they almost knocked him down.”

Addison Bakehorn, 10, who joined the church in 2015 with her family, could feel Father Don’s love. “Every time (at weekend Masses) he’d give suckers out to everybody,” she said. “Everyone liked the suckers.”

“My favorite thing was during Christmas he would always give us a little statue of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she said. “… I’ll miss him, especially all the stuff he talks about … He was a really great person.”

Father Don also loved the children of Sri Lanka. He would buy school books, book bags, shoes and uniforms, Kunkel said. “He was always reaching out to people in need, especially widows and orphans in Sri Lanka.” When he went back he would use money from a special fund he set up, plus his own cash, to buy tools people needed for their trade or a new stove, she noted.

While keeping children at home and abroad in mind, he also was an example for adults. “When I look at his walk in faith, he tried to be Christ for all people,” said Steve Kroh, parish council president. “He’d visit nursing homes and the jail and include everybody. And he wasn’t trying to push faith on them, but be Christ-like.”

Rita Sweeney, who has been a member at St. Bernard for nearly 70 years, has a deep appreciation for Father Don’s ministry as well. “He was so good to me,” especially while she was recovering from a surgery, she said. “He was so kind and thoughtful. … He was always there when you needed him; he did his duty.”

Parish secretary Ann Unger has received calls from people from across the globe expressing condolences. “To get to know Father Sextus and to be able to work with him was a unique gift I will always treasure, and for which I’ll always be profoundly grateful to our awesome God and Father,” she said.

The time of calling hours, the Mass of Christian Burial and rosary will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to St. Bernard Church, St. Bernard School or the Sri Lankan Children’s Fund. Donations can be sent to St. Bernard Church, 207 North Cass Street, Wabash, Indiana 46992. Funeral arrangements have been entrusted to McDonald Funeral Home in Wabash.

The arrangements for Father Sextus are as follows:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

St. Bernard Catholic Church
207 North Cass St.
Wabash, IN  46992

Visitation: 2:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
Vigil Service and Rosary: 6:45 p.m.           

Friday, August 10, 2018

St. Bernard Catholic Church
207 North Cass St.
Wabash, IN  46992

Mass of Christian Burial: 11 a.m.  

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