A Journey of Family and Faith
From an early age, Father David Bonnar wanted to be a parish priest. His family figured that one day, he would become a bishop. Both dreams have come to pass.
On November 17, 2020, Pope Francis named Father Bonnar, 58, as the new bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio. The pastor of Saint Aidan Parish in Wexford and a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for 32 years, he becomes the sixth bishop of Youngstown, succeeding the late Bishop George Murry, S.J.
Father Bonnar will be ordained and installed as bishop during a celebration of the Holy Mass at Saint Columba Cathedral in Youngstown on January 12.
“I am excited beyond words. My passion burns even more to serve,” Father Bonnar told The Pittsburgh Catholic. “I bring the goodness and kindness of my experience in Pittsburgh with me.”
The people of Youngstown will be blessed by his ministry, his bishop said.
“One of the things I admire most about Bishop-elect Bonnar is how much he is zealous in responding to the spiritual needs of his people—truly a sign of a good shepherd,” said Bishop David Zubik.
“There is no question in my mind that (he) is most qualified to take on his new responsibilities. The faithful of Youngstown can look forward to very strong pastoral leadership on the part of their new bishop.”
Drawn to the priesthood
Born on February 5, 1962, to parents George and Mary Bernadette Bonnar, young David grew up at Saint Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin Parish in Whitehall. “We have always known he would be a priest, from the age of six,” said his sister, Mary Linn Fitzpatrick. “David would act out the celebration of Mass in our basement. Mom pinned a towel to his shoulders and he used grape juice and Necco wafers.”
Father Bonnar affirmed that, “All vocations begin in the home, and that’s where mine unfolded. We sat in the front pew for Mass, and I learned what a priest does.”
“I remember being an altar server while at Saint Gabriel School,” he said. “At Seton LaSalle High School, I was part of the campus ministry team. Religion was my favorite subject. I also learned how to write there. My dedicated teachers inspired me.”
Father Bonnar went on to earn a B.A. in social communication at Duquesne University. During his senior year, he entered the priestly formation program at Saint Paul Seminary and was sent to the North American College in Rome, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University.
He was ordained a transitional deacon on April 14, 1988 in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome, and ordained a priest at his home parish on July 23, 1988. He served as parochial vicar at Saint Vitus Parish in New Castle, Saint Rosalia in Pittsburgh’s Greenfield neighborhood, and Saint Thomas More in Bethel Park.
Later he became pastor at Saint Bartholomew in Penn Hills, served 11 years as pastor of Saint Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon and administrator of Our Lady of Grace in Scott Township before being assigned to Saint Aidan Parish this past July.
Father Bonnar also served as rector of Saint Paul Seminary, diocesan director of pre-ordination formation, director of vocations, director of the permanent diaconate, secretary of parish and ministerial leadership, and vicar for clergy.
In addition, Father Bonnar was a part-time chaplain at Central Catholic High School in Pittsburgh, and served 12 years as chaplain of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will continue in his role as editor of The Priest magazine, published by Our Sunday Visitor.
Sharing God’s gifts
“Father Dave is an excellent communicator,” said Father Mark Eckman, administrator at Saint Thomas More and Saint John Capistran parishes in the South Hills. “His goal at Saint Bernard was to make such a large parish more of a family. He is also compassionate, heading out at all hours to help people in need.”
Father Mike Ackerman, who as a seminarian spent a pastoral summer at Saint Bernard and served there as a transitional deacon, was delighted to hear of Father Bonnar’s appointment as bishop.
“Father Dave has a pastoral heart,” Father Ackerman said. “He loves the people of God, loves being a priest, and teaching others to know Christ.”
“He has a great appreciation for people who work for him, and always expresses that,” said Laetitia Bridges, former pastoral associate at Saint Bernard. “He also has a gift for finding people who can complement his skills.”
Father Bonnar’s sister Mary Linn said her family is thrilled.
“We know he is so special. What a hard working priest, so approachable and holy,” she said. “He’s a super hero.”
Bishop-elect Bonnar offers a reflection and his thanks.