This isn’t unusual, as attendance is crucial in all of Donius’s classes, but today the classroom seems even more alive because the students are buzzing with excitement: Donius has promised them he would bring his guitar and play and sing for them.
The select group of students—lucky ones, too, as Donius’s classes are almost always filled to capacity within the first few hours of registration—have heard about Donius’s talents as a musician from fellow students who had highly recommended his classes.
After a few moments of silent reflection, Donius plays for them before transitioning the class into a discussion, encouraging them to take the lead.
“I can’t imagine a better job than I have right now,” he said.
In mid-2002, after working nearly a decade in campus ministry in nearby Alfred, Donius decided to begin looking for a new opportunity. Through a friend, he learned St. Bonaventure administrators had been searching for a new vice president for university ministries.
Having originally considered entering the priesthood, Donius had much experience working in a religious setting.
By the end of the summer, he joined the ministries team.
Nearly ten years passed, and Donius thrived in his position. In early 2011, Sister Margaret Carney, then the university president, asked him if he would be interested in teaching an elective course in Christian marriage. Never one to pass up the chance to work with students, Donius soon began researching for material for the class, as well as preparing for other religion-related courses—such as religious texts and Catholic-Franciscan tradition— he would be teaching.
“The courses I teach relate to life,” he said. “Hearing the students talk is what it is all about—I learn from them and I hope they learn from me.”
That’s exactly the case for Lillian Whelan, a 2014 St. Bonaventure graduate. Whelan, who took two courses from Donius, said he helped her grow in her Catholic faith.
“I’ve never met anyone like Bob Donius,” said Whelan. “He’s someone who wants to hear from people from all walks of life. And you know that no matter what you have to say, he’s always really listening to you.”
It’s not just students who learn from him, though.
Richard Trietley, vice president for student affairs, said he almost immediately formed a bond with Donius when Trietley came to campus in 2003.
“He’s a very thoughtful man, a very spiritual, Catholic man,” Trietley said. “I have always trusted him and viewed him as a confidant. He’s someone I can go to for advice when I need it.”
For the past five years, Trietley and his wife have visited Donius’s crowded Christian Marriage class as guest speakers as part of a series of couples informing the students about different aspects of married life.
“What impresses me most about him is the connection he has with the students,” Trietley said. “What I see in his classes is mutual respect between the students and the professor…but more importantly, I see a deep level of communication where students are very comfortable speaking and explaining themselves.”
Although the university will experience core curriculum changes over the next academic year, Donius said a Franciscan-based approach will remain the core of his teaching.
“I think it is critical to understand the world’s religious traditions, especially those whose followers are most in conflict in our modern day,” he said. “I think the students come to see that [the different groups] have more in common than they think.”
Most days, Donius wakes early and heads to the gym before an enjoyable session of back-to-back classes, all while planning for the SBU summer study in Italy program he leads.
“I’ve told my students more than once: I am not in there for me,” he said. “I really am teaching for them.”
When he leaves the university in the evening, he heads to meet his wife of 34 years, Kim, for a yoga class before they cook dinner together at the home they built. Family remains the core of his life, he said, and he finds as much time as he can to spend with his and Kim’s four children (all Bonnies!) and their families.
A lifestyle that, according to Trietley, makes Donius a great leader.
“He’s a role model—there’s no question about that,” Trietley said. “Our challenge is to find a lot more Bob Doniuses.”
In the photo: Left to right: Philipp Hunger, Theo, Amalie Donius Hunger ’08, Bob Donius, Kate Carito Donius, Luke Donius ’07, KimDonius, Jake Donius ’11 & ’16, Hansen Donius ’10. Photo taken by Abby Lorenz
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