“No priest or bishop has done more for American diocesan priests than Frank” are the words used by Eugene Kennedy, a writer and long-time observer of the Catholic Church, to describe the life of Frank Bonnike, age 95 who died on April 5th at his home in Elburn IL.
In 1970 Bonnike was drafted at the national convention of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils to be its second president. He was a Northwestern University industrial management graduate who had attended Harvard, became a naval aviation supply corps officer and was engaged to be married for three years. After his marriage plans broke up he served on the post-war naval aviation board for the re-deployment of aeronautical materials in Washington, DC and attended The Catholic University of America where he studied philosophy and was tutored in Latin. He entered Theological College at Catholic University and was ordained for the Rockford diocese in 1952, a classmate of Joseph Bernardin.
“My brother loved priests, just as my parents did, and often spoke about their lives as being unfortunate although their ministry was the greatest on earth”, said his sister, Betty Christiansen. Even while a philosophy student he published a newsletter, Introibo, for servicemen and older men interested in priesthood but who had to master Latin as to where they could enroll in accelerated courses. He found it an unnecessary burden and wanted to help others. After ordination he served the Rockford diocese as state reformatory chaplain in St. Charles and Geneva. He received a degree in educational administration and became the first superintendent of Newman Central Catholic High School in Sterling and also held pastorates in Sterling, Oregon and DeKalb. He was the first elected president of the priests’ council in the Rockford diocese and was on the first board of the national federation.
Under his administration the federation founded the National Association of Church Personnel Administration, the National Organization for the Continuing Education of the Roman Catholic Clergy and the Catholic Church Personnel Group Benefit Trust. Respectively each of these organizations addressed a major element lacking in the personal development of the priest…his assignment, his continuing education and his finances. Each still exists today and has made major contributions to the life of the ordinary priest.
Bonnike also realized that most priests, if given the opportunity, would marry. He spoke openly and often at the 1971 Synod of Bishops in Rome in favor of optional celibacy, voicing the strong majority opinion of the federation board members. Prior to completing his second term as president he met and married Janet Proteau, an early childhood music educator at the University of Illinois, resigned the federation and married with permission of the Church.
He promised God that he would stay in ministry if God would find a way. That opportunity came almost immediately. He was allowed, even by Cardinal Cody, to serve as a lay Catholic emergency room chaplain at Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge. He saw this as a way of demonstrating to the Church that a priest could be married and still serve people. While at Lutheran, he and two married resigned Chicago priests, Frank McGrath and William Nemmers, founded the Corps of Reserve Priests United for Service (CORPUS) to promote a married priesthood. CORPUS is also very alive today and is part of the International Federation of Married Priests.
He served as a chaplain at Lutheran for ten years. He and Janet had a daughter, now Kathy Brown, and then a son, John. After Lutheran General he was asked by former governor Ogilvie to head the PACE Institute at the Cook County Jail. PACE provides literacy and GED classes as well as AA, NA and family counseling programs for men and women inmates. Ogilvie was board chairman. While PACE president Frank enabled the Institute to merge with the SAFER Foundation whose executive director was a friend and also a married priest, Bernie Curran. After six years Frank retired and spends full-time assisting Catholic priests and lay personnel with their finances. Over 1,800 priests have availed themselves of Trust services.
Frank is survived by his loving wife Janet (Proteau); children Kathy (Dean) Brown and John (Dena); grandchildren Kyle, Andrew, Joseph, Lana, Liam and Layla; and brother Nancy (Bill) Snodgrass .
He was preceded in death by five other siblings.
Visitation for Frank will be held on Wednesday April 11, 2018 from 11:15 am until the time of his Funeral Mass at 11:30 am at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, 1775 Grove Street, Glenview.
Interment at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.
In lieu of flowers, memorials to Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University, 2110 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60202 or Corpus (http://corpus.org) would be appreciated.
Arrangements handled by the Malone Funeral Home in Geneva. Information 630-232-8233 or visit malonefh.com