Oldest Graduate at Regent Completes M.A. in Practical Theology at 78

Bekker and Donovan
DIV Dean Dr. Corne Bekker, Claudine Donovan, Joe Donovan

This year, Joe Donovan (School of Divinity) became the oldest graduate at Regent. At 78 — soon to be 79 with a birthday on May 23 — Donovan graduated with a M.A. in Practical Theology, all while working full time as an audit director at the U.S. Department of Labor. With a passion for teaching, Donovan stated the support from his professors gave him the perseverance he needed to continue his studies.

“Everyone welcomed me, and it has been acceptance all along,” Donovan said. “Everything has really fallen into place, and in my mind it’s like a miracle.”

Originally from Michigan, Donovan attended Michigan State University and the Detroit Institute of Technology before he began his career as an auditor. He worked in banking for 25 years and then transitioned into his current job in 2003. Donovan and his wife have been married for 54 years and have been involved in their church, Grace Episcopal Church, for 27 years. As a Eucharistic minister, Donovan began his Christian education 15 years ago when he completed the Education for Ministry program at the University of the South. A trip to Rome in 2006 inspired him to keep studying, and Regent offered the perfect balance between school and work.

Donovan began his studies as a Master of Divinity student and took coaching classes from Dr. Joseph Umidi, Regent’s executive vice president for student life, who became his mentor. The mentorship aspect and modular courses gave him the encouragement he needed to keep going.

“I got to meet a lot of people, which was a big influence because I still have close friends that I met there,” Donovan said. “I’m a big advocate for modular weeks because it really changed my life.”

Under Umidi’s mentorship, Donovan was encouraged to change his degree to Practical Theology in order to focus on his long-term goal of teaching. With guidance from his professors, Donovan excelled in his studies and graduated with a 3.8 GPA.

“Some people would say I’m out of my mind for doing this at 78, but I did everything late in life,” Donovan said. “The professors changed my outlook and perseverance on wanting to do this.”

Having been in business and church his whole life, Donovan wants to see churches managing their finances better with a stronger business sense. Regent has allowed him to expand this idea through the projects he’s completed, and it was this idea that got him accepted into the School of Business & Leadership so he can pursue a doctoral degree.

“I’ve lived by the philosophy of just keep going,” Donovan said. “My goal is to walk into a Regent classroom and say, ‘My name is Dr. Donovan, and I’m here to teach you about the business of church.’”

Donovan and his wife, Claudine, live in Alexandria, Virginia, and have two children and six grandchildren. With plans to retire in the next few years, Donovan will then devote his life to school and teaching.