Santa Ana Rabbi to Receive Catholic Church’s Top Nonmember Award

Times Staff Writer

An Orange County rabbi on Friday will receive the highest award bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church on a nonmember, in recognition of his work in bringing together Catholics and Jews.

Rabbi Shelton Donnell of Temple Beth Sholom is believed to be the first rabbi to receive the Benemerenti Medal, established in 1832 by Pope Gregory XVI to recognize civil courage.

Benemerenti is Latin for “good merit.”

Donnell was identified for the honor by the late Pope John Paul II in one of the last decisions of his papacy.

Donnell will receive the award at an 8 p.m. Friday service at his temple, at 2625 N. Tustin Ave. in Santa Ana. It will be his last Sabbath service before he and his wife move to Israel.

Bishop of Orange Tod D. Brown nominated Donnell for the award because of the rabbi’s commitment to advancing relations between Jews and Catholics, said Rev. Rafael Luevano, a diocesan spokesman.


After Sept. 11, 2001, Donnell instituted ongoing Jewish-Catholic dialogues and played host to numerous events at his temple for members of the two religions to mix.

“He is a man of peace who has been working for peace in Orange County,” Luevano said. “This is truly an exceptional award and a papal honor.”

Donnell has been the senior rabbi at the Santa Ana temple since 1991. He was ordained in 1977 at Hebrew Union College in New York.