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Meet the Fellows: Joseph Cornelius Donnelly

“Living Abundance Gratefully” is Joseph Cornelius Donnelly’s motto, which he works to embody daily as a global advocacy and accompaniment advisor for the greater good of all. Donnelly was mandated to establish Caritas Internationalis presence at the UN in 2000 and has held various positions at the global NGO since then, including twenty years as a Permanent Delegate to the United Nations and a member of the Senior Management Team in Vatican City. Since 2007, Donnelly has collaborated with Seton Hall University through the Caritas Intern Partnership Program. Now, as a Fellow at the Center for UN and Global Governance Studies, he continues to share his experience with the School of Diplomacy and International Relations.  

In his lengthy career, Donnelly has focused on peacebuilding. He has been involved at the highest levels of diplomacy, including meetings with royalty and presidents. However, he is motivated and inspired by civil diplomacy. Grassroots peacebuilding is an integral way to foster peace among communities and states. Donnelly emphasizes that belonging is important and constantly needs to be “affirmed, accompanied, and experienced.” One of the greatest challenges of peacebuilding is attaining authentic dialogue. Donnelly suggests the need to let go of preconceived notions and biases, opting instead to be present in the moment. To reach authentic dialogue, patience, and genuine respect are needed. In his peacebuilding efforts, Donnelly often refers to the ancient African word “ubuntu” which means “I Am Because You Are.” 

Donnelly’s Catholic faith has guided him throughout his career in diplomacy and international relations. From a young age, Donnelly was drawn to mission work and wanted to understand the “other side” of complex issues. Being a Catholic witness at the UN and other agencies allowed him to grow in his faith. He held positions at several faith-based organizations, including the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and Catholic Relief Services (USCCB), to name a few. Donnelly’s experience with secular and faith-based organizations had him accompanying communities in the Middle East, Central America, Africa, and Asia, feeling called beyond borders. After living a decade in the Holy Land, he became even more active with ecumenical, inter-religious, and multicultural initiatives. These roles eventually culminated in Donnelly’s position on the UN General Assembly’s Multifaith Advisory Board. Among his favorite memories are working with civilians abroad and going the extra mile to walk with others. 

During the 77th session, Donnelly foresees the UN facing challenges related to budget and expenditures since peacebuilding is an expensive undertaking. Leadership should focus on getting beyond politics and prejudices to build the most effective organization. Upgrading moral imperatives to surround stakeholders in a people-centered way is one of Donnelly’s foremost suggestions.   

With respect to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Donnelly remains hopeful and emphasizes the need for increased partnerships. The UN continually faces challenges, but contemporary times have created the need for participation. Each agency needs help to solve issues, and multiple organizations and leaders are needed to achieve Sustainable Development goals. The Sustainable Development Goals were initially conceptualized in 2010 during the era of the Millenium Development Goals. The 2030 Agenda that was launched in 2015 is a target that is challenging but not impossible. As the discourse around the UN’s development goals progressed, Donnelly saw Member States and Non-Governmental Organizations finding more common ground.  

For students looking to break into a career at the United Nations, Donnelly suggests reading up on the UN and becoming proficient in other languages. Part of Donnelly’s saying at the UN is every voice counts. Working to understand others and being authentic in dialogue will go a long way. The UN serves others, and as Donnelly states, “Enjoy being part of something greater than where you began.”  

Donnelly’s recent birthday prompted him to reflect on his service in the international sphere. He continues to focus on his motto and intends to “Living Abundance Gratefully” in his future endeavors.  

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