Newman’s first superintendent remembered as inspirational leader

April 10, 2018 GMT

STERLING – Newman Central Catholic High School’s first superintendent is remembered as an inspiration to students and a founding advocate for a right formerly denied to priests: marriage.

Frans “Frank” J. Bonnike, 95, died Thursday at his home in Elburn.

Bonnike physically and metaphorically shaped the structure of Newman’s education, and the lives around him.

He was a leader both spiritually as a priest and through his work in the community, said Kathy Howard, Newman principal and superintendent.

Ordained as a priest for the Rockford Diocese in 1952, Bonnike entrenched himself in the community at St. Mary’s Parish as assistant in 1954 and eventually the administrator at Sacred Heart Parish in 1957.

Bonnike was named Newman’s Superintendent in 1958, when plans for a new high school were announced – the school was funded by $1.5 million and 30 acres northwest of Sterling allocated by parishes and the late Leo J. Wahl.

“Frank Bonnike was an inspiring man; he promoted faith in the students and encouraged us in all we did,” said 73-year-old Nancy McGinn, who graduated from Newman in 1963.

John Deiterle, 82, a former member of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church who moved to San Antonio, Texas, said Bonnike brought a new outlook in leading young people to God.

Bonnike also was the first elected president for the National Federation of Priest’s Council through the Rockford Diocese – formed in 1968 soon after the Second Vatican Council.

He resigned from the federation and married Janet Proteau, an early childhood music educator at the University of Illinois with the permission of the church.

Serving in his married life as a lay Catholic emergency room chaplain at the Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Bonnike saw this as a way of demonstrating that a priest could be married and still serve people.

While at Lutheran, he and two married Chicago priests who had resigned, Frank McGrath and William Nemmers, founded the Corps of Reserve Priests United for Service (CORPUS) to promote married priesthood.

After working at Lutheran for 10 years, Bonnike was asked by former Gov. Richard Ogilvie to head the PACE Institute at the Cook County Jail – providing literacy, GED classes and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous services for inmates.

In the last 20 years, Bonnike served as a trust fund manager for Catholic priests and helped many with their life goals.

Bonnike is survived by his wife, Janet; children, Kathy (Dean) Brown and John Dean; grandchildren, Kyle, Andrew, Joseph, Lana, Liam and Layla and brother Nancy (Bill) Snodgrass.