Beloved and renowned, Fr Leo Donnelly, farewelled by thousands at Requiem Mass
Reverend Father Leo Donnelly, Emeritus Parish Priest of St Agnes’ Parish of Port Macquarie, passed away aged 91 at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney on 23 January and was laid to rest after a Requiem Mass attended by more than 1500 people on 1 February, 2019.
Celebrated by Father Paul Gooley, along with the Most Reverend Gregory Homeming OCD, Bishop of Lismore, and 24 other priests (including Father Peter Wood who serves as Assistant Priest at Port Macquarie), Father Donnelly’s Requiem Mass was a beautifully simple, but fitting, remembrance of a humble man who lived his life in the service of God and others.
The service was broadcast live on the St Agnes’ Parish website and streamed via Facebook, allowing residents in the Parish’s aged care facilities and thousands of people further afield, including parishioners on Lord Howe Island (which is part of the St Agnes’ Parish) and others in the US and UK, to join in honouring and reflecting on Father Donnelly’s life.
Two of Father Donnelly’s nephews, Matthew and Anthony Donnelly, delivered the eulogy and other family members participating in the service through the Prayers of Intercession and bringing forward the offertory gifts.
Matthew remembered the special and poignant place Father Donnelly held in the hearts of his family saying family events were never really ready until Uncle Leo had arrived.
“Uncle Leo had an authority about him but it wasn’t just because he was a priest; it wasn’t his intelligence; or his physical presence; it was his unending kindness and compassion; and, his ability to always see the good in every person,” Matthew said.
Anthony, who grew up in Port Macquarie, told anecdotes about Father Donnelly’s humour and of other treasured times spent with his uncle.
“I loved it when I got to drive Uncle Leo home after sharing a Sunday evening meal with our family – it was 25 minutes of one-on-one time spent in conversation with him about faith and the things that mattered,” Anthony said.
During the homily, current St Agnes’ Parish Priest, Father Paul Gooley, reflected with affection to share a few insights into Father Donnelly’s life as a priest, mentor and friend.
He told of Father Donnelly’s love of his family, the priesthood, the Port Macquarie community, the Diocese of Lismore and of serving others as well as stories about his love of technology, learning, history, shopping, footy (Queensland and Melbourne Storm) and his dog Shannon.
“Leo was a man of prayer; he was faithful to morning and evening prayer of the Church, the Eucharist and the Rosary,” Father Paul said.
“Cardinal Newman, to whom Leo had a devotion, wrote ‘God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons’ and this is true of Leo and his life, as it is true of all of us as we continue the mission of Jesus Christ.”
“Like all of us, Leo had a mission in this life and, as Leo also had an interest in all things military, I can say to Leo ‘Well done Good and Faithful Servant’, but I think it is appropriate to add, ‘Mission accomplished, Leo… stand at ease,’” he said.
Bishop Homeming said Father Donnelly’s impact on the community was evident in the diversity of people who came to pay their respects at his funeral.
“Father Donnelly was a driving force behind improvements to education, training, aged care, welfare and sport in the community.
“I think part of his legacy is visible in the people here today; so many of the charitable works, the works of care and love are here because of him.”
“Where he could find a need, he would do something and, correctly, it wasn’t simply for Catholics, it was for everybody.”
“I was impressed by the humility of the man. There was no sense in him that anything he did was about himself. He was just helping people who needed to be helped, and did what he could,” said Bishop Homeming.
Adam Spencer, Chief Executive of St Agnes’ Parish and close friend, said Fr Donnelly would be a great loss to the community.
“If you think about what he’s achieved in the areas of aged care, early education, vocational education and training, community services, a whole range of things… I think he’s without peer in all of Australia to have achieved what he’s achieved in all of those domains,” said Mr Spencer.
“An outstanding leader of the church and the wider community, he was a great man, an exemplary pastor and friend – he will be sorely missed by all of us.”
As the funeral procession left St Agnes’ Church it was led by a police escort and the Port Macquarie Vanguard (current national Drumline champions), which is made up of students from the combined St Agnes’ Parish Schools.
Hundreds of people including St Agnes’ Parish parishioners, staff, teachers, students, and community members formed an honour guard that extended along Hay, William and Horton Streets, to pay their respects to a beloved man and parish priest.