Over 400 members of the Port Macquarie community gathered at St Agnes’ Church in Hay Street on Sunday 19 November for Mass and a special morning tea to celebrate the 90th birthday of their much-loved Parish Priest, Father Leo Donnelly.
The Bishop of the Lismore, Bishop Greg Homeming concelebrated Mass with Father Donnelly and Assistant Priests Fr Peter Wood and Fr Roland Agrisola.
Prior to the start of Mass, Brian Tierney, long-time parishioner and friend of Father Donnelly, set the scene for the celebration, recalling two dates of special note for Father Donnelly and the Parish.
“There are two auspicious dates and they both go back many years,” said Mr Tierney.
“17 November, 1927, the day Father Donnelly was born in the western town of Gulargambone (that’s 90 years ago); and 21st March 1970, the day Father Donnelly took up his current appointment as Parish Priest of Port Macquarie, then a smallish quiet coastal town and small Catholic parish (that’s more than 47 years ago).”
“Putting these two together – Father Donnelly is the most senior serving Catholic parish priest in Australia,” he added.
During his homily, Bishop Homeming drew from the Gospel of the day reflecting that Father Donnelly was a person who had not lived in fear of the life God has given him and had allowed his talent to grow by sharing it with others.
“Port Macquarie is only what it is because ‘Father D’ lived without fear,” said Bishop Homeming.
Father Donnelly, ever a humble man, preferred in his address to redirect the focus towards the contributions of others, particularly parishioners past and present, in the achievements of the parish.
“Those most responsible for the achievements, for which I am being recognised, are you, the congregation,” said Father Donnelly, affectionately known by his community as ‘Father D’.
As a gift, parishioners gave Father Donnelly a new chalice, paten and ciborium. These were presented by Honor Morcom who was the first director of Catholic Care of the Aged in Port Macquarie, Colleen Henshaw a long-time parishioner and friend of Father D, and Alison Quirk, who was baptised by him.
Father Donnelly’s birthday celebrations kicked off on the Thursday evening prior with a gathering of 150 staff and volunteers at Newman Senior Technical College where Adam Spencer, CEO of St Agnes’ Parish said the occasion was one of both celebration and thanksgiving.
“A celebration of a wonderful achievement in Father D’s 90th Birthday but, moreover, thanksgiving of the incredible gifts that Father D has brought to us as a pastor, a leader and simply an incredible human being,” said Mr Spencer.
“Father D, we thank you for you continued vision, energy and hard work in our community,” he added.
In response, Father Donnelly said, “This parish has always meant so much to me. I was an altar boy at the opening of the church. I was the first priest from Port Macquarie. I was only ever in two places, Port and Lismore. In total, I have racked up exactly fifty years in Port … In that, I have been uniquely blessed and at the heart of that blessing are the people who have accepted me, encouraged me, over those years. I am and always have been in your debt.”
The highlight of the event was a ‘family style’ video produced in-house, in which many members of staff, and representatives of schools and aged care facilities sent personal birthday wishes to Fr Donnelly.
In the video, incoming School Captains at MacKillop College for 2018, Esther Ting and Thomas Berryman, shared a congratulatory message on behalf of the three catholic secondary schools in Port Macquarie.
“Father D, it’s your 90th trip around the sun, and on behalf of our school we would like to thank you for all that you have done for St Agnes’ Parish Secondary Schools. You had the vision and now many years later Catholic Education stands as a proud symbol in the Port Macquarie Community. Looking around us now at the amazing grounds, the 21st century resources and the almost 2500 students that make-up St Agnes’ Parish Secondary schools, all we can say is thank you,” said Esther and Thomas.
As part of celebration, the production of a video detailing Father Donnelly’s life and especially his time as Parish Priest at St Agnes’ Parish was also announced.