Remembering Fr Leo Donnelly


“The best way to describe a megalopsychos is his body is not big enough to contain his soul – someone whose soul, whose capacity for goodness, whose compassion, whose virtue is so great that it just bursts out of them. Such people do exist, but they are very rare. And I met my first and only megalopsychos in Fr Leo Donnelly.” – Bishop Greg Homeming.

This year, on the 17th of November, we celebrate what would be Fr Leo Donnelly’s 95th birthday. Fr Donnelly, very well known as ‘Fr D’, was a Catholic Priest for 68 years, and the man behind many incredible services and facilities. He was even the drive behind Understanding Faith, beginning in the 1990s when our resources were solely hard copy booklets, and have now formed into an extensive online resource, meeting the religious educational curriculum needs of Catholic Schools Australia-wide.

During his early years, Leo developed Rheumatic Fever quite seriously, which saw him moving to Port Macquarie to live with his Aunty. He remained here to finish his secondary education. He worked hard and completed 3 years of Theological study within just 1 year! Upon completing his schooling, he felt that his vocation was a calling to Priesthood. He studied at Theological Schools in Springwood, Manly and then Rome. After his 9 years of theological study, at the age of 24, Leo was ordained a priest for the Lismore Diocese in 1950.

After living and working in Lismore as an assistant to the Bishop’s Secretary, and then the Bishop’s Secretary, in 1970 he was appointed Parish Priest of Port Macquarie. His vision for the town was to cater for the whole community, from pre-school to old age. With the help of many people, Fr D led the transformation of the Parish into an extensive range of services and facilities, which are continuing to expand in his honour, to this day.

Here is a list of some facilities and services Fr D initiated: Centacare Disability Support Service, Emmaus, Hastings Family Day Care, Joey’s House, Occasional Care, John Henry Institute, Joprim/St Agnes’ Uniform Store, Lourdes House, Mackillop College, Marian Centre/St Agnes’ Food Services, Maryknoll Hostel, Mount Carmel House, MyAgedCareSystem/Donnelly House, Newman Senior Technical College, St Agnes Catholic Church Lord Howe Island, St Agnes Primary, St Agnes’ Early Education Centre, St Agnes’ Hostel, St Agnes’ Independent Living Village, St Agnes’ Lodge, St Joseph’s Family Services, St Joseph’s Primary, St Joseph’s Regional College, St Peter’s Primary, The Francis Retreat and Understanding Faith.

“For him, it was not about the buildings; what was always more important in his mind was what happened ‘in’ the buildings.” – Fr Paul Gooley.

During his life, Fr D was also in the position of, or apart of the Director National Catholic Rural Movement, Assistant Bishop’s Secretary, Notary Marriage Tribunal, Vice Chancellor, Consultor, Chancellor, Diocesan Schools Board, Diocesan Secretary, Vicar General, Diocesan Finance Council – Chairman and Member, Diocesan Centenary Committee – Chairman and NSW State Catholic Education Commission.

He was named Hastings Citizen of the Year in 1991, Port Macquarie’s first ‘Heritage Person and a Living Treasure’ in 2002, received the Member of the Order of Australia in 2002, Centenary Medal in 2003, Perkins award for Individual Excellence in Service in 2010 and upon retirement, the Cross-Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal by the Vatican in 2018.

During his years a priest, Fr D celebrated around 20,000 Masses, 100s of Baptisms, was present for 3 generations of First Communions, many marriages, losses, anointing of the sick and Christian Burials. He retired from his duty of Parish Priest in 2018 and moved to live at The Francis Retreat for his final year, before passing in 2019.

Over 2000 people attended his funeral at St Agnes Catholic Church Port Macquarie, and over 10,000 more viewed the service online. He was a man of dedication, and lived an extraordinary life serving the lives of many. His family rest safe knowing his now at home in heaven with our Lord.

“I cannot think of a greater privilege than to be called to lead a faith community. But with that privilege comes the responsibility to do your very best for the people of that community…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.” – Fr Leo Donnelly.

View more information about Fr D, here.


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