11 July 2022, The Tablet

Cafod pays tribute to popular priest who died suddenly

Fr Donnelly, who recently celebrated 30 years as a priest in the diocese, officiated at his brother’s wedding.

Cafod pays tribute to popular priest who died suddenly

Father Dermott Donnelly outside St Michael's Church, Elswick, Newcastle, ahead of the wedding of his brother Declan Donnelly to Ali Astall.
PA Images / Alamy

Cafod and the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle have expressed their sadness at the death of Fr Dermott Donnelly.

Fr Donnelly died in hospital on 8 July aged 55, after collapsing in his Newcastle parish of St Mary’s, Stanley. He was the brother of the television star Declan Donnelly, who said he was “heartbroken” to report the death.

The Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Robert Byrne CO, offered his prayers for “Fr Dermott, his loved ones and many friends – all of whom will be shocked and saddened to hear of his death”.

He particularly praised Fr Donnelly’s youth ministry, “bringing many disadvantaged and dispirited young people to Christ and Catholicism”.

“Having been born and bred in the diocese, Fr Dermott was known to many – from his own large extended family, to the local communities he grew up in and later served, his fellow priests and many, many more.”

Monica Conmee, Cafod’s head of education, praised Fr Donnelly as a “great friend” of the charity who “witnessed a burning passion and commitment to the fullness of life for all”.

“Fr Dermott chose to stand in the light,” she said, “and through his immense talent and gifts so generously guided thousands of young people to experience the love and light of God in their own lives, inspiring them to share this with others.”

She noted his prominent role at the Flame youth rallies held in Wembley Arena since 2014, which she said were “unforgettable mountain-top moments” for the thousands of young Catholics who attended.

Fr Donnelly, who recently celebrated 30 years as a priest in the diocese, was an occasional guest on his brother’s television shows, and in 2014 appeared on the BBC’s Songs of Praise alongside CBBC’s Hacker T Dog, answering younger viewers’ questions about the Church. He officiated at his brother’s wedding to Ali Astall in Newcastle in 2015.

Declan Donnelly’s co-star, Anthony McPartlin, also paid tribute to Fr Donnelly, “the kindest, wisest man I knew”.  “The world has lost a special man,” he said in a post on Twitter.

He was involved in the development of the diocese’s youth ministry team in the 1990s, and was credited with much of its success as a centre of evangelisation.  He was the chairman of the organisation at the time of his death.

In an obituary for Premier Christianity, the radio presenter Ronan Johnston described Fr Donnelly as “winning and humble, prayerful, self-doubting yet determined and tenacious, hyper-focussed, hilariously funny, and so gracious and spacious”.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99