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Sophie Finnegan

Father Dermott Donnelly's friend and priest pays tribute to him saying he 'inspired others' as he's laid to rest

A priest and friend of the late Father Dermott Donnelly has paid tribute to him in a moving service describing him as a "free spirit" who "touched and inspired" others.

Fr Dermott, who served with the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle, died on July 8, 2022, aged 55, following a serious illness. He had recently celebrated 30 years of service to his parish and community after being ordained a priest on June 27, 1992.

Family and friends including brother Dec gathered on Friday at a touching Requiem Mass held at St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle. More than 2,000 people watched the service live on YouTube while hundreds attended the cathedral and alternative spaces organised by the church where people could pay their respects.

Read more: Respects paid to Father Dermott Donnelly at moving Newcastle funeral

And on a service held on Thursday, Fr Marc Lyden-Smith, who is parish priest of Houghton-le-Spring and Seaham, thanked Fr Dermott's family for sharing "the gift of Dermott". The service was held at St Michael's Church in Elswick, where Fr Dermott was baptized and confirmed as a teenager.

Fr Marc said: "It is here where Dermott was carried into church as a baby by Alphonsus and Anne to be baptized – the day he was given the pledge of eternal life. It is here in these pews that his faith developed as he sat alongside his brothers and sisters at Mass, here where he received Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time, and here where he was confirmed as a teenager.

"And from the depths of that close-knit family – and being part of a strong community that looks out for one another here in Newcastle – it is here in these pews that the thoughts of a vocation to the priesthood began to develop. It is here that Dermott first felt the gentle call of the Good Shepherd to follow him and offer his life as a priest.

"Thank you all, Dermott’s family – from Anne all the way to Jack, and all of you in between: especially Patricia, Eamonn, Martin, Moira, Camelia and Declan, and all his nieces and nephews, for sharing your Dermott with all of us. Because just look around, look at how much this man is loved, look at how many lives he has touched and inspired as a priest. On behalf of everyone - thank you for the gift of Dermott."

Fr Marc said his friendship with Fr Dermott is something that he came to "treasure very much" and said he "learned a lot from him". He also described how one time Fr Dermott went out to get a takeaway for them when he brought an asylum seeker back and shared their Chinese meal between the three of them.

He said: "He was relentless in his insatiable appetite to communicate the Gospel – to share with others that we are all equally loved by the God of mercy, and when we realize that – that is when we start to live life to the full. It meant that the Cathedral was, as it should be, a place of hospitality and welcome, open to all. I was able to learn a lot from him, and he became a great friend, a friendship that I came to treasure very much indeed.

Family and friends gather at St Mary's cathedral, Newcastle for the funeral of Father Dermott the brother of Declan Donnelly (Newcastle Chronicle)

"I remember once he went out to get a takeaway for us, and I was setting the table and opening the Pino Grigio, and he was taking ages. When he finally came home, he brought an asylum seeker in with him, whom he had met outside. We had to split the cold Chinese meal for two between the three of us.

"While our congenial Dermott listened, and let the man tell his story. He would be one of many stories of lives that Dermott would play a part in, and quietly go on to support and help, with no fuss, no drama, just quiet, profound kindness, which would be the hallmark of his entire life. He was always aware that all humanity, especially the broken or those in need, belonged to Christ, part of his flock, and as a priest, Dermott wanted to gather them into the sheepfold, and welcome them home to the church, where they are loved just as they are."

Fr Dermott established the Youth Ministry Team (YMT) and the Youth Village in Consett, an outreach programme aimed at introducing disadvantaged youngsters to the Catholic Church while also setting up Significance a charity for young people. Fr Marc said his legacy will "forever be linked" with his work with "countless young people".

Father Dermott at his brother Dec's wedding to Ali Astall at St Michael's Church in 2015 (Daily Mirror/MDM)

He continued: "The Church needs more people like Father Dermott Donnelly – the type of people with a vision that can’t be easily contained, free spirits that think outside the box, people that open wide the windows of the Church and let the fresh air of the Holy Spirit flow freely in, that free us from being a stale bureaucratic institution obsessed with numbers, and property, rules, regulations and Mass times, to a spirit led church that talks more about mercy than sin, a church that sees the potential and not just the past.

"A gifted communicator of the Gospel, he was a tremendous storyteller, who could open the Gospels and make them accessible to everyone, especially our young people. Father Dermott's legacy will undoubtedly forever be linked with the Youth Village and his work with countless young people in our diocese. In his special ministry, he has planted the seeds of faith which will bear much fruit for many generations to come."

If you would like to donate to Fr Dermott's charity Significance in his memory, you can do so here. The details are; Account Name: Significance; Sort Code: 52-30-44; Account Number: 46107363.

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