An Appreciation Of The Life Of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly. Archdeacon Donnelly served as a Curate within the Parish of Kirkinriola, Ballymena from 1965-72 and later returned to ‘The City of the Seven Towers’ in retirement in 1997 when he continued to help his colleagues regularly.

An Appreciation Of The Life Of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly
Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly speaking at an event in 2016.

Archdeacon Donnelly was born in Ballycastle on 22nd February 1922 and subsequently ministered in numerous Parishes. Many of these were located in the most volatile areas of Belfast during ‘the troubles’. He went on to be appointed as Parish Priest in Loughguile.

The following article is the text of a homily delivered by Father Patrick Delargy, the current Parish Priest in the Kirkinriola area. This was delivered at the reception of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly’s remains on Monday, 5th September 2016.

Father Delargy writes:

“Kevin was charming in his manners, easy in conversation, tactful in giving advice, faithful and dependable in doing the tasks entrusted to him. He was calm and controlled, good tempered, assiduous in prayer, able to speak about his faith in clear and simple terms, always reliable as a friend.
He always spoke well of people, swift to pardon and slow to get angry. He had an excellent memory, always engaging his listeners, ready to speak to other people on their own terms about what interested them. He was disciplined in his habits, with a good appetite, temperate and self-controlled.

That was written about St Francis of Assisi by his biographer but it could so easily have been written about Fr Kevin Donnelly.

An Appreciation Of The Life Of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly
Archdeacon Donnelly in All Saint’s Ballymena

Father Delargy reflects on the life on Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly.

I will just take three phrases to reflect on this evening. He was faithful and dependable in doing the tasks entrusted to him. In his early years in Belfast Fr. Kevin not only fulfilled his regular duty to the staff and children in Nazareth House, he sought for employment for the boys who were leaving. He knew them personally and cared for their welfare and went out of his way to provide for them. In his hospital chaplaincy he worked all around the clock, always on call and eager to engage with staff and to contribute to their spiritual development and to assist them in caring for the patients. In Glenarm he was responsible for bringing the benefits of electricity to remote areas and for helping budding actors and musicians to have a stage to display their talents. Ballymena was next to benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of the irrepressible young curate. In his book he described his ministry here as an opportunity to sing the song of the Lord.

The next phrase I would like to reflect on is he was disciplined and self-controlled. He was appointed to St John’s and Holy Trinity in Belfast in the midst of the Troubles. He remembered traumatic occasions such as the courageous ministry of Fr Fitzpatrick and his noble death doing the will of the Lord. On that fateful day it could have been Kevin called out and he welcomed every subsequent day as a special blessing from the Lord. Those were dangerous and controversial times and he continued to devote his energies to preaching and pastoral work among people who were truly appreciative of his unselfish dedication to the joy of the gospel.

The last phrase I recall from a gathering here in Ballymena only a few years back when someone said to him, “Kevin you have a great appetite. Do you not agree” Kevin replied, “It depends what you are going to say next.”
“Well here you are in your nineties and you still enjoy having people about you, sharing good food and good conversation. You have this great capacity to find out what interests people and join in their conversation at their level and make them feel at ease. You always had an appetite for work and for prayer and for providing opportunities for personal development and entertainment. Sure you went to Loughguile in your sixties and you took the place by storm. They say you knew everybody there and their cousins to the ninth generation!” This is how they remember you. Fr Kevin was a priest with a cheerful disposition, a kindly person interested in other people. Prayerful and conscientious, loved and admired by the people of Loughguile as an enthusiastic pastor, wise administrator and generous benefactor. He had a great appetite for work and friendship.
Kevin smiled benignly. Maybe that is not too bad a description!

An appreciation of the life of Archdeacon Kevin Donnelly
Archdeacon Donnelly with Don and Eileen Robinson, when he baptised their daughter Pheobe in September 1968. Pheobe was the first baby to be baptised at Harryville Chapel.

At some stage of our lives we cannot do anything more for ourselves and we remember then that in reality we always depend totally on God.
That is why we are here this evening to pray for someone who cannot pray for himself. The prayer of Cardinal Newman helps us think of him on his way to heaven.
Jesus and Mary – I am near to death,
And You are calling me; I know it now.
I am going, so pray for me dear friends for I have not strength to pray.
I hear no more the busy beat of time
someone has me fast within his ample palm . . .
a uniform and gentle pressure tells me I am not self moving,
but I am carried forward on my way.

God’s angel comes to guide and guard; saying
‘Your work is done, your task is o’er,
and so I come, taking you home, God bless you, for evermore.’

Softly and gently, dearly ransomed soul
in my most loving arms I now enfold thee.
Angels to whom the willing task is given, shall tend, and nurse,
and lull thee, where you lie;
and Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven,
shall aid thee at the Throne of the most High.

Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
and I will come and wake thee on the morrow. Farewell. Farewell.

That is our prayer for Father Kevin. May God have mercy on his gentle soul.”