24th January 2019
Federal Member for Lyne Dr David Gillespie and his wife Charlotte have expressed sadness at the passing of Father Leo Donnelly overnight.
Dr Gillespie paid tribute to the former St Agnes Catholic Parish Priest, affectionately known as “Father D”, saying his community leadership will be greatly missed.
“He was a giant in our community. A gentle man who will be remembered by many locals and past locals as a distinguished community leader with a very long legacy of good,” Dr Gillespie said.
“Port Macquarie and the Hastings Valley may well be a very different place if Father Leo Francis Donnelly had not come back to the place he spent half of his teenage years growing up to take up the position of Parish Priest.”
“Under his leadership, the focus of the parish has always been on delivering services and creating opportunities for the people of our community.
“In education, in training, in employment, in disability services, aged care, child care, homelessness services, social services and a whole range of areas, Father D delivered on a vision for our community that saw the establishment of many local services that have helped so many people and created many opportunities for the people of our region,” Dr Gillespie said.
“On behalf of Charlotte and myself, we express our sincere condolences and pay tribute to this wonderful man who has done so much for our community,” he added.
Extracts from a speech Dr Gillespie made about Father Donnelly in Federal Parliament:
Till his very last day in the 48 years he was Parish Priest he still worked from his small office in Hay Street in Port Macquarie before retiring last year to Bonny Hills. He worked six days a week, although I must admit that his mind was still working on the seventh, and he was just as energetic, passionate, determined and innovative today as he was when he first moved to Port Macquarie as the parish priest in 1970.
It is hard to quantify the impact that this one man has had on the local community of Port Macquarie. He has literally moved mountains, including swamps and buildings, to build infrastructure to care for, educate and enrich the lives of many local people. He spent his career in authentic service to the Saint Agnes Parish and the communities of Port Macquarie and the North Coast.
He first arrived in Port Macquarie in the 1940s, staying with his aunt and grandmother because he grew up in Gulargambone, where there was not a lot of educational opportunities. They realised that he had potential and brought him over to stay with his grandmother, and he managed to do the three years of his leaving certificate in one year so that he could then graduate.
He joined the priesthood and went through the rigors of priesthood training. The church realised that he had potential and sent him off to Rome. He studied there for another four years and then he commenced his career, working in Saint Vincent’s, firstly with a short stint back in Port Macquarie from 1951 to 1954 as the parish assistant priest and then working as the secretary to the diocese for the bishop in Lismore for 16 years.
He obviously had plans for Port Macquarie, and he returned there as a parish priest in 1970. But before he left Lismore they set up a private hospital, St Vincent’s, in Lismore and this parish priest showed great insight even then, because he set up the first rehabilitation unit in Australia for people recovering from stroke and similar things.
He started a diocesan investment fund that has fuelled the good works of the diocese from Lismore down to the ‘deep south’ of Port Macquarie. He has set up nursing homes and schools, and his crowning glory is the vocational college in Port Macquarie, which was the first vocational college and the model for the Australian technical colleges. John Howard opened the first one of its kind in Port Macquarie, having rolled into the existing St Joseph’s Vocational College that had been running since the 1970s.
There was nothing in existence in the Catholic aged-care program in 1973, but Father Donnelly realised that there was a need for care for the elderly and he started a 38-bed nursing hostel, followed by a 56-bed nursing home, called Lourdes Village. Now the Catholic Care of the Aged has over 300 residential aged-care beds, 111 community care packages, 220 independent residential village units and a range of other high-quality services in aged care, employing 450 staff.
Education started off with a small school. Then in 1975 he had the vision to commence St Joseph’s Regional High School, with over 200 students and the year-10 class having only 25 students. But this vision has now led, as I mentioned, to the vocational college, which rolled into the first-ever Australian technical college and which is now Newman Senior Technical College, with 350-plus students, some being trained in certificate II and III courses as well as the majority for the Higher School Certificate. It now sets the benchmark in vocational education and training, and is a great bonus to the whole North Coast community.
There is now three primary schools and four secondary schools which educate over 4,000 students. There are early education and family services for over 100 preschool children. There is Centacare, which runs welfare and the Port Macquarie Youth Hub.