The Golden jubilee of a priest’s ordination is always an occasion for rejoicing and congratulation, as the proportion of priests who live to celebrate this anniversary is small. Those who live to celebrate their Diamond Jubilee – sixty years in the priesthood – is naturally much smaller. The celebration of Fr. Benedict Donegan’s Diamond jubilee was therefore a unique occasion in the chronicles of St. Patrick’s Province.
Rev. Father Benedict, C.P., who at eighty-three years of age is still hale and hearty, entered the Passionist Congregation in 1891, and made his religious profession at St. Saviour’s Retreat, Broadway, Worcs. in the following year. On December 21st, 1886, he was raised to the priesthood by the late Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham.
FOR many years, Fr. Benedict was engaged in teaching our students, but he was also much in demand for missions and retreats in both England and Ireland. He was personally acquainted with the Servant of God, Fr. Charles of St. Andrew, and was called as a witness at the Process for the Beatification. About 1900, he Volunteered for Australia, and for nine years he laboured beneath the Southern Cross, where, in addition to parochial missions, he gave numerous retreats to clergy and religious communities. Returning home in 1910, he resumed his missionary work, which took him to all parts of Ireland.
When the Province of St. Patrick was erected in 1927, Fr. Benedict came to St. Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus, Dublin, and after some years, he was transferred to Holy Cross Retreat, Ardoyne, Belfast, to the parish which he left more than sixty-five years before to become a Passionist.
Fr, Benedict celebrated Solemn High Mass at Holy Cross, Ardoyne, on December 21st, exactly sixty years from the day when he was ordained. The deacon was Rev. Fr. Maurice, C.P., Highgate, London, nephew of the jubilarian; the subdeacon, Rev. Fr. Albert, C.P., and the Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Fr. Timothy, C.P. Very Rev. Fr. Gerald, C.P., Provincial, presided at the Mass which was attended by a large and representative congregation.
A special Apostolic Blessing from the Holy Father was conveyed to Fr. Benedict, who also received by letter and telegram numerous messages of congratulation and good wishes. On behalf of our readers, The Cross extends warm congratulations to Rev. Fr. Benedict and wishes him many more years of fruitful apostolic work.
(The Cross, Vol. XXXVII, 1946-47; p. 302)
Rev. Fr. Benedict (Donegan), C.P.
We regret to announce the death of Rev. Fr. Benedict (Donegan), C.P., which took place at Belfast on Tuesday, April 10th. The loss was not unexpected as the late Fr. Benedict had been in failing health for some months previously.
Known in the world as William Donegan, the deceased Passionist was a native of Burnside, Co. Antrim, where he was born on April 16th, 1864. He entered the Passionist Congregation in 1881 and made his religious profession at St. Saviour’s Retreat, Broadway, Worcs. in the following year. On December 21st, 1886 he was raised to the priesthood by the late Most Rev. Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham.
In addition to being engaged in teaching for many years of his priestly life, Fr. Benedict was also much in demand for missions and retreats in both England and Ireland. He was personally acquainted with the Servant of God, Fr. Charles of St. Andrew, and was called as a witness at the Process for the Beatification. About 1900 he volunteered for Australia, and for nine years he laboured beneath the Southern Cross, where he gave numerous retreats to the clergy, religious communities and the faithful. Returning home in 1910 he resumed his missionary work which took him to all parts of Ireland.
When the Province of St. Patrick was erected in 1927, Fr. Benedict came to St. Paul’s Retreat, Mount Argus, Dublin, and after some years he was transferred to Holy Cross Retreat, Ardoyne, Belfast. It was here he had the happy and unique privilege of celebrating both the Golden and Diamond jubilees of his ordination in 1937 and 1947 respectively. On both occasions he himself was the celebrant of the Solemn High Mass. Amongst the numerous messages of congratulation received from far and wide were special Apostolic Blessings from the present Holy Father and our late Holy Father, Pope Pius Xl.
A man of forthright sincerity and devotion to duty, a priest of tireless zeal and energy in the cause of his Divine Master, Fr. Benedict has left to all who knew him the inspiring memory of his edification and example as a faithful son of St. Paul of the Cross.
A large and representative congregation were present at the obsequies which took place at Holy Cross Retreat, Ardoyne, Belfast. May he rest in peace
(The Cross, Vol. XLII, 1951-52; p. 29.)
Father of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose death took place In Belfast on April 10,1951, was not only the doyen of the Province of St. Patrick, but was one of the oldest Passionists in the whole Congregation. His passing at the venerable age of eighty- seven years has removed a familiar figure from our midst and has broken another link with the past generation.
Born at Burnside, Co.Antrim, on April 16th, 1864, William Donegan made his first acquaintance with the Passionists at Ardoyne. where the new Belfast foundation of Holy Cross had been established in 1868. At the age of seventeen he was accepted as a postulant, and on June 14, 1882, he made his religious profession at St. Saviour’s Retreat, Broadway, Worcs., taking the name of Benedict of the Blessed Virgin. Less than five years later, having obtained a major Papal dispensation for age, he was ordained by Most Rev. Dr. Ilsley, Bishop of Birmingham on December 21st., 1886,
Fr. Benedict was at first engaged as lector, but was soon much in demand for missions and retreats. About this time he became personally acquainted with the Servant of God, Father Charles of Saint Andrew, concerning whom he gave valuable evidence in the Process for the Beatification and Canonisation.
In 1900 Fr. Benedict volunteered to go to Australia, where he remained for some nine or ten years, being stationed at Glen Osmund, Adelaide, S. Australia. His principal work was again missions to the people and retreats to the clergy and religious communities. For this task Fr. Benedict was well suited. and he prepared himself with very remarkable assiduity. All his mission sermons, meditations and Instructions wore carefully written out in full, and his retreat lectures were clear, logical and well considered. These were all found after his death, carefully indexed and annotated. A special notebook contained a full children’s retreat, with other sermons for the young. In addition, more than 200 sermons were carefully prepared, ranging from a discourse on ‘Mixed Marriages’ to an address on ‘Science and Revelation’ .
Not content with this methodical preparation, Fr. Benedict kept a series of scrap-books, in which he collected all manner of clippings, anecdotes. and historical points to illustrate his sermons. He knew that the successful missioner must have a well-stocked mind, and must continually prepare fresh material. Not for him the lazy man’s method of setting out confidently on a mission with a handful of mediocre sermons, preached threadbare by constant repetition, or trusting to the inspiration of the moment for a meditation on the Passion or a necessary instruction. Incidentally. the clippings reveal the width of his sympathies and the extent of his interests, ranging from Free-masonry to Birth-rate statistics, from Charles Dickens to Hilaire Belloc.
For his work in Australia, Fr. Benedict earned the gratitude of many Bishops and the esteem and regard of both clergy and people. On his return home in 1910, he was again active for many years in the congenial work of the missions, and later resumed the duties of Lector at Sutton and Broadway. On the erection of the Province of St. Patrick in 1927, Fr. Benedict returned to Ireland, first to St. Paul’s Retreat. Mount Argus, Dublin. and later to Holy Cross Retreat, Ardoyne, Belfast, where he spent his last years. Here he had the great happiness of celebrating two Jubilees, his Golden Jubilee in 1936 and his Diamond Jubilee in 1946. On each occasion he himself was the celebrant of the Solemn High Mass, and amongst the many messages of congratulation were one from Pope Plus XI and one from Pope Plus XII, conveying the Apostolic Benediction.
Fr. Benedict continued active duty at Ardoyne until about a year before his death, when his Superiors relieved him of the burden. About last Christmas, he experienced the return of an old malady, now become acute. Early in the New Year he was removed to St. John’s Nursing Home, where a radical operation was performed. From this, contrary to all expectation he made a good recovery and seemed to regain his strength. Finally he succumbed to a heart attack, and within a few minutes peacefully passed to his reward. Almost his last words were: “Please thank all those who were kind to me when I was sick.”
It was indeed characteristic of his complex character, this very thoughtful gratitude to those who had aided him. It may be said of him that he never forgot a kindness, and that he forgave, but did not forget any injury which he endured. Gifted in full measure with that stubborn tenacity of purpose characteristic of the Northern temperament, Father Benedict did not easily give up, but followed to the bitter end any course of action which his conscience approved as right. He was by nature gentle
and kindly, but he could blaze with indignation when he heard of any real or even apparent injustice.
Like St. Francis of Assisi, he loved all living creatures. He was especially fond of birds and liked to listen to their song. In winter it pleased him to put out crumbs in the garden to provide for the wants of God’s little creatures. Children too he loved, and even in his last illness, he could give a little gift of chocolate to some small children who were brought to see him and to receive his blessing.
To the poor he was generous, to the sick, thoughtful; to those in sorrow he gave comfort, and to the troubled, wise counsel and sage advice. His devoted remembrance of his aged sister, Miss Jane Donegan, still living in the shadow of Ardoyne at the age of ninety-three years, was entirely characteristic of his self-sacrifice and his thoughtfulness.
He leaves behind him the fragrant memory of a man of forthright sincerity and entire devotion to duty, a priest of tireless zeal and boundless energy in the service of the Master. Fr. Benedict was a Passionist of the old, traditional type, a faithful son of St. Paul of the Cross, ever faithful to his ideals and to his example.
A large and representative congregation, at which many of the diocesan clergy were present, attended the obsequies, which took place at Holy Cross Church, Ardoyne. The Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated by Fr. Maurice Donegan, C.P., of St. Joseph’s Province, a nephew of the deceased. May he rest in peace. 26/6/1951. Bonaventure of the Five Wounds, Rector.