It is with deep sadness and deep gratitude that the Youth Ministry Team share these thoughts about Fr Dermott Donnelly, Director of Youth Services in our Diocese, who died peacefully in hospital on Friday 8 July.
‘Fr Dermott was a priest with a great heart for youth ministry and has touched the lives of thousands of young people, within our Diocese and beyond, during his 30 years of priesthood, always reminding them that each one of them is significant and loved by God. He founded the Emmaus Youth Village and initiated the annual primary and secondary festivals helping both young people and school staff to experience the joy of the Gospel. It was right and fitting that the final day of his active ministry, two days before he died, was spent at the Youth Village surrounded by 485 young people and over 50 school staff enjoying the secondary school festival. When Fr Dermott was taken ill, the Festival Team and staff bravely and lovingly put their all into continuing with the event and making it the best possible for Dermott and for the young people.
Fr Dermott poured out his whole self, with nothing held back, into a holistic vision for youth ministry and in bringing this dream to fruition. For Dermott, it was never too high, too far or too hard. No matter any disappointments or difficulties, it was always possible, always reachable and it was this tenacity and determination along with his unbounded faith in God’s power and his own love for young people that enabled the Youth Village to be built as an integral part of a wider vision. Yet while Dermott’s was a wide vision, it was also about the ‘one’ and this was central: he wanted each young person to know that they were ‘SIGNIFICANT’ and to reach their full potential.
Dermott inspired many people and none more so than the young adults who gathered each year to be the ‘first apostles of the young’ (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity 12). 28 years ago, when Dermott set out on a journey and began to develop a dream, the words of the Second Vatican Council came alive and peer ministry became the heart of our diocesan youth service, gathering young people from all over the world to live in community, receive formation and journey alongside their peers to share the Gospel message. More recently, Pope Francis affirmed this vision in ‘Christ is Alive’, his letter following the 2018 Synod on Youth. Peer ministry was later to be encouraged intentionally through initiatives such as the Youth Council, the Transcend discipleship programme and two award schemes: the Pope John Paul II Award and the Faith in Action Award, which draw young people into community and into a life of mission and service.
The aim was always to bring young people into a personal relationship with Christ and fully into the life of the Church and, over the years, Dermott developed with YMT a three-fold approach which proclaimed the Gospel message through mission and outreach, deepened faith through retreats and follow-up activities and supported adult parishioners to accompany and to radiate the fire of their own encounter with Christ. Dermott kept alive for many years the hope of building a place where young people could come, pause on the road like the disciples in the Emmaus story, share their experiences and encounter Jesus. In 2004, this dream was realised at Allensford with the support of Bishop Ambrose and the Diocese and in 2010, after much fundraising, the Youth Village was officially opened with its five beautiful residential chalets.
Dermott was exceptionally creative. Under his guidance and fuelled by his energy and encouragement, events were woven into the calendar: Destiny, The Source, Festivals, Conferences, Youth Ministry training courses and the national Flame event. Dermott’s vision for youth ministry was far wider than our Diocese. He cared passionately that the Church in England and Wales listened to and nurtured the young. He looked around the world to discover good speakers and inspiring ideas. He was one of the founding members of the Catholic Youth Ministry Federation of England and Wales, based on the structure he found in the US. He became Chair of CYMFed and was much of the inspiration behind Flame – and when Flame first took place at Wembley Arena, Dermott most definitely didn’t want Hexham and Newcastle to take a mini-bus to the event but envisioned a whole train (the famous Flame Trains) and in later years a huge fleet of coaches! He wanted to give as many young people as possible the opportunity to take the next step on their faith journey and to experience what could often be a life-changing moment.
Dermott has left an amazing legacy in Hexham and Newcastle, in our country and most importantly in the hearts and lives of thousands of young people and adults. We wish to say thank you for all the amazing tributes and messages of support we have received. Please continue to pray for us and especially for his mother and family. Our desire now is to continue his legacy.’
“You can help young people to live a life of purpose and let them know that they are more than they could ever dream. Each young person is unique and valued and can reach out into a broken world and piece by piece put it back together. Pope Francis said recently: ‘For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands.’ (Christus Vivit, 115).” Fr Dermott Donnelly
In 2017, on the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, Fr Dermott founded a charity which he called ‘Significance’. The charity aims to provide grants to enable opportunities for young people to realise their own significance.
‘‘Young people have so much to give to our society and our world and I want to give them every opportunity to develop their potential. Through the projects SIGNIFICANCE will support, young people will be inspired to reach high and achieve their best’.” Fr Dermott Donnelly
If anyone would like to support Significance, the details are below:
Account Name: Significance
Sort Code: 52-30-44
Account Number: 46107363