OMAGH-born priest, Fr Donal Bennett, who has died at the age of 90, devoted his life to helping the people of the Philippines during a ministry which lasted more than 60 years.
Born in Market Street in Omagh in 1932, Fr Bennett passed away at Dalgan in Co Meath on May 13. Family members, Fr Eugene Hasson, parish priest of Drumragh and Fr Declan McGeehan, curate in Cappagh Parish, attended his Requiem Funeral Mass.
Fr Bennett was born in the parish of Drumragh, Omagh, on October 28, 1932. He was educated at St Mary’s, Killyclogher, and CBS Omagh and entered Dalgan in 1954. He was ordained priest on December 21, 1960.
Fr Bennett was appointed to the Philippines and after studies in language and culture was assigned to Zambales where he would spend most of the following 37 years. He worked in Massinloc for three years, before becoming pastor of Castillejos, Iba, followed by the first of two periods as pastor of St Joseph’s, Olongapo City.
From 1982 to 1986 he was assigned to promotion and vocations work in Ireland. Then he returned to Zambales once more until 2000.
In 2000, Fr Bennett was invited to return to Ireland to take over as director of the Columban Missionaries Nursing Home in Dalgan, Co Meath. To prepare for this task, Donal went to the US and studied Gerontology for some months. He enjoyed his time at the nursing home: there was always classical music in the background; he organised trips to the theatre and the cinema, trips to the seaside, and barbeques on the lawn in the summer.
In 2005, Fr Bennett offered to minister to Filipino migrants in Northern Ireland. Five bishops responded very positively to his offer, and he enjoyed that ministry until 2014 when he retired to Omagh where he helped the local clergy on weekends and at funerals.
Fr Bennett’s Requiem Funeral Mass was celebrated by another Columban Missionary Priest, Fr Michael Martin from Carrickmore. He described how the late Fr Bennett was always ‘kind and welcoming’ and a priest who displayed ‘great enthusiasm and care’ towards his parishioners.
“Donal was a singer, a cook, an entertainer and a friend. It was easy to see why he became and remained a chaplain to the people of the Philippines, both in their own country and for those who came to the northern part of Ireland,” Fr Martin said.
In an interview with the UH just prior to his departure for Dalgan, Fr Bennett reflected on his celebration of the 60th anniversary of his ordination and the many challenges and rewards of his life. It was a trip hitch-hiking around Europe in the early 1950s which provided the impetus for a priestly vocation. His brother, Fr Terry Bennett, was also ordained to the Priesthood in 1950.
In a tribute at his funeral Mass, his niece, Rachel Rodgers, said many more people knew a lot more about Fr Bennet’s work in the Philippines than they as a family.
“He did not go on about how hard life was and he did not go on about the fantastic work that he was doing in the parishes in the Philippines,” she said.
“If it was not for people telling us about this, or for the little book ‘Bits and Pieces’ that he wrote, we would not be any the wiser about his humanitarian work, his bravery and this forward-thinking.
“We would get glimpses from time to time at Mass in Omagh when he might tell a story about his experience in the Philippines. He had such a way with stories and I was so proud of him.”
Predeceased by his parents Nicholas and Molly, brothers Fr. Terry, Jack and Tom, sister Eileen, brother-in-law Edward and his nephew Terry, Fr Bennett is survived by his sister Rosaleen Rodgers, sisters-in-law Mary and Pat, brother-in-law Brian, nephews, nieces, extended family, Columban family and friends.
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