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Fr Bellew dedicated life to missionary work

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Fr Gerard Bellew

Fr Gerard Bellew

Fr Gerard Bellew

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Fr. Gerard Bellew who died recently dedicated his life to missionary work, where he had a distinguished career in Chile, and was deeply involved in helping the youth underground movement that resisted the repressive regime of the dictator, Pinochet.

One of a family of ten, Fr. Bellew was born in Dundalk on the 15th March 1938, a son of Michael and Mary who resided on the Long Avenue. He was also a brother of former Dail Deputy and chairman of Dundalk Urban Council, the late Tom Bellew who died in 1995.

Educated in the CBS primary and secondary schools in Dundalk Fr. Bellew joined the Columbans in Navan in 1955 and was ordained on 20th December 1961.

His first appointment was to post graduate studies in UCD while also acting as dean at St Columban’s House of Studies in Templeogue, Dublin. In 1965 he was appointed Dean of the major seminary in Dalgan Park and in the early 1970s he taught English literature both in Dalgan and Kimmage.

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However, academic life was not Fr. Bellew’s primary intention for joining the priesthood for he always felt that he could make his contribution on the missions and in the middle 1970’s he got his wish when he was sent to Chile to investigate an incident in which Dr. Sheila Cassidy, an English doctor known for her work in the hospice movement and a writer who, by publishing abuses of human rights in Chile had to take refuge in the Columban Fathers house in Santiago from the Pinochet Army generals.

Dr. Cassidy had been arrested when she gave medical care to Nelson Gutierrez, a political opponent of Augusto Pinochet the Chilean Army General who was the leader of the Military Junta who seized power in the country in 1973.

She escaped from prison and took refuge with the Columban Fathers, causing world wide publicity that thrust the Order into the spotlight. As a result Fr. Bellew was dispatched to investigate the incident, and immediately fell in love with the country, identifying himself with the struggle against the Pinochet regime which was later proven to be involved in major human rights abuses and deaths.

Fr. Bellew returned to Chile in 1977 and was sent to Santiago and soon became involved in help the youth resistance movement at great peril to his own safety.

His first assigned in Chile was to the parish of El Olivo in the Northern Zone of the Archdiocese of Santiago where we was to spend the next 11 years. When the parish was handed over to the Archdiocese in 1988, he became parish priest of the neighbouring parish of Nuestra Señora del Rosario.

Fr. Bellew ministered there until he retired from active pastoral work in 2018 and was a very popular figure, becoming fluent in the Spanish and involving himself deeply in the lives of his parishioners.

Throughout his ministry he collaborated closely with three Archbishops of Santiago, Cardinal Juan Francisco Fresno, Cardinal Carlos Oviedo and Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, occupying key positions of leadership in the Archdiocese.

He became Episcopal Vicar of the Northern Zone in 1988 and continued in that role until he was named Director of the Pontifical Mission Society (Wold Mission) in Chile.

He was later appointed Episcopal Vicar for Religious, a position he held for several years. He was Vice Director of the Chilean Region from 1992-1996 and he welcomed the first group of Viatores Christi Lay Missionaries from Ireland there in the late 1980s.

As a representative of the Chilean Pontificate Societies, Fr. Bellew travelled extensively throughout South America and on one occasion when he was falsely arrested in Columbia he was grateful for the help of a former school mate in the CBS in Dundalk, Art Agnew who was then ambassador in Argentina and helped to negotiate his friend’s release.

During the Papal visit to Chile, Fr. Bellew was Master of Ceremonies to Pope John Paul II in the youth event in the National Stadium in Santiago. There, he navigated a particularly difficult situation in a ceremony that was filled with tensions between the Military Government of General Pinochet and the suppressed voices of the youth of Chile.

Fr. Bellew was involved in the Family Catechesis Programme of the Chilean Church and empowered laity to be proactive in the life of the Church. He was a promoter of Basic Christian Communities and actively supported the struggle of the poor and oppressed for justice and their basic human rights.

Having spent a total of 43 years in Chile, Fr. Bellew returned to Ireland in February, 2020 and died in the Columban Nursing Home in Dalgan on 24th September.

Following his death there was many tributes to his work and service and will long be remembered with gratitude among the people of Santiago.

Fr. Bellew is survived by his brother Jimmy (Dundalk), sisters, Nancy Ramesar (Trinadad) and Moninne McCoy (Newry) and by relatives and friends. He was predeceased by sisters, Marie Rafferty (Dundalk), Eithne Kearney (London), Brid Burke (Belfast) and by brothers, Michael who died in infancy, Colm, a leading figure in minor and junior soccer in town and Tom, the former councillor.

Requiem Mass for Fr. Bellew was celebrated in St. Columban’s, Dalgan Park, Navan by Very Pat Egan, and burial took place afterwards in the Community cemetery.


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