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Late Fr Donald was the last St Patrick's Society member to have known its founder


The late Fr Donald McDonagh.

The late Fr Donald McDonagh.

The late Fr Donald McDonagh.


FR Donald McDonagh of the 1955 class passed away peacefully in the early hours of June 1 in the Care Unit of St Patrick’s Missionary Society in Kiltegan.

Fr Donald was the last surviving member of the Society to have known its founder, Pat Whitney. Donald considered it a privilege to have been chosen to serve Pat’s Mass and to have seen him up close and personal. The ailing Monsignor made a deep impression on the young school boy and without doubt those encounters sowed the seed in Donald that years later would inspire him to join the Society and dedicate his life to the missions.

Donald James McDonagh was born on June 16, 1930 to Thomas McDonagh and his wife Mary (née Lang) of Red House, Kilmactranny, Co Sligo. He was the second youngest of a family of one girl and three boys.

Donald enjoyed good health until just before his 90th birthday. Shortly after reaching that landmark birthday his health began to deteriorate. He was hospitalised in Galway in January 2021 and after being discharged he came to live in the Care Unit in Kiltegan. His condition continued to decline. He died peacefully on June 1. His funeral mass was held on Friday, June 3 in St Patrick’s, followed by his burial in the Society Cemetery.

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Donald had made an outstanding contribution to the life and mission of the Society during his sixty-seven years of missionary priesthood. His organisational gifts shone through from an early age and he was catapulted into the limelight after only one year on the missions.

He received his primary education at Kilmactranny National School where his mother and his mother’s first cousin were the teachers.

During his final years in primary school he often served Mass for Monsignor Patrick J Whitney, the founder of St Patrick’s Missionary Society, who at that time was being cared for by his sister, Mrs Annie Gardiner. The Gardiner home was beside the school.

After primary school Donald proceeded to Summerhill College, Sligo, where he was a boarder from 1943 to 1948. He sat the Leaving Certificate in June 1948 and joined St Patrick’s Missionary Society the following September.

He pursued the usual programme of studies which included the Spiritual Year, a two year course in philosophy and a four year course in theology. He was ordained priest with nine colleagues in Carlow Cathedral on Easter in 1955. The ordaining prelate was Most Rev Thomas Keogh DD, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.

After ordination Donald was appointed to the then Prefecture of Eldoret, Kenya. His first assignment was to Nerkwo where he taught in a super primary school and helped out in the local parish at weekends. His time in Nerkwo was very short as he was appointed to the newly created Prefecture of Kitui and arrived there on October 1st 1956.

Kitui had been entrusted to the Society earlier that year. Donald was placed in charge of the Prefecture until the arrival of William Dunne some months later. It was a great vote of confidence in a man who was scarcely a year in the country. Donald was based at first in Mutune and when William Dunne took over as Prefect Apostolic he moved with him to Kitui. He served as education secretary and also became the Vicar General.

Donald was withdrawn from Kitui in 1973 and was appointed to the post of Director of Promotion for Ireland. He was based in Kiltegan.

He succeeded Fr Charlie Smith who had headed the Society’s promotion programme since the late 1930s. It was a big challenge for Donald as he was following in the footsteps of a legend. But in that spirit of service to the Gospel and to the Society which imbued his missionary life, Donald embraced the challenge with courage and faith.

He also served as Vocations Director for Ireland and recruited many future priests for the Society. After twelve years as Director of Promotion in Ireland he was appointed to the USA to carry out the same mission there. While it was not his wish to leave Kiltegan he took on this new challenge in the USA with the same fervour and commitment.

After twenty-five years of intense involvement in the Promotion Programme of the Society, Donald returned to Ireland in 1998. He was offered a sabbatical but the sabbatical he chose was pastoral work in his native Diocese of Elphin. After forty-three years of priesthood he went to work in a parish for the first time and he relished the opportunity to exercise his priestly ministry serving the people of God in Kilmurry, Co Roscommon.

In 2000 the Society discerned the need to open a house in Knock and Donald was asked to supervise the acquisition of a house there. At the end of 2000 he moved to the newly acquired house in Knock and spent the next twenty years ministering at Knock Shrine.

He made a very impressive contribution to the development of the Church in Kitui. When he and William Dunne arrived there in 1956 it was a place that showed very little promise. Through his hard work and vision the foundations were laid for what would become a very vibrant, dynamic and forward looking Church.

The qualities that served him during his seventeen years in Kitui were put to good use during his twenty-five years of service to the Promotion Programme of the Society in Ireland and in the USA. Like his predecessors Charlie Smith and Pat Whitney he was gifted at promotion work.

He was meticulous in his planning and thorough in everything he did. He put his heart and soul into the Promotion Programme of the Society and spearheaded its modernization; his enthusiasm never flagged. The circulation of the Africa magazine reached its peak during Donald’s years as Director of Promotion in Ireland.

Donald was predeceased by his sister Dolores, his brothers Maurice and Tommy and by his sister-in-law Eileen. He is survived by his sister-in-law Carmel, his nieces and nephews and their families.