A shepherd who knew the smell of the sheep

Emeritus Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster who passed away 24 January 2021 Credit: Diocese of Lancaster

A tribute to Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue who sadly died in County Cork, Ireland, on 24 January 2021. Written by his former private secretary, Father Robert Billing. Bishop O’Donaghue served the dioceses of Lancaster and Westminster – and indeed the Bishops’ Conference – with great distinction.

Padraig O’Donoghue was born in Mourne Abbey, Co Cork, on 4 May 1934, the middle of five children to farmers Daniel and Sheila. He was educated at the Patrician Academy in Mallow, Co Cork and came to Britain in 1959 for seminary training, first at Campion House and then, from 1961-67, at Allen Hall seminary when it was based at St Edmund’s, Ware, Hertfordshire.

Ordained Priest

On 25 May 1967, Padraig was ordained priest for the Archdiocese of Westminster in St Michael’s church, Analeentha in the Parish of Mourne Abbey by the Westminster Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Casey.

Father O’Donoghue worked initially in the parish of Our Lady of Willesden as a curate from 1967-70 and served as local hospital chaplain. He was soon noticed by Cardinal John Heenan and was assigned to work on the Diocesan Pastoral Mission Team from 1970-73, where he gained experience in a total of 27 parishes across the entire archdiocese.

From 1973-77 Fr O’Donoghue was appointed Pastoral Director at Allen Hall Seminary in Chelsea. Then, from 1977-78 he was part of the team ministry at the parish of St Thomas of Canterbury, Fulham. His varied pastoral experience led to his belief that renewal at every level in the Church, called for by the Second Vatican Council, was urgently called for, combined with his conviction in the need to grapple with the major issues facing both society and the Church.

Cathedral Administrator

He was appointed by Cardinal Basil Hume OSB as Sub-Administrator of Westminster Cathedral from 1978-85, an appointment that marked the beginning of a great respect and close friendship between himself and the Benedictine Cardinal who was a cherished mentor for Fr Padraig over the years. After this he was made Rector of Allen Hall Seminary from 1985-90 before the by-now Monsignor O’Donoghue was sent back to Westminster Cathedral again – this time as Administrator, from 1990-93.

The 20 years spent between the Seminary and the Cathedral further heightened his desire for play his part in the reform and renewal of the Church. But there were other challenges too, especially for those thrown to the peripheries of life in the inner city. Here Fr Padraig showed his desire to help combat the poverty of London, working in projects to aid the lot of the homeless, the addict and the dispossessed. For Monsignor O’Donoghue it was necessary for the Church to be right at the centre of work that championed the plight and rights of the poor, and to this end he was a key player in the practical establishment of The Cardinal Hume and Passage Centres, which continue to flourish to this day in London.

Auxiliary Bishop

Such was his work that few were surprised that he was named bishop by Pope John Paul II on 18 May 1993. He was duly ordained as Auxiliary Bishop for the Archdiocese of Westminster (and titular bishop of Tulana) by his great friend and mentor Cardinal Basil Hume on 29 June 1993, and soon after was appointed Bishop to the West London Pastoral Area of the Archdiocese.

This eight-year appointment meant that he would make many pastoral visitations and confirmation celebrations to all 41 the culturally mixed parishes of West London. Across the archdiocese Bishop Padraig was well-known by priests and people alike, going by his nickname from Cardinal Hume: ‘Pod’.

Migrants and Refugees

He served as Chairman of the Westminster Diocesan Pastoral Board from 1996 and even before that, on the national scene, as Chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales Committee for Migrants from 1993. He was constantly to the fore advancing the cause of this most vulnerable section of our community.

He championed aloud the refugee, migrant and the asylum seeker. It was widely recognised that, the Office for Migrant and Refugee Policy, overseen by Bishop Patrick, was the most high-profile of the bishops’ conference offices, thanks mainly to Bishop Patrick’s unstinting work.

In May 2001, just a few months before his move from Westminster to Lancaster, he launched a strongly-worded document Any Room at the Inn? Reflections on Asylum Seekers to mark the 50th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.

Bishop of Lancaster

He was appointed a diocesan bishop in his own right on 5 June 2001 – as Fifth Bishop of Lancaster, a role he fulfilled until 1 May 2009.

He took up as his episcopal motto: ‘Blessed are the Poor’. As Bishop he quickly exuded great energy and stamina in getting to know his new diocese, which covered Lancashire north of the River Ribble and all of Cumbria. He arrived as a Pilgrim to a traditionally very Catholic part of the country; eager to learn and to garner the ministry of his predecessors and the community of faithful priests and people who awaited him in Lancaster.

It took about two years for Bishop Patrick to survey the ‘lie of the land’, through a deanery-wide visitation programme throughout his new diocese, and to find his voice, but once he had done so he mandated many new and bold initiatives to strengthen the life and mission of the Diocese.

He was a shepherd who was often ‘out and about’ in the diocese; who knew well ‘the smell of the sheep’. His personality of closeness and warmth allowed him to be a bridge across the aisle for very different kinds of people; different kinds of Catholic – traditional and more liberal. While bishop he set about a number of wide ranging reforms to the benefit of the diocese, including selling off the 16-room Victorian Mansion of Bishop’s House in Lancaster and settling in more modest accommodation. He also increased the profile of the Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lourdes, which increased four-fold in his time as bishop, as well as establishing a new Diocesan House of Formation at Cleator, Cumbria to serve as a preparatory House for pre-seminary students.

In 2004 he established the strong links that still exist with Syro-Malabar Catholics (from Kerala, India) in the UK. This work laid the foundations, to be taken up by his successor in Lancaster, Bishop Michael Campbell OSA to directly and practically assist in the erection, by the Vatican, of a Syro-Malabar Eparchy (diocese) for Great Britain with its cathedral set in Preston.

He also oversaw a comprehensive review of both finance and property services and education. Throughout his time in Lancaster he sought to address (through his Fit for Mission? programme of reviews) the contemporary challenges facing Catholic education, and won many accolades from the Holy See, from other diocesan bishops and from Catholic priests and people from all over the world.

A kind pastor

Above all he will be remembered for the personal interest, care and pastoral kindness he showed all his flock, but particularly his seminarians and priests.

Bishop O’Donoghue retired, aged 75, on 1 May 2009 and left the UK to return to his native County Cork, Ireland. There he continued his ministry, working as an assistant priest of the parish of Bantry in West Cork, taking on duties in the hospital chaplaincy, too. In April 2013, with some health challenges, Bishop Padraig moved to be resident in the care of Nazareth House, Dromahane near Mallow so as to much nearer to his family and relatives for whom he has always expressed his great affection, pride and loyalty.

It was in his beloved County Cork that he died on 24 January 2021, sorely missed by all who knew and loved him.

Bishop Padraig O’Donoghue RIP
4 May 1934 – 24th January 2021

This article first appeared in The Catholic Times – part of the Catholic Universe stable.

Source: CNA