A touching tribute to a loving man. That is how many would characterize the recent celebration marking one man's fifty years of serving God.
On January 23, hundreds gathered at St. George's Catholic Church to honour the fiftieth anniversary of the ordination of Monsignor Gerald Donegan. In addition to his twenty-two years of service at St. George's, Fr. Donegan also served as the pastor of other area churches, including several years at St. Elizabeth's on Leaside Avenue.
Besides the obvious influence he had on many people in his parishes, especially the (then) youth, he also played a significant role in the life of many, many police officers. For thirty years (and still counting), Fr. Donegan (or Fr. Jake as the officers called him) has served as chaplain for the Ottawa Police Services or Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Services. The impression he had made on the officers and the Service overall was very evident.
With the church filled to capacity with family, well-wishers and parishioners, the celebration began with a selection of songs wonderfully performed by the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service Chorus. Following their pre-liturgical music, piper Superintendent Pat Hayes signalled the beginning of the Mass by playing an inspirational rendition of Amazing Grace. A procession through the centre of the church was led by an honour guard of the Knights of Columbus. On hand for the celebration of the Mass were Archbishop Marcel Gervais, Bishop Brendan O'Brien from Pembroke and several of Fr. Donegan's brother priests.
The seventy-five minute service was marked with many tributes and long periods of applause for the Monsignor. Bishop O'Brien, a long time friend, gave a poignant, often humourous homily speaking to Fr. Donegan's response to God's call and his loving, dedicated service over a half century. During his remarks, Archbishop Gervais referred to Fr. Donegan as a “hero” for having stuck with the Church and his duties through the upheavals of the 60's and 70's coming after Vatican II.
Following the service, the participants went downstairs for a reception and additional tributes. Messages of congratulations were read out from Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Lt.-Governor Hilary Weston, Premier Mike Harris and even, via an e-mail message, a brother priest in Beijing, China. Area MPP Richard Patten was on hand to personally offer his congratulations and to wonder at the size of the pension the Monsignor must have after fifty years of employment!
Most touching were the words which came from Constable John Petersen on behalf of the Regional Police Association. He spoke of the tremendous support Fr. Donegan had given to the officers as they struggled to deal, not just with the major instances of injury and death in the line of duty, but the scenes of horror, sadness and despair they faced daily in the performance of their duties. He was followed by Chief of Police Brian Ford who also expressed his thanks for the invaluable service provided to himself, and the five Chiefs before him. Noting that Fr. Donegan would see a seventh Chief installed later this year, he commented that the Monsignor obviously had a more stable employment situation!
The tributes concluded with the presentation of a major gift by St. George's parish organizations. Master of ceremonies Dan Lunney noted the powered easy chair “would help Fr. Donegan to his feet as he prepared for his daily three-mile jog!” Not very likely for this 77 year old stalwart of the community, but one can surmise that the love and honour showered upon this servant of God were certain to give him quite a lift.