Toledo Irish: The Donnelly Brothers of Toledo
by Maury Collins
Agnes (Quinn) and Leonard Donnelly were founding members of Blessed Sacrament Church in Toledo. Their sons, Robert and Martin Donnelly, both became priests. Robert was ordained on May 25, 1957. Marty was ordained on December 16, 1964. In 1984, Pope John Paul II appointed Robert auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Toledo, and he was a bishop for the rest of his life. He entered senior/retirement status in 2006.
Father Marty’s last assignment, from 2005-11, was as pastor of Blessed Sacrament. Bishop Bob joined him in residence. They were both thrilled to return to their boyhood parish; they enjoyed walking in the neighborhood, and continued to live nearby, purchasing a home in retirement.
Father Marty and Bishop Bob both became chaplains for the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians in Toledo after the death of their cousin and longtime Hibernian Chaplain, Fr. Tom Quinn. They offered the hall at Blessed Sacrament for Christmas parties at no charge and were available to celebrate Mass for Hibernian events, and you would find the two brothers at events such as the festivals and ball games.
Fr. Marty and Bishop Bob sometimes concelebrated Mass at Blessed Sacrament. One Sunday after Mass, I was standing outside of the church chatting with the Bishop Bob. I pointed up to the sky and said, “My Mom and Dad are looking down and they are astonished that I am friends with a Bishop.” He responded; “My parents are looking down and they are astonished that I am a Bishop.”
On another occasion, I was asked to help a family. A lady who was a long-time member of St. Patrick’s Historic Church had asked to have an Irish priest do her funeral. The pastor, Father Denny Hardigan, was out of town. Some of the family members wanted to go ahead with the funeral and others insisted that the deceased lady’s wishes had to be honored.
I called Deacon Tom at the church and suggested that Bishop Bob Donnelly might be available and to find out what day he was available, and I would contact the funeral home to set up the funeral. The day came and so did Bishop Bob. After the procession’ to the altar, he looked out at the people in the church and said, “I am Bob Donnelly, I am a Priest and I am Irish.”
One evening, Father Marty was coming home from one of his many meetings. He saw me walking my two-year-old German Shepherd, Gretel. He stopped to say hello and asked if everything was all right, since I didn’t appear to be my usual happy self.
I told him that my dog was suffering from kidney failure and this was probably the last walk we would take together. Father Marty pulled his car to the side of the road, got out and gave us both a blessing, thanking God for the pleasure Gretel had brought to Penny and I, and to many in the neighborhood.
Bishop Donnelly died July 21, 2014, at age 83. Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, Conn., the former bishop of the Toledo diocese, was celebrant for the Funeral Mass. Archbishop Blair returned to Toledo for the first time since moving to Connecticut to be archbishop. He spoke of Bishop Donnelly’s kindness and his good humor.
In a eulogy in the vigil the night before the funeral, the Rev. Raymond Sheperd, ordained a priest the same day as Bishop Donnelly, said that Bishop Donnelly had a special quality. “In the 65 years of my friendship with Bob Donnelly,” Father Sheperd said, “never once, in no instance, did he ever say a bad word about anybody. He knew how to say good things or say nothing.”
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins said, “I think Bishop Donnelly has defined himself in terms of his character and the quality of life that he promoted in his earthly journey. I think he was a pastor for all people. He was a man of all religions and all faiths,” the mayor said, “and the example that he set is an example that all of us would be wise to follow.”
Father Marty Donnelly died on January 27, 2019, at age 80. He was a 1956 graduate of Central Catholic High School and he spent more than a decade at his alma mater, starting in 1973 as assistant principal, and later as principal and then as pastor and president. Father Donnelly then was named pastor of two central Toledo parishes, St. Ann and St. Teresa. He oversaw the joining of the congregations to create St. Martin de Porres Parish.
“He loved the multicultural diversity. He was very in tune with the people. He was a real pastor,” said Sister Virginia Welsh, pastoral leader of the parish. That meant to him feeding the hungry, and that meant to him going to the hospital at midnight to be with a parishioner whose parent was dying.
Father Donnelly also formerly led the Central City Ministries of Toledo, a coalition of urban parishes and schools. He said, “We want a neighborhood worthy of the people, who live in it,”
He oversaw the Erase the Hate campaign and served on the Toledo Board of Community Relations. In 2012, he was inducted into the Multifaith Coalition of Northwest Ohio’s Heroes of Compassion Gallery. He was named a Toledoan of the Year in 2007. He spoke out against gun violence and for peace and labor rights.
In 2009, the city honored Father Marty and his brother, Robert. I wrote in my newsletter at that time. “HIBERNIAN CHAPLAINS HONORED!!! Two of the people to be honored for community service by outgoing Mayor Carty Finkbeiner are Hibernian chaplains here in Toledo. Bishop Robert Donnelly and his brother, Father Martin Donnelly will be awarded ceremonial glass keys to the city. Congratulations to both honorees and thank you for all that you do for the Hibernians, for Blessed Sacrament Parish and for the whole community. Your hard work is appreciated
Both men are remembered for the humble service to all, their sense of humor and their love for their Irish Heritage. The Donnelly Neighborhood Center at Blessed Sacrament was named to honor them. May they Rest in Peace.
The 2019 Irish Heritage Night at the Mud Hens, sponsored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, will be on July 15th. Discounted Tickets are available on line at ToledoMudens.com/IrishNight or by contacting me.
* Maury Collins is a charter member and past president of the Toledo AOH division. He may be reached at [email protected].
Don’t Forget, Send Maury [email protected]) and John ([email protected]) your Toledo Irish events news and pics so we can let everyone know. Deadline is 10thof the month, for the following month, so Jan 10 for February issue, etc ….