‘The spirituality of unity or of communion gave me the chance to understand and live with greater self-giving the sublime vocation of baptism, my consecration as a friar, as a priest and a bishop.’ These words, summing up his work for God and the Focolare contribution to it, contain the spiritual memorial of Msgr Lucas Donnelly, the bishop of Deán Funes in Argentina who died on 31 August at the age of 91. For twelve years he lived in the Focolare little town (Lia) in O’Higgins, which is 250 km from Buenos Aires. A lover of classical music, especially Chopin, he was for many a real witness to the love of Christ in the last and difficult moments of his life. ‘I am losing my memory,’ he confided, ‘but I find tremendous comfort in prayer and meditation.’
He was born in 1921 of Irish parents, the last of six children. When he was still a child he felt the longing to give himself totally to God. For his consecration to God he chose the Mecedarian Order with its specific vocation to free people from every kind of contemporary slavery. He became master and guide of his community during the closing years of dictatorship in Argentina.
Bishop Donnelly showed a pastoral respect for each person’s freedom of spirit. He was also a man of great intellectual clarity. He understood ‘that an important change was about to happen in the Church … that would come about under that form of and be sealed by the Second Vatican Council. I always like experiencing new things, without losing sight of the most important,’ which is to say, love for God.
At the end of the 50s he met the Focolare Movement and got know its founder, Chiara Lubich, personally. He did a great deal to make the charism of unity known to many and to develop the branch of the bishop friends of the ‘Work of Mary’.
In 1980 he was made bishop of Deán Funes and he was ordained bishop by Pope John Paul II. He said of the Pope: ‘I had a deep relationship with him. Every time I went to Rome I met him personally. I was presented to him in twenty audiences.
After a year at Claritas, the international centre for religious at Loppiano, near Florence in Italy, he became a bishop citizen of the Focolare little town called Lia in Argentina, where he lived for twelve years. When he went there, Chiara Lubich wrote to him: ‘Welcome to the first little town that has the joy and honour of welcoming as one its inhabitants a successor of the Apostles, a bishop who has given so much to the Church.’ In a passage of his spiritual memorial Bishop Donnelly told of his experience there: ‘In this centre I have come to know what love means as a living experience, what it means to live with “Jesus in the midst” in every moment and circumstance of daily life. Like this I have been able to understand better the mystery of Jesus Forsaken, the key to unity with God and among people, and I have discovered my brothers and sisters as a sure path to union with God.’
Today many people remember him. He was a hard worker in the little town and, at the same time, a quiet presence pointing others to follow Christ, fulfilling perfectly what Chiara Lubich had written to him twelve years ago: ‘With the your presence and your wisdom, Jesus in the midst will grow in the little town and will shine out still more splendidly.’