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Belfast priest Fr Gary Donegan to leave Holy Cross Church

Fr Gary Donegan is to leave his post as rector of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne. Picture by Hugh Russell

NORTH Belfast priest Fr Gary Donegan is to leave his post as rector of Holy Cross Church in Ardoyne.

The prominent cleric, who is well known for his community work, announced he would be moving to the Tobar Mhuire retreat in Crossgar, Co Down.

However, Fr Donegan said he would continue his peace-building work in north Belfast and would retain an office in the Ardoyne area.

Speaking to The Irish News on Sunday night, Fr Donegan described his time in Ardoyne as "the most challenging and rewarding 15 years of my life".

Originally from Co Fermanagh, he recently marked 25 years in the priesthood, moving to the Ardoyne parish in 2001.

He was involved in dealing with the Holy Cross dispute and throughout his time in north Belfast has worked to improve community relations in the area, overseeing talks with both sides of the community.

He helped his parishioners through numerous violent incidents, including most recently the family of Michael McGibbon following his murder by dissident republicans.

Shortly after the killing, the popular priest also revealed he was under dissident death threat after speaking out against the murder.

Fr Donegan said while he was moving on from his role as rector of Holy Cross Church, he was keen to remain involved in community relations in north Belfast.

Fr Gary Donegan pictured earlier this year at the launch of a charity walk, which also marked his 25th year in the priesthood. Picture by Hugh Russell

"My time as rector has come to an end, but that does not end my association with Ardoyne, I will still be doing the work I have been doing in the area of peace and reconciliation," he said.

"Nothing will change in terms of what I do in the community and I will be sourcing office space in Ardoyne and once that i secured I will be commuting back and forward to Belfast on a daily basis.

"What is changing is do with the pastoral end of things, the parish."

The priest said his time spent at Holy Cross had been an "incredibly fulfilling" period of his life.

"It is a big wrench for me to leave, this has been the most challenging and rewarding 15 years of my life," he said.

"Quite often there has been unique needs and challenges within my role, but despite being so demanding, it had been incredibly fulfilling.

"I have never worked with so many sincere and incredible people, the people in Ardoyne have made a difference to my life."

Fr Donegan said he will leave his post at the end of September with Fr Eugene McCarthy taking on the role.

He added that he was looking forward to "a different way of life in Crossgar, but I will be still doing my peace and reconciliation work that I enjoy".

Since news of his departure was revealed, hundreds of tributes have been paid to Fr Donegan. Many wrote that the priest would be "sorely missed", while others said "you touched the hearts of many".

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