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LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Father Dermott Donnelly, a Catholic priest probably best known for being the brother of British television presenter Dec Donnelly, died Friday afternoon at the age of 55 after collapsing on Thursday evening at home.
Donnelly served as a priest for the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle in Northeastern England for 30 years, most recently assigned to the parish of St Joseph’s Church in Stanley.
Dec Donnelly is one half of the presenting team Ant and Dec, with Anthony McPartlin, who jointly won the award for Most Popular TV Presenter at the National Television Awards for 20 years running.
“I am heartbroken to tell you that my darling brother Fr Dermott, TweeterPriest, sadly passed away this afternoon. We are all beyond devastated. Thank you for your messages of sympathy and support, they are appreciated DD,” Dec wrote on Twitter.
Bishop Robert Byrne of Hexham and Newcastle said he was “shocked” by the priest’s death.
“Father Dermott had only recently celebrated his 30th anniversary of service to parish, community, Diocese and our faith. He will be sorely missed for his energy, enthusiasm and ability to engage with all who met him. This is particularly true of his work with young people and youth ministry in the Diocese – bringing many disadvantaged and dispirited young people to Christ and Catholicism. Father Dermott truly lived his faith, and in doing so gave so much to others. It is with great gratitude that we will remember him and all he selflessly gave,” the bishop said in a statement.
“Having been born and bred in the Diocese, Father Dermott was known to many – from his own large extended family, to the local communities he grew up in and later served, his fellow priests and many, many more. Our prayers and condolences go out to those who will be grieving so strongly at this moment,” he said.
Monica Conmee, the head of education for CAFOD – the developmental aid agency of the English and Welsh bishops – said she was “hugely” saddened to hear about Father Donnelly’s death, calling him “a great friend of CAFOD who witnessed a burning passion and commitment to the fullness of life for all.”
“Father Dermott chose to stand in the light, and through his immense talent and gifts, so generously guided thousands of young people to experience the love and light of God in their own lives, inspiring them to share this with others,” she said.
“Unforgettable mountain-top moments for so many young Catholics were the Flame events at Wembley Arena, of which Dermott was a guiding light and a driving force. We are hugely privileged to have worked closely with Father Dermott enabling the voices of the poor and most vulnerable to be heard. Father Dermott will shine brightly forever. May the angels come to greet one of their own,” she said.
The Flame events at the Wembley Arena in London is the largest Catholic youth rally in England and draws over 10,000 participants.
Ant often returned to the northeast of England to participate in Masses and church events celebrated by his brother, who could himself often be seen in the crowd during his brother’s events.
According to The Guardian, the priest said in 2015 that his famous brother helped him connect with young people in the parish.
“I don’t advertise that I’m Dec’s brother, but the kids always seem to know. It bridges the gap between me and them,” he said.
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome