28 February 2020

Father Godfrey O’Donnell:
brought the Romanian
Orthodox Church to Ireland

Father Godfrey O’Donnell, Patrick Comerford and Ruth O’Donnell at the IOCS summer school in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 2014 (Photograph courtesy IOCS, Cambridge)

It is with great sadness that I learned earlier this month that Father Godfrey O’Donnell had died at his home in Swords, Co Dublin two weeks ago [14 February 2020].

Father Godfrey was instrumental in establishing the first parish of the Romanian Orthodox Church in Ireland, and later he was the first representative of the Orthodox churches in Ireland to serve as President of the Irish Council of Churches (ICC), and co-chair of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting (2012-2014).

I was honoured to have been a guest as his friend at his ordination to the priesthood in the Orthodox Church in 2004, and while I was living in Dublin we continued to meet regularly.

We were often at the same Church gatherings, whether they were Orthodox, Church of Ireland or ecumenical events, and he was a frequent visitor to the Church of Ireland Theological Institute when I was on the staff. When he preached one year during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I presided at the Eucharist and he was the first Orthodox priest to preach in the chapel of CITI.

We were both students too at various times at the summer courses in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS).

Father Godfrey O’Donnell was born in Derry, and he was brought up by his widowed mother next door to the Church of Ireland rectory in Queen Street, Derry.

He served as a Jesuit priest for 28 years before leaving the Society of Jesus in 1985. Later, he married Ruth and they then joined the Romanian Orthodox Church. When Father Godfrey joined the Romanian Orthodox church in 1999, he was asked by the Romanian Orthodox Metropolitan Iosif, based in Paris, to help secure a Romanian Orthodox priest for the Romanian community in Ireland.

Father Godfrey was instrumental in establishing the Romanian Orthodox parish in Dublin in 2000, and regular services began in 2001 in the Jesuit chapel in Belvedere College.

He was ordained priest in the Romanian Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Iosif in a six-hour liturgy in the same chapel in 2004. I was his guest at this ordination, which was also attended by representatives of other Orthodox churches, the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church and diplomats at the Romanian embassy.

His work in establishing the Romanian Orthodox Church in Ireland and his service to the Romanian Orthodox community were recognised in 2013, when he was honoured with the accolade of ‘Stavrophore,’ the highest award given to married priests in the Romanian Orthodox Church. It gave him the right to wear a cross as a special honour and as a symbol of his service.

He was active in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, serving for a time as Chair of the Dublin Council of Churches. He represented the Romanian Orthodox Church on the ICC for many years, becoming Vice-President in 2010 and President in 2012. During that time, he was instrumental in strengthening the links between the Orthodox churches and the other churches in Ireland.

In their tribute to Father Godfrey, the co-chairs of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting, the Revd Brian Anderson, President of the Irish Council of Church, and and Irish Inter-Church Meeting, and Bishop Brendan Leahy of Limerick, said: ‘He is remembered with great fondness by all who worked with him in the ecumenical community because of his generosity, gentleness, welcoming nature and dedication to Church unity.’

Father Godfrey, who continued to serve the Romanian Orthodox Church, died at his home in Swords, Co Dublin, on 14 February 2020, aged 80.

With the spirits of the righteous made perfect,
give rest to the souls of thy servants, O Saviour,
preserving them in that blessed life which is with thee,
who lovest mankind.
In the place of thy rest, O Lord,
where all thy saints repose,
give rest also to the souls of thy servants,
for thou alone lovest mankind.

Father Godfrey O’Donnell (right) with the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott, Director of CITI, Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times and Patrick Comerford, at a Christian Unity liturgy in the Chapel of CITI in 2007

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