Belfast Telegraph

Reggie Donnelly toiled tirelessly to ease the suffering of families in Bosnian War, mourners told

By Stewart Robson

Mourners were told about the generosity and kindness of a much-loved charity worker at his funeral yesterday.

Reggie Donnelly (78), from Glengoland Park in Belfast, died in hospital last Saturday after suffering from a respiratory illness.

His daughter, Maria Mercer, passed away just 10 days previously from cancer. She was 51.

Mr Donnelly dedicated a great period of his life to helping the lives of children in war-torn Bosnia in the early 1990s when he led 'Operation Santa'.

The appeal provided families with food and clothing, as well as toys for children who were caught in the devastation.

Large crowds gathered for Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Dunmurry yesterday.

The traditional tune On Eagle's Wings played as Mr Donnelly's coffin was carried into the church.

His brother-in-law, Fr Patrick Neeson, conducted the service.

Fr Neeson's homily, which included reflections on Mr Donnelly's life, brought tears to the eyes of family and friends.

The priest spoke of the sadness felt by Mr Donnelly after the recent trauma of losing his daughter.

"For Reggie, it was a hard time because he was in hospital and he couldn't get to see Maria as much as he'd have liked to," Fr Neeson said.

Comforted by the arm of another member of clergy, the emotional priest added: "It was then that he said to us that it broke his heart and that he didn't want to carry on.

"A day or two after, little by little, he passed away."

Other selfless work of the father-of-six included bringing casualties of the Bosnian War to Ireland for treatment.

Pleading with doctors from the Republic, Mr Donnelly encouraged them to offer their services at no cost.

Fr Neeson continued: "How many people were helped? Only the good Lord knows.

"Even in his [Reggie's] house, bags of things were in his living room.

"Sometimes, you couldn't even get through his front door.

"As you know, that annoyed Reggie, because he was so house-proud," he joked.

"But that was his way.

"He wanted to do, he wanted to help, he wanted to give and he did."

The congregation also heard of Mr Donnelly's remarkable dedication to his church.

Renowned for his pilgrimages to Medjugorje - where an apparition of the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared in 1981 - the "truly inspirational man of faith" flew worshippers from across Northern Ireland to the Bosnian town six times a year.

"When his wife died in 1990, Reggie threw himself into Medjugorje," said Fr Neeson.

"He loved going there so often and it was only yesterday that the priest in Medjugorje heard of Reggie's death.

"He wanted to be here with us today and sends his love and prayers."

The church was reminded of an earlier time in Mr Donnelly's life when he served fish and chips from his van in west Belfast.

Fr Neeson brought laughter to the mourners, noting: "The people who ate them are still alive by the way."

Ending his tribute, he said: "That was Reggie's life.

"He wasn't thinking of himself, but of other people.

"Goodbye Reggie, thanks."

Mr Donnelly is survived by his three sons, Martin, Gerard and John, and daughters Ciara and Una.

His children also read out prayers to close the service yesterday.

Following the service, Mr Donnelly was buried at St Joseph's Cemetery in Hannahstown.

Belfast Telegraph

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