The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 14, 2007


A Roman Holiday for Father Donohoe

Father Thomas Donohoe visits the Colosseum. (Courtesy photo)
"It was a wonderful trip!" Father Thomas Donohoe exclaims as he slides into the seat behind his desk. He has recently returned from Rome, a trip arranged and paid for by the grateful congregation at Carlisle's St. Irene Roman Catholic Church in acknowledgement of his 80th birthday. His tour of that ancient city inspired his faith, while also offering a chance to relax from his duties as parish priest and have fun.

Father Donohoe had been to Rome only once before, when he led a youth group in the 1960s. He had intended to return, but his duties made travel difficult. In fact, his birthday was in April, and he was originally booked on a spring tour that had to be postponed. But by happy coincidence, he and Pat Barry, the ongregation member arranging the trip for him, discovered that Anthony Nachef was organizing a tour out of Assumption College in Worchester. Nachef, originally from Lebanon, had studied in Rome at the Gregorian Institute, and combined a fluent knowledge of English and Italian with a thorough familiarity with Rome and its treasures. Most of the 18 members of the tour were Catholic, and although not designed as a pilgrimage, "any time Catholics go to Rome, it's a pilgrimage," says Father Donohoe.

Impressions of Rome, Florence and Venice

The trip took place from October 15 through 24. The group's hotel was located right in Rome, "not four-star, but comfortable" with easy access to the railroad and subway. In addition to viewing sites around Rome, including the Colosseum and Sistine Chapel, the tour included day trips to Florence and Venice, which is "as lovely as they say." Father Donohoe also notes the convenience from his hotel of a nearby chapel where he heard the mass in Italian. Even in Rome, people are confused by the recent changes to the liturgy, and kneel when they should be standing, he observed.

Father Donohoe (right) and his group take a break from sightseeing in Rome. (Courtesy photo)

Father Donohoe describes with delight a side trip to the Pope's summer residence at the Castel Gandolfo, "a wonderful place to live for a while." Another visit was to "the Pope's church," St. John Lateran, dating from 329 and considered the oldest Christian church in the world. Also very moving was visiting the grave of St. Peter and the crypt of Pope John the XXIII, "that simple man who was once a farmer," whose body has miraculously not deteriorated. Father Donohoe notes he bought a book about the lives of the Popes, and has become newly interested in that aspect of church history.

Father Donohoe takes in the sights and sounds of St. Peter's Square. (Courtesy photo)

But the highlight of his trip was the papal audience in St. Peter's Square. This event occurs once a week and attracts over 100,000 people. Father Donohoe describes how the tour guide positioned him so he saw Pope Benedict XVI from only a few feet away "riding around in his Popemobile, greeting everybody." He adds, "It was a 70-degree day, and there were people from all over the world, including many, many young people. It was a moving thing to hear the young people cheering." He adds, "Rome is so diverse," and during the gathering he enjoyed a German choir "that burst into song" on one side of him, while a Polish group joined in on the other side. "You could feel the universal church coming together," he says. "It was a great experience being there for the blessing of the Pope together with so many who share the faith."

New cardinalships announced in Rome

The day was also exciting because Father Donohoe was present for papal announcements that included breaking news of importance to the church in the United States. A new cardinalship was announced for the Houston/Galveston region, expanding beyond the previously existing U.S. cardinalships that had been in large east and west coast cities. This was significant because it indicated Rome's recognition of the growing strength of the church in Hispanic Texas.

Father Donohoe compliments tour guide Nachef for planning an informative tour with very few complications. There was much walking, but the beautiful weather and 60-degree temperatures made it pleasant. The greatest thrill was a taxi ride to the hotel. "That is an exciting way to travel. I'd never seen a driver pick up speed for pedestrians."

"There was lots of fun to it," says Father Donohoe, including relaxing with congenial people. The members of the tour group ranged in age from mid-40s to one traveler's 92-year-old mother. "It was a well-traveled group, a fun group." Nachef often extended invitations to people they met along the way, who then joined them for part of the tour or for dinner. "The food was great, as was the sambuca. We did our share of singing, carousing and swapping stories," Father Donohoe laughs.

A week without responsibilities

But perhaps the greatest gift was a week without responsibilities. "It was great to get away and really have a complete change." Since the loss of his student assistant a year ago, Father Donohoe has shouldered the burden of providing masses and sacraments to a congregation that includes over 800 families. "It's a heavy schedule," he admits. "By Monday, I'm done in." But he doesn't anticipate immediate relief. "When I graduated from the seminary, there were 1,500 priests in Boston. Now there are 450." In eight years there will be 250 priests serving 280 parishes.

Father Donohoe admits that for many years he was afraid of flying, but his successful Rome trip has re-awakened the travel bug. Maybe soon he'll find the time to visit Ireland. His parents both emigrated from that country, and he would enjoy reconnecting with family there. But although he has submitted his request for retirement, it has not been accepted, so chances for travel may be few. In the meantime, he thanks the congregation for the fun he had in Rome, "The support is wonderful in this parish. I very much enjoy the people here."

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito