Obituary: Mgr Benjamin Donachie, retired priest of the Diocese of Dunkeld

Mgr Ben Donachie: A most talented man who put his many gifts at the service of the Church
Mgr Ben Donachie: A most talented man who put his many gifts at the service of the Church
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Born: 17 October, 1928, in Dundee. Died: 5 February, 2014, in Arbroath, aged 85

Monsignor Benjamin Donachie, a retired priest of the Diocese of Dunkeld, was born in Lochee, Dundee, the elder of two sons of Benjamin and Margaret Donachie. He was educated at Lawside Academy and the University of St Andrews, from where he graduated in 1950 with an honours degree.

His brother Gerald is a retired GP in Australia. After graduation, Mgr Ben spent two years in the Royal Air Force, before deciding that he wanted to study for the priesthood. He spent five years at the Seminaire St Sulpice in Paris and was ordained by Bishop William Andrew Hart in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee, on 29 June, 1958.

His studies in the French capital afforded him the opportunity to enhance his linguistic skills. Not only did he speak French fluently, but he also did so with a flawless accent. So much so that a native French speaker once told him that, had she not known otherwise, listening to him, she would have sworn that he was born on her side of La Manche (the English Channel).

After ordination, he joined the staff of Blairs College, Aberdeen, which was then the National Junior Seminary for Scotland. He was appointed rector of the college in 1974, a post he held for six years. As rector, he influenced a generation of priests, many of whom are serving in Scotland today.

Among his colleagues on the staff at that time is the recently-appointed Bishop of Dunkeld, Bishop Stephen Robson. He recalls: “Mgr Donachie was responsible for asking Cardinal Gray to release me to join the teaching staff at Blairs. In many ways, Mgr Ben’s influence as rector stamped a certain high culture and musical excellence in the national seminary, which lasted for many years.

“His musical prowess as a choir director and as a pianist was outstanding, and we reaped the benefit of his giftedness.”

Indeed, such was his skill at the piano that he could have made his living as a concert pianist had he not followed his heart to answer God’s call to the priesthood.

Mgr Donachie, who was made a prelate of Honour to Pope John Paul II in 1984, returned to Dundee in 1980 as chaplain to Wellburn Home, which is run by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

He was appointed parish priest of St James’, Kinross, in 1981, a post he held for six years, before moving to St Ninian’s, Dundee. After three years in Menzieshill, he moved to be parish priest of St Thomas’, Arbroath, where he was to remain until he retired.

During his 15 years there, he was also chaplain to RM Condor. He was appointed a Canon of the Cathedral Chapter in 1981, becoming an Honorary Canon on his retiral in 2005.

Mgr Donachie was asked in 1982, by Bishop Vincent Logan, now Bishop Emeritus of Dunkeld, to lead the diocesan choir, and he was director of the choir for 23 years. Leading the diocesan choir was one of the joys of his life, and with the choir he did much to keep alive the rich musical heritage of the Catholic Church from its earliest beginnings to the present day.

He was also spiritual director of the Dunkeld St Vincent de Paul Society for 11 years. Bishop Logan said: “Mgr Ben was a dedicated priest, who served the Church in Scotland for over half a century. Many priests throughout Scotland owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his service to the National Junior Seminary. And the people of God in this diocese were privileged to have him as their faithful priest for many years.

“He was a most talented man who put his many gifts at the service of the Church, a man who enriched the lives of many, many people. May God reward him for his labours.”

His housekeeper for many years was Wilma Maich, who looked after him with great devotion and affection.

Mgr Donachie is survived by his brother Gerald, his sister-in-law Nessie, nieces and nephews and their families in Australia, and by cousins here in Scotland.