By Janee Law
Standing at 6-foot-4, Rev. Stephen Donnelly is both literally and figuratively a pillar of the Huntington community.
But while his physical appearance makes him stand out, it’s his gregarious and caring personality that will be missed.
After serving seven years as associate pastor at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Huntington village, Donnelly will soon make the move to Maria Regina Roman Catholic Church in Seaford.
“I’m very happy about where I’m going. It’s a great parish, the pastor there is a wonderful man, they have a school there and I love working with children,” said Donnelly, 62, who will make the move come June 28. “I will continue to do God’s work.”
Nancy Durante, a Huntington resident and a Eucharistic minister at St. Patrick’s, said she’s known Donnelly for more than six years. She described him as as loving, caring and giving.
“He was what brought me back to church,” Durante said. “I loved coming to church to hear him speak because he was different in his demeanor and spiritual guidance.”
Donnelly was also instrumental in her inspiration to become a Eucharistic minister, she said.
“Having him as a friend brought me into a different place within the church,” she said. “I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.”
Donnelly first joined St. Patrick’s in June 2010 through the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The diocese has 130 parishes on Long Island, and priests are assigned to a parish for six years. They then transfer to a different parish.
After his sixth year with St. Patrick’s, Donnelly said, he requested a one-year extension. That extension expires next month.
During his time at St. Patrick’s, many families personally requested Donnelly to perform several occasions, including baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals.
He loved working with children and visiting seventh- and eighth-grade classrooms at St. Patrick’s School each Wednesday to chime in on lessons.
“He’s so giving to so many people, especially the children,” Durante said. “He’s going to be so missed here.”
Donnelly grew up in Deer Park after his family moved there in 1960. He got his first job at 12 years old, when he delivered newspapers. He graduated from Deer Park High School in 1973 and aspired to be involved in law enforcement, earning a criminal justice degree from Farmingdale State College, and then a degree in philosophy from St. John’s University.
Before becoming a priest, Donnelly worked for A&P as a manager for 15 years.
He was inspired to join the priesthood in 1990, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre had a call by name program. While attending service at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Roman Catholic Church in Deer Park, Donnelly said, the priest that was performing the service spoke about his own vocation to the priesthood.
Donnelly said this evoked a passion within him and applied. He is now coming up on his 20th anniversary serving in the priesthood.
“I love everything that I do as a priest because so much of a mystery of a priest is bringing people closer to God,” he said.
Donnelly began his theological formation in September 1991 and was ordained in June 1997. He took assignments in New Hyde Park, North Merrick and Sound Beach before coming to Huntington.
In addition to his pastoral work, Donnelly has distinguished himself in the service of those struggling with addiction. Calling on his personal experience of 15 years in recovery, Donnelly’s mission is to bring aid to those in need as an active speaker at community forums and working with several drug-awareness organizations.
In 2016, Donnelly was awarded the “Fisher of Men Award” from Long Island Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence.
With that, Donnelly has also served the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ Huntington Division 4 as their acting chaplain for several years and, in 2015, was the grand marshal for the Hibernians 81st Annual Huntington St. Patrick’s Parade.
After seven years of living in Huntington, Donnelly will soon be moving to Seaford to start his new journey with the parish.
“I’m saddened to leave St. Patrick’s because of seven wonderful years here but I’m looking forward to the challenge of a new parish with open arms,” he said.
“My physical body may be in Seaford, but I will always have the people of Huntington in my heart.”