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We regret to announce the deaths of the following alumni, former staff and friends of the University.

If you wish to notify us of the passing of a friend, colleague or loved one, please contact We reserve the right to edit submitted material on the grounds of space or relevance.

William Wheeler (1949-2019)

Bill passed away in his sleep at 2am on Thursday 21st November 2019.

Bill was born in Warminster on 7th July 1949. He attended local schools and went to Mass at St George’s with his mother Ellen. Bill was a lively lad and enjoyed getting into mischief with his friends Eddy, Derek, Alan and Richard.

Prior to arriving at St Mary’s College in 1967, to study PE and History, Bill attended Trowbridge College where he studied for his A Levels while at the same time played football for Warminster Town FC first team. 

Bill enjoyed life at St Mary’s to the full. He represented the College at both football and volleyball and enjoyed the support of a strong friendship group. 

In his second year, Bill met Catherine Bell and the two married two years later in 1970. After teaching for three years in Bracknell, and Bill gaining his BA, they moved north.

First to Salford, later to Bury, and finally Bill retired as Deputy Head of Our Lady and St John High School, Blackburn. During his career Bill also gained his MEd from Manchester University.

Bill is survived by his wife Catherine, his two daughters Rachel and Elizabeth and his grandchildren, Emily, Rosie, Miles, Thomas and Beatrice. 

Requiescat in Pace.
Written by Brendan Murphy (1967-70)

Tony Rynn (1929-2019)

Tony Rynn (1929-2019, studied at St Mary’s 1949-51) wrote the following story of his own life shortly before he died.

Looking Back
I was born on the 3rd July 1929 in Darlington Street, Wigan. Being a premature baby and not expected to live, I owe my life to my great aunt Martha Hogg, the first qualified midwife in Wigan. She baptised me at birth and called me by the first name that came into her head – Thomas. Since my father was Thomas and my grandfather also was Thomas my mother did not want another Thomas in the family and christened me Anthony. So I have always been Tony.

Soon after my birth the family moved to Heaton Street in Swinley. During those pre-Second World War years the area was surrounded by open fields, so I enjoyed a happy and carefree life with my elder brother and sister and later with my younger brother and two sisters. We all attended St John’s School in Brick Kiln Lane. At the age of eleven I won a scholarship to Wigan Technical College. After gaining my School Certificate in 1945 my prospect of continuing my education at teacher training college was blocked because of the need to allow ex-servicemen who were back after the war to continue their education. So I stayed at the technical college as a laboratory assistant until I was called up for National Service in the Royal Navy.

My first posting was to HMS Royal Arthur at Corsham where a certain Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten was a Divisional Officer. I was selected for training as an aircraft electrician and sent to HMS Aerial at Culcheth, which meant that I was fortunate enough to be able to get home on most weekends for the next six months. I then spent the rest of my service at HMS Sanderling, which is now Glasgow Airport, maintaining aircraft.

In 1949 I resumed my education at St Mary’s Teacher Training College, Strawberry Hill. Eager to complete my training I spurned the opportunity to stay on for another year to gain my degree and obtained my Teacher’s Certificate in 1951. My first post was at St Anne’s School in Ormskirk, where I stayed for five years before moving to the new St John Fisher’s Boys’ Secondary Modern School as science teacher.

I have always been keen on sport. I played rugby for school, at Orrell RU Club, for the Fleet Air Arm and for St Mary’s College. While at college I qualified as a Rugby League coach so when I went to St John Fisher School I took charge of the school rugby team. At that time the son of the legendary Joe Egan was in my school team. Joe often came to watch our games, which I usually refereed. He was the coach at Wigan Rugby League Club and he asked me to referee his pre-season practice games. He persuaded me to take up refereeing seriously, so I took up the Rugby League Referees’ Exam and became a qualified professional referee. I progressed to Senior Referee Status, officiating at first team and international level, culminating in my appointment to officiate at the 1969 Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium between Salford and Castleford.

In 1965 I was appointed as Deputy Headteacher at St John’s Primary School. Back to where I started! While waiting to take over as headteacher (I had been told it would only be a couple of years. In fact it stretched to over six years.) I took a sabbatical year out at Liverpool University to study for an Advanced Diploma in Education. I eventually took over from Sr Christine in 1971 and maintained the reputation as one of the best schools in Wigan for the next ten years.

My Catholic faith has always been central to my life. We were nurtured in a loving family with a father who was an outstanding role model for any child and a mother who worked tirelessly to provide a loving, safe environment. I became an altar server at a very young age and continued until being called up for National Service. Turning out at 7am or at evening benediction in those wartime blackout years was quite an adventure.

Returning to St John’s after my teacher training, I soon became involved in parish activities. I became the first reader at Mass, I helped to introduce planned giving for church finances and then Covenant Officer for the parish. Eventually I became a Eucharistic Minister. When the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council was set up in Wigan I was invited to train as a marriage counsellor, becoming a founding member of the Wigan branch. Later when living in Standish Fr Joe Mercer, the parish priest at St Marie’s and a family friend dating back to the time when Paul was at Upholland Seminary, asked me to become a school governor. I served as chairman of the governing body for twelve years.

In 1975 I was appointed Justice of the Peace for the Wigan Bench and I served as a magistrate for twenty four years until compulsory retirement at the age of seventy. During that time I became a Deputy Chairman of the Bench and Chairman of the Family and Juvenile Courts.

In 1953 I married my childhood sweetheart, Doreen Mitchinson. We had sat together in Mrs Parker’s infant class in St John’s School. Choosing Boxing Day for our wedding created a number of problems for our parents, but everything turned out well in the end. Our first attempt at buying a house ended in failure when the survey wasn’t good and the bank withdrew the mortgage offer. In our disappointment we went round to Plumb’s, the first television shop in Wigan, and blew the deposit for the house on a black and white television. It turned out to be something of a mixed blessing. We were living with Doreen’s aunty Dorothy, having our own accommodation in her big house. Since we were the only members of the family with a television at that time we had visitors almost every evening from 6pm until 10pm when the broadcast closed. This invariably involved providing refreshments at 8 o’clock when there was a ten minute break in transmission.

In due course Paul was born and we bought a large Georgian house in New Lodge, Wigan Lane. We spent many happy years restoring and renovating the property, which became a Grade 2 listed building. Judith and Susan were born in New Lodge and it was the venue for many memorable parties. After forty three happy years when the children had married and moved on, we decided to downsize and move to a smaller house. The house we chose was a newly built property in Somerton Close, Standish. Almost as soon as we moved to Standish, Doreen became unwell and after a long and distressing illness, died on 22nd June 1999.

The house at Somerton Close held far too many sad memories for me so I moved to an apartment in Grove Lane, Standish overlooking the golf course and the Pennine hills.

Canon Charles Anthony Dorran (1928-2018)

alumniChas, as we knew him, was a pupil at De La Salle College, Salford, and was accepted for Teacher Training at Simmaries in 1945.

Upon qualifying, he moved on to All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, from where he was ordained priest in 1953. As a member of the Salford Diocese, he was appointed Curate at St. Augustine's Parish, All Saints Manchester. He then moved on to St Mary's Parish, the "hidden gem" in the city centre, where he served for some years. He then was appointed Parish Priest to St John's Bromley Cross, near Bolton. Finally, he served as Parish Priest at St Mary's, Osbaldeston, near Blackburn, where he served for twenty five years until his death on 22nd March 2018, having suffered bravely from a terminal cancer. 

He was buried in St. Mary's graveyard alongside his younger brother, Fr Bill Dorran, also of the Salford Diocese. Rest in peace Fr Chas.

Written by Ralph Hope (1945-47)

Michael Hayes (1957-2017)

Michael-HayesFormer Vice-Principal Professor Michael Hayes has sadly died following a period of serious illness. Michael joined St Mary’s in 2001 as Head of Theology and Religious Studies, becoming Head of the then School of Theology, Philosophy and History in 2002. Read the full article...

Peter Daniel Cooper (2017)

A proud alumnus of St Mary’s (1952 to 1954 and 1957 to 1958) Peter died suddenly whilst in James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough on December 29th 2017, aged 86 years. He was a much loved husband of Angela, loving dad of Damian, Mark, Nicholas and Rachel. Dear father in law of Clare, Wendy, Emma and Andrew. Also, an adored grandpa of twelve. His lifelong commitment to Catholic education was rewarded by his investiture as a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope John Paul II. He continued to meet monthly for lunch with fellow ‘Simmarians’ until shortly before his death. R.I.P.

Fr Donal O’Leary (1937-2019)

Donal O'LearyDonal O’Leary joined St Mary’s in the 1980s where he taught Theology and Religious Education for 20 years and became chair of the Religious Studies Department.

His friend Chris McDonnell, also an alumnus of St Mary’s University, wrote the following piece reflecting on Fr O’Leary’s life for the Catholic Times.

Following Chris’ reflections is the address made by Fr O’Leary’s student Dr Mary Mihovilović at his memorial Mass at St Mary’s University Chapel.

The Journey Man

Companionship on a journey gives rest and consolation when it is needed. It is what friendship is all about, a lift on the way, a helping hand when the going gets hard, an opportunity to share joy. It is the never ending task of teachers and poets. They offer moisture to parched lips. In recent weeks we have lost both an Irish teacher and an American poet and we are poorer in the event.

The teacher, a priest of the Leeds diocese, well-known for his writing, a frequent contributor to the Tablet, a leader of many retreats both at home and abroad, was Fr Daniel O’Leary. He died in late January after illness.

I have known Donal over many years for he was the chaplain of St Benedict’s Secondary school in Leeds where I taught in the late 60s. When I left to move to Merseyside, our paths diverged and for many years my only contact with him was through his articles and books. Then six years ago we met up again and renewed friendship with the frequent exchange of emails, poetry and articles. Always a man to encourage with joy and humour, he kept me going. 

He was forever on the move, giving talks, inspiring retreats and other gatherings. In one email he invented a donkey called Owen - why he chose that name I will never know - but Owen was his transport and the butt of his grumbles when he had any. He appeared every so often in our exchanges. 

But there was much more to him than that. Writing of his passing on the ACP website, a Dublin priest, Seamus Ahearne, gave this appreciation of the man.

“He wrote with the beauty of the Irish language enriching the English. The warmth and richness of his incarnate God was sprinkled everywhere. His God was smiling. His God danced and sang. His God was alive and teasing. His God was alerting us to views we hadn’t even thought of. He was wonderful.”

And he was. He touched many lives and we were the better for his company. 

A few days before he died, an award-winning American poet, Mary Oliver concluded her journey. A poet of distinction with many published collections, she was essentially an outdoors person, living much of her life near Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her poems are uncomplicated and so often reflect her experience of long walks and perceptive observation. In one of her best-known poems, “When Death Comes” she wrote: 

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world”.

Her words made a difference to many. Her poem ‘The Summer’s Day’ concludes with these few words,”Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

She showed us the world that is all about us and offered us a chance to share in its mystery. Her Selected Poems-‘Devotions’- were published in 2017 and is widely available.

So we return to our starting point. Donal’s home page on his website is entitled ‘Begin with the heart’. ‘Where then do we begin?’ Meister Eckhart was asked. ‘Begin with the heart’ was his response. And that is what both he and Mary Oliver share, an appreciation that life is the fullest expression of love and we have a responsibility to share it, one with another. On a journey help comes from our companions. The Emmaus story is the message of the Gospel in only a few words. These words of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nath Hanh are also on Donal’s home page: “I have arrived, I’m here, the destination is every step”. One step at a time.

My own response to the conclusion of his journey was to write a few words of reflection for having passed the same way. May he rest in the peace of the Lord that he showed each one of us.

journey-man, road-travelling companion
whose written word, crafted with care
woke so many mornings with a smile
whose faith was voiced with courage
lived from the humour of an Irish soul,
your destination firm-folded
within each stuttering step.
Walk on.

Your dancing eyes and joy-filled laughter
remain beyond the pain of immediate loss.
We gather the gifts you gave us
wrapped in language, lived through example
touched with tenderness and the compassion
of an open heart.
Gifts now ours to carry and to share,
each on our own Emmaus road,
this way we say goodbye to friends
lost in the drift of countless stars”

Chris McDonnell
Memorial Mass for Donal (Daniel) O’Leary
St Mary’s University Chapel

I first met Donal O’Leary in June 1976 as a lower sixth former visiting St Mary’s College on a very hot day, similar to today. Our headteacher had asked him to show us around and he both informed and entertained us, looking back it was as though that was all he had to do that day. That attentiveness and presence was something I came to value immensely as I got to know him as a very compassionate and inspirational teacher and pastor. He taught us sacramental theology and supervised my teaching practice; throughout my teaching career he continued to enthuse and encourage me personally and professionally.

When we arrived in college he was on sabbatical leave and we heard rumours about the ‘pinstripe priest’ spoken of with great affection. When he returned the next year we realised that this related to his sense of fashion and that he did indeed wear a pinstripe suit. At that stage I didn’t realise that priests could tie ties. In so many ways he invited us to see things differently. In his words:

To recognise the heart of God in the heart of life,
to reveal the divine presence active in all human presences,
to decipher God’s signature written indelibly but often faintly across all of creation.
O’Leary (2008) Begin with the Heart, p.70.

He frequently reminded his hearers that ‘the task of identifying God’s presence in the most ordinary experiences can
only be carried out in the harsh reality of where people are at “in the here and now”‘; always mindful of the importance of ‘beginning with the heart’.

He was a teacher to his bones and continued to be so in all that he did, in diocesan roles, retreats, talks, books and his encounters with individuals. It was a dangerous thing to be in his class because nothing would ever be the same again. His starting point was that God comes to us disguised as our everyday lives; inviting us to recognise ‘the God of Surprises hiding and playing in the heart of life’. Life was never dull in Donal’s classes and he was really the Teacher of Surprises, known to climb out of the window on occasion if it would help him to make a point. 

About 15 years ago Donal agreed to give the annual Catholic Teachers’ conference and as a few of us worked together with him to prepare the event it became apparent that his approach to planning was unique and didn’t include a precise timetable. We needn’t have worried: he engaged all the delegates and we lived time differently. Late at night on such occasions he would be found relaxing in the bar, at home with past students, Simmarians he had taught, spanning the mid-70s to the early 90s – all sharing hilarious stories and profound moments. His memory for his students was phenomenal and he was ever the storyteller. 

His call was to authenticity: ‘You teach who you are’ (O’Leary, 2008, p. 126).

Donal, you were who you taught and we your students and all those we have ministered to are the richer for that. His ministry continued up until shortly before his death last January as he shared his last journey ‘Dancing to my death with the love called cancer’ in his final book, published posthumously. 

In recent months I have reread several of Donal’s books and one metaphor above all keeps coming to mind and it is that of ‘midwives of mystery’ (O’Leary, 2008, p.134). He uses this metaphor when he speaks of teachers and catechists but I want to take that further and apply it to him: 

And then, finally, comes the midwife, you, to complete the divine purpose. By the divine presence in you, you open and release the divine presence in those you serve. God intended in your birth and baptism that you should be in your radiant humanity the priest, prophet and teacher of God’s mercy in the classrooms of life.’

In the words of a prayer he wrote with some friends:

Like the artist who looks at the marble and sees the hidden angel,
like the farmer who looks at his winter fields and sees the waving harvest,
like the mystic who looks at the caterpillar and sees the butterfly,
like the midwife who looks at the distressed body and sees a beautiful wee baby,
like Jesus who looked into the hearts of sinners and saw their grace,
so too did you, DONAL, the teacher; look at your students and see the face of God.
You were, thus, the revealer, the midwife of the presence of God already hidden in your listeners.

O’Leary (2007) An Astonishing Secret, pp. 42-3

Mary Mihovilović
29th June 2019