In December 1976 the ‘Holy Hippies’ (as Father Don called us from the very first day) moved to Te Wakaiti, on the edge of Featherston.
We were young Catholics hoping and trying to ensure the reforms of Vatican II took place within our lifetime. A group of us formed a Trust to buy Te Wakaiti with the help of a generous loan from the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Monsignor Hugh Doogan.
Fr Don sent his trusty lieutenants Jack Drew and Peter Burt to the ‘commune’ early on to check that we had our miraculous medals and to welcome the new parishioners, a special role these two Legion of Mary men took very seriously. From the beginning the people of St Teresa’s welcomed us warmly and would navigate the long drive to the farmhouse on bike, foot or car.
Fr Don and his particular Scottish terrier of the time—Kerry or Haggis—would often call for a cup of tea or a meal. Ria would arrive with a car load of food to feed all the visitors. Barbara and Anne would escape from the kids and Josie would cycle up with a cream sponge just for Jack! Flossie kept in touch with everything that happened there and others would come for Lenten justice meetings, to talk about changing the the church and the world, or to pray together.
It was easy for us to love and respect this parish priest because he was so human. His priestly ministry showed a commitment to the spirit rather than the letter of the law. Many times over we have seen Father Don’s compassion and humanity translate into christening, forgiving, sharing Communion and blessing people and their families—wherever they were ‘at’ just at that particular time. This is a rare and precious gift that the people of God need and deserve.
Father Don has always given us complete support which must at times have got him into trouble with ecclesiastical hierarchies—we, in turn, would support him 100% so together we were quite a team.
When we baptised our babies, when the couples from the farm married, when we made Te Wakaiti a nuclear free zone and when we have buried our loved ones, we have tended to write our own liturgies, and wanted maximum involvement from the community as the sacraments were shared. We believed in the priesthood of the laity and Fr Don has been instrumental in allowing this to take shape—no doubt there were times when he wondered where he fitted in or what these ‘holy hippies’ would come up with next!
I remember being asked to be the celebrant at a funeral for a young Featherston boy who died. The funeral was to be in his garden. I came home to prepare the service to find Father Don had left three large liturgy books on the back doorstep ‘just in case they were helpful’ the note said. As I said, it was easy for us to love and respect this man of God.
When Fr Don first left Featherston, we received letters and Christmas cards from him addressed to ‘the Ding Dong Dohertys’. There would be sketches of bells and a Scottish terrier on the envelope, the latest photo of Father Don with Kerry or Haggis and the odd snippet of news about Huey, Luey and Duey, his three nephews. One holiday highlight for the Doherty kids was stopping at the Picton presbytery and receiving the most enormous tumbler of lemonade and a whole packet of shortbread biscuits before hitting the South Island – Scottish hospitality from Clan Morrison!
We enjoy your humour, Don, your compassion, your art, your Scottish heritage, your challenging of norms and laws that don’t serve the people and your ability to be quite a diplomat amongst the people of God in Featherston. Your wicked sense of humour is invaluable.
We are glad you returned home to Featherston and are delighted to celebrate this significant generous milestone of your priesthood.
May God bless you a hundred fold for all you have given to others.
One of the ‘Ding Dong Dohertys’ and a member of Te Wakaiti Community.