BROOKSVILLE — After 40 years as a Catholic priest — including 15 years as pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church — the Rev. Robert R. Donlan says it is time to retire.
"It's time to move into another phase, another area of growth for myself," Donlan said. "I leave with very good memories and wonderful friends over the years."
The decision, Donlan said, came after a lot of thought and prayer.
"That's part of the whole process of discernment of just where you want to go next, and what the Lord is asking of you next," he said. "That was probably in my mind a good year to two years. I don't think you ever completely fulfill your hopes and dreams, but I'm very satisfied with the years in the ministry."
Donlan was ordained in 1967 as a member of Priests of the Sacred Heart. He was a pastor of St. Margaret Mary parish in Detroit, Christ the King Church in Southaven, Miss., and St. Joseph Church in Holly Springs, Miss., before coming to Florida in 1988 as the parochial vicar for St. Patrick Church in Largo. In 1990, he was made the parochial administrator for St. Jerome Church there. He came to St. Anthony in 1993.
The pastor said he hopes to now have time to lower his golf handicap — "make it a little bit more respectable" — and do some traveling. He also hopes to get reacquainted with friends he has made throughout his years of ministry.
"Now I'll have a chance to accept some of their invitations to visit," he said.
Donlan, 66, will still live in the area and will be available to assist area parishes if they need pastoral help.
Teresa Timmons, a parishioner at St. Anthony since 1966, said she and her husband, Harry, feel blessed to have had Donlan as their priest.
"I've been through many a pastor at our church," she said. "To have your faith and your religion is one thing, and then to have a pastor that really helps you grow is something special."
Timmons said she believes Donlan has all the attributes that a Catholic priest should have.
"He's very spiritual, very intelligent, and he's got great leadership qualities and a real good sense of business," she said. "He's very witty, and he has a real good sense of humor. He brings that to his homilies. I look forward to our new pastor, but on the other hand, we sure are going to miss Father Donlan."
Tony Petrowsky, who has been the head usher and bingo chairman at the church for about 26 years, said Donlan has become a good friend.
"I think so much of the man. It's like losing a leg, losing Father Donlan," he said.
Petrowsky remembers how helpful his pastor was to him when his wife of 58 years, Sybil, died six years ago.
"He made sure the people at St. Anthony gave me plenty of things to do to take my mind off it," Petrowsky said. "He's the one that pulled me through."
Petrowsky also recalled a time that Donlan invited him to stay at the rectory for a couple of days when a hurricane came through the area.
In turn, Petrowsky helps his pastor whenever he can, like taking his car to be repaired or giving him a ride to the doctor's office.
"One thing, he always appreciated everything I did. Being the head usher, after every Mass he would say, 'Thank you.' He's very thoughtful. I'll miss his smile, his jokes, his good nature."
Deacon Manny Carreiro came to the church 11 years ago.
"When I was ordained in '97 and transferred to St. Anthony, (Donlan) made me welcome right away and became my mentor," Carreiro said. "He took me under his wings. As a new deacon, you're really uptight about it and trying to make sure we do everything correctly, especially when we preach, and he made me very comfortable and welcome. He also very gently critiqued me, which was great, because he's a fantastic preacher."
Carreiro said he appreciated that Donlan was meticulous about Mass.
"When he says Mass, he does it very spiritually. He really gets into it, and you can gather from the way he teaches and prays that he has a great relationship with our Lord and especially the Holy Spirit. That's what I'm going to miss."
Donlan said he will miss his "wonderful staff" and the people in his parish.
"Over the years, they've allowed me to be present at critical moments of their lives — through an illness, or a death, or celebrating a wedding or baptism. Those are the memories that I will definitely take with me."