Fr Michael (‘Mick’) Doohan was born on 4th March 1928 at The Hand, Connolly, Ennis, Co Clare. He was educated at Doolough N.S., Connolly, Ennis and St Flannan’s College, Ennis. He came to St Columban’s, Navan in 1946 and was ordained priest on 21st December 1952. He was appointed to the Philippines in 1953 and assigned the island of Negros where he would spend the following sixty years.
The first Columbans had been assigned to the parishes in Negros Occidental in 1950. They took over a block of remote parishes in the centre and south-west of the island that were not accessible by the few modern highways. In some parishes they found good churches and houses. Others had been destroyed in the war and there were no parish schools.
Columbans faced the task of reconstruction and of bringing the sacraments to the people. The island’s volcanic soils were suitable for planting sugar cane but over the years this led to very serious social problems. A very small group of wealthy landlords ran a ‘hacienda’ system.
There was extreme poverty and misery for the sugar workers. They were paid very poor wages and seasonal workers were only paid during that part of the year when the sugar crop was being harvested. Priests were limited in what they could do to tackle the problem. Education was key to enabling the younger persons to rise out of dire poverty.
Michael worked in the parishes of Candoni, Kabankalan, Sonedeo, Bacolod and Cauayan. He finally returned to Ireland in 2014 where he alternated between Dalgan and Clare until his health deteriorated.
Apart from his pastoral ministry, Michael started some very valuable projects. He had always been interested in mechanics and when he saw so many unemployed young people, he had the dream of setting up a free school where boys could study mechanics. He hired a teacher, got some tools, and some old engines. With help from the Department of Labour and many local people the school grew until he had more than fifty boys and girls studying mechanics, driving, the operation of heavy equipment, electricity, welding and dressmaking.
When eventually Michael was transferred, the Department of Labour agreed to take over and to continue to run it as a free school for the poor.
Logging had wiped out the forests of Negros Occidental in the 1950s. Michael began to collect seeds and to plant them in small plastic bags of soil. The Japanese Government helped, and he was given 200 acres of Government land with the condition that he would return it after five years fully planted. That gave employment to local men and women.
During the summers the schools and the church grounds were covered with plastic seed bags. The local farmers and neighbouring parishes could collect them for free. In all Michael figures that almost a million seedlings were planted, and that part of the reforested mountain is now known as the ‘Doohan Forest’.
Michael died on 30th December 2022 at the age of 94.
May he rest in peace.
The Funeral Mass for Fr Michael Doohan took place place in Dalgan on 4th January 2023. You can watch here: