Accident victims Fr Charles Kakumanu and Fr Steve O?Donnell.
Accident victims Fr Charles Kakumanu and Fr Steve O?Donnell.

TRIBUTES PAID TO CRASH VICTIMS

BY LUKE PRENDERGAST

FATHER Stephen O'Donnell devoted his life to the Catholic Church for more than two decades; his colleague Father Charles Kakumanu for more than a dozen years.

Yesterday the Lismore Catholic community expressed its shock and paid tribute to the two Lismore Diocese priests who were killed in a car accident near Woolgoolga on Tuesday morning.

Fr Charles, 45, and Fr Steve, 50, died in a head-on collision between their Mitsubishi Magna and a Toyota Landcruiser on the Pacific Highway near Arrawarra Creek.

The accident occurred at around 7.30am, the northbound Magna colliding with the southbound Landcruiser which was towing a caravan.

A third priest, Fr Peter Padsungay, 37, from the Philippines, suffered minor injuries and was released from hospital yesterday.

Fr Charles, originally from Hyderabad, India, had worked in the Lismore Diocese since September 2004, while Father Steve, a native of the United States, joined the diocese in July, 2006.

Bishop of the Lismore Diocese, the Most Reverend Geoffrey Jarrett, said the diocese felt great sorrow at the deaths.

"Considering Fr Charles Kakumanu and Fr Steve O'Donnell had been with us for only a short time many people were grateful for their ministry at the Cathedral," Rev Jarrett said.

"We have been in contact with both families and have expressed to them our deep sympathy and our great gratitude for the work their sons have done for the people of Lismore."

The administrator of St. Carthage's Cathedral, Fr. Dennis Carroll, said the parish was in a state of shock.

"Parishioners and members of the wider Lismore community have been calling at the Parish Centre to express their profound sorrow and sense of loss at the tragic deaths of these two well-loved priests," Fr. Dennis said.

"Their deaths have left a huge hole in our ministry team and they will be sadly missed."

Parishioner Veronica Shelton, of Dunoon, paid tribute to the support Fr. Charles had given her.

"Fr Charles was very good to my husband Lester during his illness and to me when he passed away," she said.

"He said Mass each week in our home and he was so wonderful to us, and I loved him. A lot of people out this way loved him and we will miss him."

Fr. Charles Kakumanu was born on September 4, 1961, in Hyderabad, India.

He began his work for the Catholic Church in the diocese of Daru-Kiunga, Papua New Guinea in 1994. He worked in parishes in Kiunga until his ordination as a deacon in March, 1995.

He was ordained to the priesthood in May, 1995, and became well-known for his outreach to isolated small communities.

Looking for a change in ministry, he applied to work in the Lismore Diocese and was appointed assistant priest at the Cathedral Parish on September 21, 2004.

He was appointed chaplain at Trinity Catholic College and spent much time in ministry to the hospitals and the smaller communities in the Terania parish, as well as his commitment to the cathedral community.

Fr Stephen O'Donnell was born on February 15, 1957. He was ordained to the priesthood at Torreciudad, Spain, in August 1984.

He visited Australia on a number of occasions before beginning work in the Lismore Diocese in July, 2006, as assistant priest at St. Carthage's Cathedral.

He was also the Catholic chaplain at Southern Cross University, conducting a Mass each week in the university chapel.

SCU pastoral care co-ordinator Robert Lingard described him as "a man with a heart for the well-being of the students".

The university chapel will be open from 10am to 2pm today for those wishing to pray, light a candle, or reflect.

The Ballina Crash Investigation Unit is continuing its investigation into the accident, and is waiting to speak to the two occupants of the Landcruiser.

The driver, a 64-year-old Harrington man, suffered a fractured neck and a fractured sternum.

His 59-year-old female passenger, also from Harrington, suffered a fractured tibia and three broken ribs.

Relatives of all three priests have been informed. Funeral arrangements are being arranged in consultation with relatives.



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