Father Michael Conaty
Father Michael Conaty

Tributes paid as pioneering Newcastle parish priest passes away

A life well lived in love and faith for others.

Tributes have been paid to Father Michael Conaty MBE who, at 84, passed away in the early hours of Thursday 5 October surrounded by his family.

Father Michael, originally from Ireland, was very well-known and revered in the region due to his dedication to addressing poverty, unemployment and lack of skills opportunities.

He came to St Anthony of Padua Parish Walker in 1973 as a curate, before becoming parish priest in 1977. This year he celebrated 59 years of being a priest and, still the Parish Priest at St Anthony of Padua at the time of his death, was far from retiring.

Committed to improving the lives of the wider North East community, he worked closely with the shipyards and was involved with the Manpower Services training for work programme in the 1980s in response to rising local unemployment.

In addition, in partnership with Anglicans and Methodists, he set up the Northumbrian Churches Training Consortium (NCTC), a training company to help combat the region’s skills gap.

In 1979 he established the St Anthony of Padua Community Association to respond to the needs of the community and the Association became a registered charity and company limited by guarantee in 1986.

The Association continues to respond to local need providing home care, day care, extra care supported housing and youth services. Father Michael remained the Chair of the Board of Trustees and Directors up to the point of his death.

Furthermore, in his search for other ways to reach people, he set up WOLF - the Walker Open Learning and Fitness Centre. In 1994 he applied for and won a standalone single regeneration budget grant from the government for this work.

Father Michael was also an active member of the East End SRB 2 Partnership, a 7 year programme totalling £84m of investment to revamp designated areas in the east end of the city.

Growing from this he co-founded Building Futures East in 2006, a registered charity providing people and place based regeneration. He was the Chair of the Board of Trustees and Directors up to the point of his death.

Moreover, he was also the Chair of Governor for St Alban’s Catholic Primary School in Walker and St Mary’s Catholic Academy in Long Benton (judged outstanding by Ofsted).

In 1998 he was awarded an MBE for his work in the community, before being awarded the Lord Mayors Award in 2008 in recognition of many years of service to the people of Newcastle - an award he dedicated to the people of Walker.

In 2011, Father Michael had a street named after him in Walker - Conaty Row - in recognition of his continued good work and commitment to the community.

Helen Woods-Waters, Chief Executive at St Anthony of Padua Community Association, touched on Father Conaty’s affinity with the region.

Helen commented: “Father was extremely active, innovative and progressive in responding to the needs of the community.

“He was fearless and embraced change and had a lust for life which was rooted in a deep faith and trust in God.

“He made such a difference to so many people’s lives, catholic and non-catholic, young and old, we can’t even begin to imagine life without him. He was truly wonderful and a real inspiration to us all.”

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