The three pillars of Michael Leo Doran’s life

If you were to describe your life in three words, what would it be?

For centenarian Michael Leo Doran, family, faith and construction immediately come to mind.

It may seem like an odd mix of words, but somehow they sum up his life. With 100 years of stories to tell, it’s difficult to pinpoint where to start to describe his colourful life. But let’s begin with Leo’s unwavering faith – something that “means everything” to him.

“Sadly, I can’t go to Mass anymore, but I have Holy Communion brought to me,” Leo said. “I have trouble walking but I sit up and watch Mass every Sunday on TV and one of my mates brings me Holy Communion and any church notices.”

“It’s just so important to me, God has been part of my life for as long as I can remember,”he said.

“When I was in Kindergarten, there was a nun, Sister Bernadine and she gave me a little holy picture that I carried in my wallet for all my life and it’s only lately that I’ve lost it.”

His devotion to the church extends further than daily prayer and attending mass. As part of his family’s construction company, Leo built churches and chapels to help share the good word of God.

With such a faith-filled life, imagine his surprise when he was recognised by Pope Francis with a letter on his 100th birthday.

“I was amazed when I received the letter because I didn’t know I was going to get it,” Leo said.

“It was arranged by my daughter; Donna and I was pretty chuffed.”

Pope Francis wasn’t the only leader to acknowledge his life, Leo also received a letter from King Charles III. They’re two items he has proudly displayed among photos of his family around his house.

As they say, a picture speaks 1,000 words and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to Leo’s home.

His house is full of stories from his life. With 11 siblings, six children, 12 grandchildren, and more than two dozen great-grandchildren, Leo’s life will continue to amaze and inspire long after he is gone.

Winner of the 2022 Season of Creation film competition and the National Young Voices Award by Australian Catholics, and more importantly Leo’s great granddaughter Makayla Lawrence, said her great grandfather has had a profound impact on her life and has influenced her faith and outlook on the world.

“Pop is such an important person in my life, I think it is really great to see someone who is so strong,” she said.

“Pop has been very successful and has some amazing stories to tell, I love to hear them.”

“I really like it when we are driving through Newcastle and Mum might say: ‘oh, Pop built this building’. It just makes me think of all the things he has built and had an impact on,” she said.

Makayla isn’t the only family member who looks up to ‘Pop’, it’s evident from all their stories that each one holds him in the highest regard.

It’s important to note that Leo’s impact will reach far beyond his family though – his tales will remain a part of this region in a way most of us won’t realise.

When you drive through the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, it’s likely that you’ll pass a building that Leo and his family built.

It might be the glass buildings on Wharf Road in Newcastle, the Great Hall at the University of Newcastle, the Library and Art Gallery, Lake Macquarie Fair, the Chapel in Lochinvar, St Joseph’s in Merewether or a hospital in Taree.

He’s also built shopping centres and McDonald’s restaurants right across the country, two hospitals in Liverpool and North Epping and many more.

When Leo is asked about his time as part of the family company Doran Brothers, a smile lights up across his face.

Alongside his Dad and brothers, he saw the business grow into something they never expected.

It all started when he finished school, Leo went to work for his Dad, but soon after his father realised that Leo had a bit of growing up to do.

“I was cheeky as mustard,” Leo said.

“And my Dad told me that I wasn’t going to work for him anymore. He had arranged for me to work at a Timber Mill in Carrington. The war had just started, and I worked there until it finished.”

“Then Dad said to me, you know all about joinery now, I want you to start a joinery works business for the company.”

So that is exactly what Leo did and as it turns out, he wasn’t the only brother who was tasked with learning a skill they could bring back to the corporation.

Across the seven brothers – Terry, Bede, Jack, Vincey, Peter, Paul and Leo – they had skills in plumbing, brickwork, joinery, accounting, and more. According to Leo, it made them a force to be reckoned with in Newcastle.

When you ask him to list the projects they worked on, it’s almost endless.

“In Maitland, we were building Woolworths on one side of the road and Coles on the other, and they both wanted to open first,” he said.

“We were just a group of young guys, who had more work than we could poke a stick at, so we were hiring guys left, right, and centre. It was such a busy but fun time.”

It’s only recently that Leo has slowed down but as he has done for every change in his life, Leo has adapted and is finding a new way to write the next chapter in his story.

We can be certain of one thing – this next chapter will include his three pillars – faith, family and construction.

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