Picturing our past leaders

a word from bishop les 2 350px

The journey of the Catholic Church in Australia is a very interesting and impressive story, but far too complex to describe fully here. However, I would like to reflect briefly on some aspects of the wonderful heritage that is ours, and on which we build today.

History tells us that the first Catholics to reside in Australia arrived with the First Fleet in 1788. They were mostly Irish convicts, together with a few Royal Marines. One-tenth of all convicts transported to Australia were Catholic, and half of these were born in Ireland, while a good proportion of the others were English-born but of Irish extraction. Most of the rest were English or Scottish.

Although many Irish convicts were merely nominal Catholics, many others diligently and courageously kept their faith alive despite the fact that, for most of the next 30 years or so, priests were only sporadically available to provide them with the sacraments. Fathers John Joseph Therry and Philip Connolly, chaplains appointed by the Government in London, arrived in 1820. Their arrival can be regarded as the formal establishment of the Catholic Church in Australia.

The first Catholic bishop in Australia, appointed to Sydney in 1842, John Bede Polding and his first Vicar-General, William Ullathorne, were English Benedictine monks. Polding’s dream was to establish a Church founded on monastic ideals, but as the priests were mainly Irish, this was not their conception of what the Church should be like. Their efforts, and the efforts of the Irish bishops who were appointed to other newly established dioceses, soon combined to change this vision.

As the first Bishop of this Diocese, Irishman Martin Crane OSA, was given an enthusiastic welcome to Sandhurst and was installed with due solemnity on May 23, 1875, by his brother Augustinian, Archbishop Goold, who had been appointed in 1847 by Pope Pius IX as Bishop of the new see of Melbourne.

In 1885 Stephen Reville O.S.A. was ordained as Coadjutor to Dr Crane and then Bishop. At the age of 72, Bishop Reville died from pneumonia, while still in office.  He was the last Augustinian bishop of Victoria. This diocese at this time extended over 22 parishes, 11 of which had convents and schools in them. Bishop Reville was held in high esteem by all sections of the community.

Then followed Irish born Bishop McCarthy who was one of the most renowned figures in the Catholic Church in Australia. For most of Bishop McCarthy’s episcopacy, he presided over a church whose clergy were overwhelmingly Irish although the people were second and third generation Australians. In 1950, at the grand age of 91, Dr John McCarthy died at the Bishop’s House, St Kilian’s, Bendigo, ending a 33 year reign as Bishop.

Some will remember 1947 when Essendon-born Bernard Stewart was appointed Coadjutor and then Bishop of Sandhurst.

Bishop Stewart put much effort in to bringing about the extension of the Cathedral to its present form.  He worked tirelessly to establish Bethlehem Home (where he died) and Mount Alvernia Hospital (now St John of God).  Many schools were established during this time. He retired as the Fourth Bishop of Sandhurst in 1979.

Bishop Noel Daly then served our Diocese as Bishop for 21 years (1979-2000). During that time he introduced many pastoral initiatives and offices including Centacare Family Services, Faith Education Sandhurst, the Renew Program and Many Parishes One Purpose Program, Ministry to Priests Program and Continuing Education of Priests, Vocations Ministry, Youth Ministry and Sacramental policies.

Finally, most will remember fondly that in 2001 my predecessor, Bishop Joe Grech, was appointed Bishop of Sandhurst. His untimely death in 2010 came as a great shock. Since his priestly ordination in 1974, Maltese-born and educated Bishop Joe had worked with great distinction as a priest in Melbourne and then as a Bishop in Melbourne and Sandhurst.  Archbishop Hart said, “For Bishop Joe, the good news was always light and joy for humanity.”

We remember with gratitude our earlier Bishops and might reflect on the real and mysterious communion that unites us here on Earth and those who have gone before us into everlasting life. On the death of those Bishops, some of whom we knew well, we may have asked: “What will become of his life, his work, his service to the Church?”

Our deceased Bishops, those zealous pastors who had dedicated their lives to His service, are now with God. We know that all their days on Earth were interwoven with joys and sufferings, hopes and labours, fidelity to the Gospel and passion for the spiritual and material salvation of their people.

Our deceased Bishops were men who were devoted to their vocations and to their service to the Church, which they loved. This is how we want to remember them.

Our prayer is enriched by sentiments, memories and gratitude for the witness of the Bishops, especially those we knew, and with whom we shared service in the Church. Many of their faces remain present to us; and to assist our memories over time, it is our practice to have portraits of our Bishops in our Cathedral, as a reminder of their contributions to the heritage that is now ours on which to build.

Like our Bishops, and all our brothers and sisters who have gone before us, we have been called to be, and to grow into the image of God himself. For this we need the creative power of the Father, the compassion of the Son, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They are all available to anyone who opens their heart to receive.

And so today, as we reflect briefly on our history and, more particularly on our former Bishops of our Diocese, let us remember them in our prayers, and pray also that the Holy Spirit may continue to guide us in our service of His Church.

- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, October, 2015