Wednesday, 02 November 2022 15:42

Bishop Leslie Tomlinson reflects on his Golden Jubilee


BishopLes Trumpet 350Bishop Leslie Tomlinson, Bishop Emeritus of Sandhurst, celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on 21 August 2022 at St Gregory the Great Church in Doncaster.  Surrounded by family and friends, he said he was humbled to think of all of the love and support which had been a constant over his fifty years of priesthood.  
“To love God and to love God’s people is at the very centre of a priest’s existence. To live that out in prayer and service, is the way that priests make sense of their life and find meaning.”
His Homily was warm, poignant, and peppered with his special style of humour, making sure he preached the homily himself so that nobody else could attempt to blow his trumpet for him or be forced to exaggerate the truth or even invent it!  Bishop Les was relaxed and clearly enjoying parish life. 
Explaining aspects of his Thanksgiving Mass Homily, Bishop Les said he has always been passionate about parish work.  “Working with people and families in parish life, with all of the ups and downs, joys and sorrows, being with families in times of suffering ─ it’s a special privilege.  I’ve learned that just by being present as a priest, as an instrument of Christ, we offer so much comfort to people. That has always moved me,” he said.  “In many situations when people express their gratitude to a priest, they are unaware just how much they themselves are doing for their priest. It’s nothing short of remarkable and all by the Grace of God.”  
“I’ve got to know tremendous people over the years; many have been an inspiration to me, and I am truly grateful to them.  I think of the people I’ve ministered to; people have been so good to me; there has been so much kindness ─ it’s one of the things I treasure,” said Bishop Les. 
Life as a Vicar-General in Melbourne, or as a Bishop is very different from the life of a Parish Priest said Bishop Les.  “A Parish Priest lives in his parish, he has the opportunity to be invited into everyday lives of his parishioners,” he said. Bishop Les admits he did miss being a parish priest when he became Vicar- General and later a bishop. “It meant that the part of priesthood I had most enjoyed, became more superficial; as Bishop of Sandhurst I got to know many wonderful people from various parishes, but not in the same way that a parish priest would.” 
One of the changes Bishop Les has witnessed over his 50 years of priesthood has been, not only the nature of parishes, but the role of a parish priest.  “When I was a young priest, we would be expected to knock on doors in the afternoon to check in on parishioners. We wouldn’t be doing that these days for a number of reasons,” he explained. “It wasn’t all that unusual to be called to a home when someone was sick or had collapsed and was dying, even before their family had thought about calling an ambulance.  I’d even be called out during the night to domestic disturbances,” said Bishop Les.  Of course, Bishop Les is not suggesting that a priest should be called instead of an ambulance or the police. “Back then, people thought more in spiritual terms, their natural thought was to seek the assistance of a priest,” he explains.  
Fifty years ago, people were much more involved in parish life ─ they were much more involved in community life.  Today, we talk idealistically as if parishioners are all sitting on the edge of their seat, which of course most are not.  Generally, in today’s society, people are much less available. The whole societal shift is complex,” he explained. 
Over his life something that has remained constant for Bishop Les is prayer.  All of his life and ministry has been, and still is, underpinned by his relationship with God.  “Priesthood is not a job that is our own. We are doing what we do on behalf of Christ.  It’s therefore essential that prayer be part of every day. It enriches us so much and we are so much more effective for it,” he said. 
“There is no side-stepping the essential nature of prayer.  We are all called to be in a relationship with God and the way we pursue that relationship is through prayer and through work in our parish community. It is important for all of us, but especially for priests, that we never move away from the fact that it is God we seek to serve and that our most fundamental relationship is with God ...  People who place God in the centre of their lives and commit to serving God with a joyful attitude are bound to influence other people in a positive way; that’s all part of evangelisation. It’s about our whole attitude, and what people perceive about our faith.” 
In his Thanksgiving Mass Homily, Bishop Les explained one of his learnings: 
“Over the 50 years of my priesthood, I have come to realise that growth in discipleship does truly seem to be more a matter of letting go than of gaining; of surrendering than of controlling; of learning to accept one’s powerlessness and total need before God, rather than of trying to look good and to be in a position of strength.” 
BishopLes CameronThese words ring true to those who know Bishop Les well.  Cameron Fraser, Business Manager of the Diocese of Sandhurst who worked closely with Bishop Les for over seven years, commented “Bishop Les is a man of deep faith and integrity; he is deeply pastoral and interested in people in Sandhurst; he takes the time to get to know people and their families; he enjoys hearing what we are all up to.”
Debbie Lambert, who would have a quick chat with Bishop Les every morning before the rest of the Chancery staff arrived said, “He has a deep love of his faith, family and friends which shines from within.” 
Bishop Les served as the Bishop of Sandhurst for over seven years from February 2012 until his retirement in 2019.  Prior to Sandhurst, Bishop Les was a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, working in parishes in Melbourne and Hobart for 31 years before being appointed Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in 2003 and 4 months later, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese before being appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne in May 2009. 
BishopLes 1stCommunion SHPSMildura
Bishop Les was raised in Mildura, the youngest of three children.  Mildura was much more remote when Bishop Les was a child.  “The road into town was unsealed and we didn’t have a car in the early days,” he said.  “I was twelve years old before I ever went to Melbourne – we went by train – mainly to visit my brother who was eight years older than me and studying at university there.”  Adelaide was closer and I’d been to Adelaide a few times to visit my mother’s sisters.”
Bishop Les was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Sacred Heart Primary School and St Joseph’s College in Mildura.  He was not the only one of his cohort to choose a vocation.  Sr Kathleen Tierney and Sr Pat Fitzgibbon hail from Mildura and there were some boys at schools who also became priests.  This partially explains why Bishop Les was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in Red Cliffs by the Bishop of Ballarat.  “There had been a couple of ordinations in Mildura just before mine, one of them a fellow ahead of me at school.  We’ve known each other all our lives. My parents had moved to Red Cliffs and the Parish Priest there was keen to have an ordination in Red Cliffs, so I thought I’d make him happy.  The Archbishop of Melbourne couldn’t make it and reluctantly agreed for the Bishop of Ballarat to ordain me. 
“Even though I am retired and living in Melbourne, I remain part of the Diocese of Sandhurst.  I remember with affection my time as Bishop and the clergy and people of the Diocese who are constantly in my prayers.” 
Photograph above top: Bishop Les preaching the Homily at his Thanksgiving Mass, Fr Jake Mudge trying not to laugh too much.
Photograph above middle: Bishop Les and Chancery Business Manager, Cameron Fraser, at Bishop Les' recent Thanksgiving Mass. 
Photograph above bottom: Bishop Les on the day of his First Holy Communion at Sacred Heart Primary School in Mildura. 
October 2022