Armidale’s 10th and youngest Bishop ordained

By Lu Danieli and Gary Fry

Former Catholic Bishop of Armidale, Most Rev Luc Matthys, was the principal celebrant of the Episcopal Ordination and Installation of his successor, Bishop Michael Robert Kennedy.

The two-hour long ceremony took place in the Cathedral of Saints Mary and Joseph in Armidale, concluding around 12:30pm today (09/02/12). Co-consecrators were George Cardinal Pell (Archbishop of Sydney) and Bishop Gerard Hanna (Bishop of Wagga).

There was a large gathering of clergy from the Armidale diocese and beyond, especially from the Wagga Diocese, where 43 year-old Bishop Kennedy had served since his ordination into the Priesthood in August 1999, under former Armidale local, Bishop Hanna. Among the clergy in attendance were over 90 Priests, 29 Bishops and two Cardinals. Many members of 43 year-old Bishop Kennedy’s large family and friends from the Riverina also made the trip to Armidale for the special occasion.

Bishop Kennedy said that he was both honoured and humbled to be chosen as a successor of the Apostles as the Bishop of Armidale.

“As I begin today, the task of chief shepherd of the Church of Armidale, I am heartened in the knowledge that I am not alone. I have my brother Priests, who, as co-operators with the Bishop, also bear with him the co-responsibility of teaching, sanctifying and governing,” Bishop Kennedy said to parishioners at the ordination ceremony.

“I know that I can rely on the support and prayers of you, the faithful. Please pray that I do what is right and preach what is true. Please pray that the care of the shepherd never be lacking for his flock.”

The new Bishop said that teaching and learning in the diocese are fundamental concerns for him, particularly, such that “Catholics know and understand what it is to be Catholic”.

Bishop Kennedy said that (as demonstrated by his predecessor) it is important for a new Bishop to visit all parishes in his diocese as soon as he can, adding that getting out to visit flood affected parishes in the diocese, such as Moree, Narrabri, Walgett and Wee Waa will be a particular priority for him.

There are 23 Parishes and 24 Catholic schools in the 91,500 sq km Armidale Diocese. Flood waters in the north-west of the diocese prevented some parishioners from witnessing the consecration of their new Bishop, Armidale’s 10th since 1869.

Yet, the attendance was estimated at close to 1,000.

There were up to 850 people in the Cathedral, which was packed to capacity. Others were able to view the ceremony on television screens in a marquee. A light luncheon followed at the Armidale Ex-Services Club.

Bishop Kennedy’s education began in a small, two-class country school at San Isidore. He then attended a school run by the Christian Brothers in Wagga. “I was so happy with my schooling that I decided to become a school teacher myself. I taught for three years at Xavier Catholic High School in Albury.”

He then commenced studying to be a priest. He began his priestly formation at Vianney College, Wagga and completed his studies in Rome at Propaganda Fide, obtaining a Licentiate in Sacred Theology.

Ordained into the Priesthood in the Diocese of Wagga on August 14, 1999, he was the assistant priest in Griffith (1999-2000); Rector of St Francis’ Residential College at Charles Sturt University (2001-2003); assistant priest in Albury (2004-2006); and the Parish Priest of Leeton since 2007. His teaching background was one of his qualifications to be a Lecturer at Vianney College where he taught Moral Theology and Church History.

He was the Parish Priest of Leeton, NSW, and the Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Murrumbidgee Deanery when his appointment as Bishop of Armidale was announced in December last year.

Former Armidale local, Bishop Gerard Hanna of Wagga Wagga was delighted that one of his senior priests was appointed. “Over the last 13 years he has shown a very balanced approach to his pastoral ministry. I believe that he is well suited in his new role,” Bishop Hanna said.

Historical background.
The Catholic Diocese of Armidale was cut off from the Archdiocese of Sydney in 1862, but no bishop was appointed until 1869, and he was consecrated in Cork, Ireland. His successor, Bishop Torreggiani, was consecrated in London. Bishop O’Connor and Bishop Coleman were both consecrated in Armidale, and there were no more ceremonies of that kind until Bishop Manning’s in 1991. Bishop Matthys was ordained a bishop in Armidale in May 1999.

Bishop Matthys was the ninth Bishop of Armidale and served for 12 years. He said the average length of each episcopate has been almost 16 years. The longest was Bishop O’Connor’s, from 1904 to 1932, and the shortest was Bishop Freeman’s, from December 1968 to July 1971, when he became the Archbishop of Sydney.

Aged 43, Bishop Kennedy is technically the Diocese’s youngest serving Bishop. John Coleman was the youngest to become a bishop here. He was consecrated on his 42nd birthday, but he was a coadjutor bishop until taking over in July 1932 when he was 44 years and 9 months old.

Michael Kennedy will be the youngest to take over the diocese (ie, to be Bishop of Armidale), which he will do at the age of 43 years, eight months and three weeks. Bishop Doody was already 44 when he was appointed, and a few months older when he was consecrated in Brisbane and installed in Armidale three days later.