SACRED Heart Cathedral at Hamilton resounded with choral singing and silence between words as an invited congregation celebrated the life of Bishop Bill Wright in a solemn pontifical mass conducted by the Archbishop of Sydney, Reverend Anthony Fisher.
The other celebrants were Archbishop Peter Comensoli, Bishop Brian Mascord and Bishop Michael McKenna.
COVID regulations restricted the crowd in the spacious cathedral to just over 200, with the mourners and the clerics taking part in the ceremony all wearing facemasks and socially distancing where possible.
The 90-minute mass heard from Bishop Wright's family, including his sister, Pat Purcell, who recalled her "baby brother" as "a very easy going and lovely younger brother" who she and another brother, Robert, had wanted christened as Dennis, as they were childhood fans of the TV show Dennis the Menace.
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Such reminiscences provided occasional moments of gentle levity in an otherwise magisterial service in which Archbishop Fisher and others recalled the life and works of Reverend Wright, who served as a priest for 44 of his 69 years on earth.
The archbishop said Bishop Wright had to "address some terrible truths about the criminal behaviour" of some in his new diocese, as well as "the failure of past leaders to address those matters adequately.
He said Bishop Wright as a champion of survivors and of church reform.
Giving the homily, Bishop Mascord said that the day before he died, Bishop Wright rang a bishops' conference to "say goodbye".
"It was deeply moving," Bishop Mascord said.
He said Bishop Wright had a great capacity for sitting patiently with people, over a cigarette and a beer with "down and outs".
Earlier, Archbishop Fisher read a message from the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, quoting Pope Francis as saying he was saddened to hear of Bishop Wright's "untimely death", and sending "heartfelt condolences" to the diocese.
Despite the COVID limits on numbers, the cathedral was filled with sound during the hymns, from the opening responsorial psalm, Forever I Will Sing, to the recessional, Now Sing My Soul, to the familiar tune of Herbert Parry's Jerusalem.
The service began just after 10.30am and finished shortly after noon.
Diocesan staff formed a guard of honour either side of Hunter Street as the hearse left for St John's Oratory in Maitland.
There, the cortege was met by a guard of honour formed by 200 students from All Saints College and St John's Primary School.
The Rites of Committal followed, and the bishop was laid to rest, surrounded by his family, friends and clergy.
The diocese has appointed the Parish Priest of Boolaroo, Warners Bay and Booragul Parishes, Fr Greg Barker, as Diocesan Administrator following the death of Reverend Wright.
Fr Greg was appointed by the diocesan College of Consultors, the group of priests with a canonical role in the governance of the diocese. The a leads the diocese until the Holy Father, Pope Francis, appoints a new bishop.
Father Baker will continue his parish roles.
"I feel privileged to have been entrusted with this role and with the help of the parish leaders and the staff in the diocese I know together we will uphold the amazing testament of Bishop Bill," Father Baker said.
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