COVID masks could not hide the emotion of many during a solemn pontifical mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral yesterday to celebrate the life of Bishop William Joseph (Bill) Wright.
Bishop Wright died of lung cancer on November 13, aged 69. The mass was conducted by the Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, with conjoint celebrants Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli and bishops Brian Mascord (Wollongong) and Michael McKenna (Bathurst).
Coronavirus regulations limited capacity to just over 200, with "a large contingent of students and parishioners" at Bishop Wright's request.
The service was streamed live online.
The music and scripture for the funeral mass were drawn from the bishop's ordination service of 2011 and included Lead Kindly Light and Firmly I Believe and Truly, by John Henry Newman and Now Sing My Soul to the tune of Hubert Parry's Jerusalem. Early on, Archbishop Fisher reflected on Bishop Bill's grounded nature.
"Bill is remembered as a warm, considered and deeply faithful man with a wry wit," the archbishop said.
"He had a great capacity for sitting patiently with people, especially down-and-outs. He was a good shepherd."
Victims of the church's paedophile scandals have said they believed Bishop Wright put the church ahead of its victims but Archbishop Fisher said the bishop had inherited "a diocese with more than its share of troubles" and had "dealt with those dark matters with determination".
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Bishop Bill's sister, Pat Purcell and nephew, Matthew Purcell, spoke for the family, recalling how Bill had met two popes before his 12th birthday.
Bishop Mascord, who served alongside Bishop Wright as his first vicar general, gave the homily, and emphasised Bishop Wright's fondness for simplicity.
"Today as we come together to pray for Bill, I believe he would have much preferred that this celebration took place during the more serious lockdown conditions, as it would have been less complicated," Bishop Mascord said.
His homily interspersed reflections on the Gospel with memories of their 35-year friendship.
"Bill's love of history did not allow him to settle in the past but rather to evaluate that history and ask the question of how we can use it to move forward," Bishop Mascord said.
"On that last visit I had with him he asked me a question about how he had led this diocese, I answered with the simple words of with kindness and love."
Staff from the diocese led Gospel readings and prayers and students from St Bede's Catholic College at Chisolm brought the gifts to the altar. The pallbearers after the mass were the bishop's priest consultors.
Staff then formed a guard of honour on Hunter Street as the cortege headed to St John's Oratory in Maitland, where 200 students from All Saints College and St John's Primary School formed a second guard.
The rites of committal followed, and Bishop Wright was laid to rest, surrounded by his family, friends and clergy.
After the service, the diocesan office praised Bishop Wright for the work he had done.
The office said that under his leadership, there had been substantial growth in grassroots community programs, through CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning.
"Bishop Bill was passionate about walking alongside those in our community who need a bit of extra support," the diocese said.
"He was an advocate for strengthening and expanding our social footprint through our community kitchens, food programs and refugee support services.
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"Most significantly for the diocese, Bishop Bill committed to convening a synod, the first held locally in three decades. He was interested in consulting and collaborating with the diocesan community to help us work towards becoming a more welcoming, inclusive and participatory church for all in this modern world."
The office noted the establishment of three new schools - St Aloysius Catholic Primary School and St Bede's Catholic College, both in Chisholm, followed by Catherine McAuley Catholic College in Medowie. New diocesan services included St Nicholas Early Education, St Nicholas OOSH and St Nicholas Pathways, as well as The Rosewood Centre, supporting mental health.
The office also singled out the introduction in 2017 of a "change management project" known as "Many Parts. One Body. One Mission" - a restructure that was said at the time to minimise duplication of staff and resources and "reduce confusion across agencies".
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