The life of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta, Most Rev Bede Heather, was celebrated today in a Mass of Christian Burial at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta. The current Bishop of Parramatta, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, presided over the Mass, with Rev Monsignor John Boyle, a close friend, the Principal Celebrant and Homilist.
Emeritus Bishop Most Rev Peter Ingham of the Diocese of Wollongong; Emeritus Bishop Most Rev David Walker DD of the Diocese of Broken Bay; Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney Most Rev Terry Brady DD VG EV; and Bishop of Bathurst Most Rev Michael McKenna, attended the ceremony to show their respect.
In his homily, Monsignor Boyle brought to life the values which Bishop Bede embodied.
“He was at home with people of faith and those of no professed faith, with anxious agnostics and angry atheists,” he said explaining the unity which marked Bishop Bede’s ministry.
Bishop Bede’s humility came through, said Monsignor Boyle, in the readings he selected for his funeral Mass, Exodus 33:17-23 and Philippines 3:7-11 with the Gospel from John 13:1-16.
“This reading, and the Gospel proclaimed today,” said Monsignor Boyle, “are perhaps the most subtle yet powerful homily Bede ever preached.”
Extending the theme of Bishop Bede’s humility, he also joked about the wooden cross the Bishop wore around the Diocese “held around his neck with what looked like a venetian blind cord.” Noting that many bishops today now wear wooden crosses, he quipped “in Rome, I understand, there is great demand for venetian blind cord.”
Monsignor Boyle also spoke about the defining moments of the Diocese of Parramatta, and Bishop Bede’s influence which continues to shape the character of the Diocese today.
His reaction to the fire which destroyed the Cathedral in 1996 astounded and angered some. His insistence that the arsonist responsible for the fire was told he was forgiven by the Diocese before anything else, even confused Monsignor Boyle who was dispatched to do the task.
Other memories evoked included the simple fibro house which occupied the first Diocesan Chancery office, his enthusiastic participation in Palm Sunday Peace marches, and the establishment of the Priests House of Prayer at East Kurrajong.
At the conclusion of his homily, Monsignor Boyle noted that the Anglican Rector of Gosford Anglican, the Venerable Rod Bower, would place Bishop Bede’s breviary on his casket, showing an example of Bede’s ‘legendary’ efforts at ecumenism.
Bishop Bede’s close friend, Leona Sweeney, told the congregation “Bede’s love for God was paramount,” and that the more it grew the more it radiated out to others. To her, she said, he represented “compassion, forgiveness, hospitality, trust and understanding.”
Peter Downie, Bishop Bede’s nephew, also painted a picture of a man living a life of simple humanity. He was a proud uncle and great-uncle, as well as making himself available to mentor those in times of high and lows. “He was someone to whom people could bring their doubts and find acceptance,” he explained.
Peter also evoked the image of Bishop Bede humbly cleaning up and serving coffee after a meal, part of his demonstration of how unfair he felt society’s expectations were on women. He travelled across the state visiting prisoners, and, on his retirement, rejoiced in living simply, and worshipping in community with others.
In his concluding remarks, Bishop Vincent Long read out the message of condolence from Pope Francis which evoked his concern for educating the young (you can read the message here).
He also noted the apologies of Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who was unable to attend but who expressed his gratitude on behalf of all Australia’s bishops for the leadership shown by Bishop Bede during his life.
Bishop Vincent also noted the strong foundation Bishop Bede laid for the Diocese of Parramatta. He explained how he too, was inspired by Bishop Bede’s simplicity, a leadership style that was “prophetic”.
He explained his own gratitude for Bishop Bede’s leadership and demonstration of his strong faith.
“I asked him if he had a spiritual director,” said Bishop Vincent of one of his visits to Bishop Bede. “He pointed to the Bible and said, ‘That is my spiritual director’”.
A vigil Mass for Bishop Bede was held on Wednesday night at St Michael’s Church, Baulkham Hills, with the third Bishop of Parramatta, Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher OP, concelebrating Mass.
Bishop Bede was nominated as the first Bishop of Parramatta and was formally installed at St Patrick’s Cathedral on 19 May 1986.
Bishop Bede served the Diocese of Parramatta until 10 July 1997. In his retirement he lived on the Central Coast of NSW. He passed away on 25 February 2021 at the age of 92.
In your charity, please pray for the Repose of the Soul of Bishop Bede and remember his family in your prayers.
*Regrettably the video of the live stream has been taken down due to its quality. The Diocese of Parramatta apologises for this issue and the delay in broadcasting the funeral Mass of Bishop Bede. The delay and reduced coverage was due to technical issues which could not be avoided. A copy of this video is available upon request.