The life of the first Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta, Most Rev Bede Heather, was celebrated on 4 March 2021 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.
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.
Bishop Bede’s close friend, Leona Sweeny, 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.
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.