Missionary priest Tim Norton has been ordained as an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Brisbane – the first member of the Society of the Divine Word religious order to become a bishop in Australia.
“One of the many expressions of the Church in the world is through mission,” newly-ordained Bishop Norton told a packed St Stephen’s Cathedral in Brisbane on Tuesday 22 February, during a Mass that included many indigenous and multicultural elements.
“And mission has context – from the people sleeping rough each night in the precinct around this cathedral, to people with addictions, to rights of women, minorities, and indigenous people.
“To those who are sick, the issues of farmers in Australia, and in India and Botswana, tensions in Syria, Ethiopia and Ukraine – tensions and terror.
“So, our gathering in the name of God expresses our commitment to the mission of God in the world.”
Bishops from across Australia, family and friends attended the episcopal ordination of Sydney-born Bishop Norton, who until recently ran Divine Word Missionaries ministry programs in Italy.
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge ordained Bishop Norton, saying during his homily that the new bishop would have to discover and shape his own profile and identity as bishop, “not unlike what Pope Francis has done and is doing as Bishop of Rome”.
“Tim will be different, and that’s good; it’s one of the reasons he’s been chosen,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“In his First Letter, St Peter speaks of himself as ‘a witness to the sufferings of Christ’.
“A witness is someone who has seen something; and Peter had certainly seen the death of Christ and all that led to it.”
Archbishop Coleridge said bishops must be “what St Peter called ‘a shepherd of the flock of God’, a shepherd who, according to Pope Francis, walks at times ahead of the flock, at times behind and at times in the midst of the sheep.
“And a discerning shepherd who knows his sheep will know where best to position himself.
“He will also know that the flock belongs not to him but to God, since were he to claim the flock as his own he would be usurping God and acting as a dictator, against which St Peter warns.
“The dictator craves power and possession; the shepherd cares for the sheep because he cares for the owner.
“The dictator may be authoritarian but never has real authority; the shepherd is never authoritarian but has real authority, an authority given to him by the owner of the flock.
“The shepherd will also know that the sheep depend upon him to survive, since sheep without a shepherd simply die.
“But he also knows that the shepherd depends upon the sheep for life and what sustains it – food, drink, clothing, shelter.
“There is a mutuality between shepherd and sheep that also lies at the heart of the episcopal ministry: God’s people depend upon the bishop and the bishop depends upon God’s people.
“If that mutuality ever breaks down, you do not have the Church of Jesus.”
Born in 1958, Bishop Norton graduated from Marist Brothers Eastwood and was inspired early by the missionary work of the Society of the Divine Word.
A university holiday visit to India led by an Australian Divine Word Missionaries priest, Fr Liam Horsfall, proved to be a life-shaping experience when he was introduced to Mother Teresa, later to be honoured as St Teresa of Kolkata.
He recalled being “struck dumb” by the experience.
“… It was like meeting a rock star – seeing this woman, this legend,” he said.
Mother Teresa asked: “Would you do anything for Jesus?”
“Right then I would have done anything for her I think, as well as Jesus,” Bishop Norton said.
“It was a wonderful meeting.”
Bishop Norton says he has always been drawn to those living on the fringes of society.
Decades of missionary work have taken him from the inner-city streets of Sydney, to a crowded barrio in Mexico City, to positions of Divine Word Missionaries leadership.
Bishop Norton trained as a physiotherapist, and after starting entering religious life in 1986, put those health science skills into practice providing physiotherapy for inmates of Melbourne’s Pentridge prison.
In inner-city Sydney, he worked with young street people in Darlinghurst who were experiencing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.
As part of his mission training, Bishop Norton was sent to the slums of Mexico City and later, after his ordination in 1991, he returned to become a parish priest there for five years.
After six years carrying out key formation roles in Melbourne and Sydney, and nine years as the Divine Word Missionaries’ Australian provincial, Bishop Norton ran Divine Word Missionaries renewal programs for priests and brothers at a retreat outside Rome.
Since June 2020, he has worked full-time with consecrated women and men promoting interculturality, something his order is renowned for.
Working with multicultural communities is an important way his order is already involved in Brisbane Archdiocese.
Whilst formerly serving as head of the Australian province, he worked with Archbishop Coleridge to set up a Divine Word Missionaries presence in two multicultural parishes, Inala and Kingston-Marsden.
He said he would bring to his ministry in Brisbane “an intense interest in culture, and the mission of God in the world, whatever shape or form that may take”.
Many of Bishop Norton’s fellow Divine Word Missionaries priests were present for his episcopal ordination.
Co-ordinating bishops for the ordination Mass were Archbishop of Mt Hagen, PNG, Douglas Young and auxiliary bishop of Brisbane, Ken Howell.
Concelebrants included Sydney Archbishop, Anthony Fisher, Melbourne Archbishop, Peter Comensoli and the Archbishop of the Chaldean Catholic Diocese of Australia and New Zealand, Amel Nona.
Reproduced with permission from The Catholic Leader, the news publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.