Most Rev Anthony Fisher OP was installed as the third Bishop of Parramatta on 4 March in St Patrick’s Cathedral. More than 2,000 people gathered in the cathedral precinct for the Mass, which was streamed live by the Catholic social networking site xt3.com.
Bishop Fisher, a former auxiliary bishop of Sydney and co-ordinator of World Youth Day 2008, is the eldest of five children born to Colin and Gloria Fisher on 10 March 1960.
He was baptised at St Therese’s, Lakemba, and began his education at the parish primary school. At St Michael’s Primary, Lane Cove he received the Sacraments of Reconciliation, First Communion and Confirmation. For Grade 5 and 6, he moved to Holy Cross College at Ryde.
He attended St Ignatius’ College Riverview from 1st to 6th Form (now Years 7–12) and was dux of the school in 1977. “I loved Riverview. I was very blessed to go there. I used to walk through the bush through a mangrove swamp and dutifully arrive with a boater perched upon my head, jacket neatly buttoned up and my shoes covered in mud.”
Several of the Jesuit priests at the school would have a significant influence on him. Fr Charles McDonald SJ was the debating master and taught the young Anthony about public speaking. Fr Tom O’Donovan SJ was his 6th Form master and spiritual mentor.
Among the many things he learned at Riverview was debating, which cultivated an interest in public speaking and, ultimately, in preaching. It was through public speaking and debating – the notion of advocacy, two sides to every argument – that he came to consider a career in law.
“Most young people think they are going to change the world and make it a better place, and I certainly had these ideals.” He devoted many years at university to study in several areas, achieving honours in history and a degree in law. While studying at the University of Sydney he secured a job with a city law firm.
Bishop Anthony loved the law. “Sometimes, at the end of something they’ve have worked through, lawyers get a sense that they’ve done something good for someone and helped them to get justice.”
But he also hungered for more, for something different. He is not sure at what moment the idea of becoming a priest “popped into” his head. He had a nun (Sr Mary Carmel Fisher RSM) in the family and loved altar-serving as a boy, so the vocation seed may have been planted early.
He took leave from his law job and it was while backpacking around Europe and through the Holy Land in 1984 that he decided to join the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).
Within a week he knew it was right, the right mix for him of community, prayer, study and preaching: it was home. After completing an honours degree in theology he was ordained at Holy Name Church, Wahroonga on 14 September 1991.
Bishop Anthony was then given the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford where he completed a Doctorate in Philosophy in 1995. He had developed an interest in bioethics during his university years when he co-wrote a book on abortion in Australia.
He has since completed a further six books and numerous articles on ethics, medicine, legal and theological subjects. “I have a real passion for the issues of life, death, healthcare, suffering, having been drawn into them as a young man. Years later, I am still writing and lecturing on these topics.”
For the past seven years Bishop Anthony has been parish priest of Our Lady Star of the Sea, Watsons Bay. When asked how he sees the role of bishop as an extension of being a priest, he candidly explains:
“I think being a priest is probably a bit more fun than being a bishop. I feel a bit like being a person who really loves teaching and is suddenly made a principal. If the Church is going to run though, it must have shepherds.
“Generally, I think a priest gets to be closer to the ground, to the people and leading them to God, and that is a wonderful privilege.
“One of the up-sides of being a bishop is Confirmation. It is a very precious moment when you bring the Holy Spirit to young people and see their faces shining with God and goodness. At that moment they are very focused and open to God and their families are too, and that is a very great privilege in a bishop’s life.”
Now he is looking forward to getting out and about in parishes and schools, and meeting the priests and the people of the Diocese. One of the huge attractions for him personally is its demographics: being about the youngest diocese in terms of average age, about the most ethnically diverse and having the highest percentage of Catholics.
Bishop Anthony said he was excited to be the bishop of a Diocese that was establishing new parishes and opening schools. Learning about the issues and the challenges, the people’s hopes and dreams, will occupy much of his first few months.
He said one of the biggest challenges for the Australian Church was Mass attendance as only one in six people who identified as Catholics regularly attended Church.
“Our challenge is to offer them all the wonderful things the Church has and, in turn, bring them and their backgrounds, gifts and enthusiasms back to the Church. We have to halt the trend and reverse it, and bring the Gospel to the people and the people into the life of the Gospel.”
Bishop Anthony’s motto, Veritatem facientes in caritate, is taken from St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians (4:15) and means “Speaking the truth in love”.
Paul was a great preacher and writer and, like St Paul, Bishop Anthony makes speaking the truth with compassion his rule of life.
For relaxation, he loves to read and enjoys music, including opera which he says is “a feast for the eyes and the ears”. He also admits to being a movie fan, seeing Avatar in its first week of release.
He plays social tennis every week and is quite an accomplished cook, more often than not being the chef at family dinners. And it comes as no surprise for a man who, it seems, has always set the bar very high in terms of personal excellence that his signature dish is Grand Marnier soufflé.