“CHALLENGING and some-times quite painful … incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.”
Retired Rockhampton Bishop Brian Heenan used these words to describe his 22 years as the diocese’s bishop.
“I always knew how much people love their priests through thick and thin,” he said, speaking from his family home in Caloundra a week after Pope Francis accepted his retirement. “I discovered this was also true for their bishop. Despite all sorts of failings on my part, they loved me all the time into renewed life.”
Bishop Heenan, who handed in his resignation last year when he turned 75, said at the time he was pleased to continue as the diocese’s bishop as long as necessary. Now he plans to spend some time on the beach, ride his bike, do some travelling and help out around Brisbane archdiocese if required.
On October 1, he received news from the apostolic nunciature that Pope Francis had accepted his resignation.
“Having well exceeded the retiring age, I was ready to move into a new phase of life,” Bishop Heenan said. “It is time for the diocese of Rockhampton to have new leadership.”
Bishop Heenan was also “delighted” the diocese’s vicar general Fr John Grace would be diocesan administrator until a new bishop was named.
“John has been a tower of strength for me and the entire diocesan family,” he said. “I also pay tribute to the many other people who have helped me. Mrs Jan Mussig, who accepted the role of executive secretary soon after I came to Rockhampton, deserves special thanks. Jan has accepted many extra responsibilities and has been revered by all who’ve come to know her.
“Thanks go out also to the religious sisters, brothers and priests who have made such a huge contribution to the life of the diocese … Even with reduced numbers they continue to do so.”
Bishop Heenan, ordained to the priesthood in 1962 and appointed bishop in 1991 by Pope John Paul II, spoke fondly of his years in the “vast and diverse” Rockhampton diocese.
“It had such marvellous variety from Longreach and west to the Northern Territory border and to coastal places such as Gladstone and Bundaberg,” he said. “The people were real ‘salt of the earth’ types, often doing it tough battling drought and many other challenges. My life was so enriched by meeting and ministering to them.”