By Paul Dobbyn
TOWNSVILLE’S Bishop Michael Putney, called home to his eternal reward in the early hours of Friday, March 28, had just a week earlier launched a book on his great passion – ecumenism.
The 67-year-old bishop’s ministry will continue in other ways too.
On the morning of his death, more than 140 parishioners from around Townsville diocese gathered for a workshop on evangelisation, one of the bishop’s initiatives launched in what he described as his “miracle year” of 2013.
Townsville diocese’s communication/vocations officer Neil Helmore said the term “miracle” seemed apt.
“Bishop Michael learnt of his inoperable stomach cancer in late 2012,” he said.
“He was not expected to live much past this time last year.
“So when he got to continue, initiate and tidy up many of his projects throughout last year, he called 2013 his miracle year.”
Bishop Putney, was born in Gladstone on June 20, 1946 and received most of his education in Townsville from the Sisters of Mercy at St Joseph’s School and the Christian Brothers at Our Lady’s Mount.
He completed his secondary schooling with the Christian Brothers at St Columban’s College, Albion in Brisbane.
In Townsville, the Putney family were parishioners in the Cathedral parish where Michael trained as an altar boy and later in St Mary’s West End.
It was at the latter location, he gained his desire to become a priest.
Bishop Putney studied for the priesthood at Banyo Seminary from 1963 and was ordained on June 28, 1969.
His intense interest in ecumenism came during his time as a seminarian during the Second Vatican Council.
“I was genuinely converted to ecumenism by the bishop’s decisions during this time,” he once said.
His doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University Rome, summa cum laude (with high praise) in 1985 was on ecumenism.
He was Banyo Seminary’s vice-rector from 1980-85.
Bishop Putney was installed as Townsville’s bishop in March 2001.
Prior to this he was one of Brisbane’s auxiliary bishops.
He also held several key roles linked to ecumenical dialogue.
He was president of Queensland Churches Together – the Churches’ state ecumenical body – from March 1999 to March 2000.
Bishop Putney also became Catholic co-chairman of the International Methodist/Roman Catholic Dialogue for many years, until stepping down in 2013 due to ill health.
At the start of 2013, he had made public his diagnosis of inoperable stomach cancer which had spread to his liver having learnt the news in late 2012.
A Mass on January 10 2013 to pray for Townsville’s popular bishop overflowed Sacred Heart Cathedral, with more than 1000 people attending.
In an interview with The Catholic Leader in January, Bishop Putney said “I am happy once more to leave my life and work in the diocese, completely in the hands of God.
“I did that at the beginning of last year and had one of the most amazing years of my life,” he said.
“I am looking forward to what lies ahead, whatever it may be.”
Mr Helmore, speaking on the morning of Bishop Putney’s death, said he had last seen Bishop Putney at the launch of his book My Ecumenical Journey in Townsville on the evening of Thursday March 20.
His good friend Australian Anglican Primate Archbishop Phillip Aspinall launched the book.
Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher was among guests at the event, which included many Townsville Church leaders and other community figures.
Mr Helmore said after the launch Bishop Putney had attended a doctor’s appointment.
“The bishop was admitted to hospital to undergo drainage of fluid from his stomach due to the cancer,” he said.
“The pressure from this was causing a lot of pain.
“It was the third such procedure.”
Mr Helmore said Bishop Putney had continued his enthusiasm for his ministry to the end.
“My last memory of him will be his happiness at launching his book on ecumenism for which he had such a passion,” he said.
“He was having a great time in the lead up to the launch as well.
“The nuncio arrived the day before and was guest speaker at the annual bishop’s dinner attended by about 170 people.
“On the Thursday before his book launch, the bishop took the nuncio around to several schools in the diocese.
“The school leaders had a chance to show their pride in their schools.”
Mr Helmore said Bishop Putney’s death “seemed to me the Holy Spirit saying ‘You’ve done everything you’re able too; you can see me now.”