By Emilie Ng
AUSTRALIA’S first Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate to be appointed a bishop was “still in shock” days after accepting his appointment.
Brisbane’s Iona College rector Bishop-elect Mark Edwards received an invitation two weeks ago from Australia’s former apostolic nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher “to discuss religious life in Queensland”.
“I thought it had some credibility, as next year is the year of religious life, so I was very flattered,” Bishop-elect Edwards said.
Four minutes into the proposed discussion, Archbishop Gallagher said he was not going to speak about Queensland vocations.
“He said, ‘I apologise for the subterfuge but the Holy Father has appointed you as auxiliary bishop for Melbourne’,” the Bishop-elect said.
“That’s when the shock hit.”
Bishop-elect Edwards will be installed in Melbourne on December 17 with Bishop-elect Terence Curtin, of Greythorn, Melbourne.
Bishop-elect Edwards said he was “still going through all the emotions” of his new appointment days after the public announcement on Friday, November 7.
“I’m excited, as it is a great honour, but I’m also sad,” he said.
The reality of leaving Iona College by December after a successful four years as the school’s 12th rector had the newly appointed bishop in tears.
“I love Iona College, and I was always going to cry when I left, so I’ve been doing some of that.”
Bishop-elect Edwards said it was also “a great honour” for the Oblates, who were “genuinely filled with joy for me”.
“It’s not just me but I’m sure that the reason I could be proposed is that the Oblates have done such good work for so long, that means – it’s the time for an Oblate.”
Bishop-elect Edwards will be suspended from the Oblates on December 17.
“But in my heart, I’m always going to be an Oblate, and I think in the hearts of the Oblates, I’ll always belong to them also,” he said.
He was born in Indonesia in 1959 and was “a global citizen” for several years before settling with his family in Melbourne.
He received an education at Mazenod College, run by the Oblates, and inspired by their life, joined the community in 1980.
As a priest, he taught at Iona College for eight years before teaching at Melbourne’s St Mary’s seminary for 12 years. He was appointed rector of Iona College in 2010.
While he was “perhaps a bit afraid” about his new appointment, the 55-year-old has also decided to leave his future in God’s hands.
“In the end, I just keep telling myself, ‘It’s Jesus who wants me to be there. And if Jesus wants me to be there, I don’t want to be anywhere else’,” he said. “I keep coming back to that and that makes it possible.”
Bishop-elect Edwards said he was looking forward to connecting with priests in Melbourne archdiocese, but particularly those with whom he trained in the seminary.
Iona College staff and students were excited but sad that their boss would be leaving.
College dean for faith and mission Wayne Witten said the school community was “sorry to lose” the bishop-elect, but knew there was a greater plan for him.
“He’s going to be making a broader and bigger contribution to the development and strengthening of the Catholic Church in Australia, which is a wonderful quality and a wonderful gift,” he said.
Staff member Lisa Mugridge said this was a big opportunity for Bishop-elect Edwards.
“But don’t forget the small people in Brisbane,” Ms Mugridge said.
The bishop-elect’s former student and Iona College teacher Liam Nugent said his boss “lives and breathes what he does”.
“He’s very much put his life and soul into this place, and I very much think that he’ll do the same in the auxiliary bishop’s role,” Mr Nugent said.