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Examination of a bishop’s life

BERNARD JOSEPH WALLACE, BISHOP OF ROCKHAMPTON 1974-1990

T.P. Boland; Diocesan Catholic Education Office, Rockhampton, 2008; $20 ($18.95 at St Paul’s Book Centre, Brisbane)

Reviewed by Fr Chris Hanlon

IT is always profitable to record the deeds of significant individuals from our past. This is especially so in the case of a man of Bishop Wallace’s calibre.

As one of the students of the very last class that Bernie Wallace taught in the seminary – just before the World Synod of Bishops in 1983 – I was pleased to have the opportunity to read this book. (That course was, appropriately, on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and it was a pleasure to hear Bernie’s insights on the subject.)

In writing his book, Dr Boland has had to face several difficulties. While the Archives of the Brisbane Archdiocese were available for consultation, the Archives of Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, where Bernie Wallace spent so much of his time, were temporarily inaccessible, as they await a permanent home.

This meant a limitation being placed on the book’s scope and hence upon the examination of how the character of the future Bishop of Rockhampton came to be formed.

The result is that half of the book is devoted to the last 16 years of Bishop Wallace’s life, while the remainder – from 1919 to 1974 – is treated in a series of anecdotal episodes, gathered together from a number of sources.

Thus, the book lacks the comprehensive magisterial quality of Dr Boland’s earlier lives of Archbishops Duhig and Carr. But, what is lost in this regard, is more than made up for by the nuggets of information and precious insight into the circumstances of Bernie Wallace’s life.

One might mention, by way of examples, the irony of Daniel Mannix (who had rejected him for the priesthood in Melbourne archdiocese) being the prelate who ordained him; or the glimpses of life in the seminary common room during the time of Bernie’s residence there.

The insightful phrase is still part of Boland’s palette. Take, for example, this description (p.24) of the Monsignor Roberts era at Banyo Seminary: “It was clear that the purpose of the seminary training was diverted from sacred sciences and spiritual formation to horticulture.”

By the time the book reaches the stage where Bernie becomes Rockhampton’s bishop, its literary style has been set. This continues until its conclusion. So, we are led quite effortlessly through what must have been a difficult process: the transition from a seminary academic to that of a bishop of a country diocese.

Wallace’s re-organisation of the diocese; his calling together of the diocesan pastoral council in August, 1980; his role at the Synod of Bishops (on the Sacrament of Reconciliation) in 1983; his education policy for the Catholic schools of his diocese; his completion of St Joseph’s Cathedral; his part in the ecumenical discussions known as ARCIC II: these are all dealt with in a style which is both easy to read and to understand.

Finally, his last days have been treated with a love and gentility that one has come to expect from Dr Boland. His inclusion of the bishop’s letter to his people, announcing his resignation through ill-health (p.89) is something that simply has to be read. The prayer of the scholar Gustave Bardy (p.95) captures something of the character of Bernard Joseph Wallace.

While the work may not be the last word on the good bishop, it presents a number of aspects of a complex character in an enjoyable and reflective manner. I, for one, enjoyed the work immensely, and would have no hesitation to say to the readers of this column: “Buy this book!”

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