By Paul Dobbyn
WHETHER from Pope Francis, Australia’s Governor General Peter Cosgrove or Bishop Michael Putney’s many friends and colleagues, praise for his life and ministry was clear and powerful.
At the Vigil and Sharing of Memories which packed Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday April 6, Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher, recently appointed diocesan administrator Fr Mick Lowcock and Bishop Putney’s colleague and close friend Fr Orm Rush were among those paying tribute.
Archbishop Gallagher said his appointment as apostolic nuncio to Australia “coincided almost exactly with Bishop Putney falling ill”.
“When I passed through Rome before taking up this post, I was struck by the spontaneous expressions of sadness and appreciation which senior people in the Vatican shared with me,” he said.
“I think I glimpsed his love of God’s people when we met with staff and students from the Catholic schools of the diocese on March 20, the day before he went into hospital.”
Diocesan administrator Fr Mick Lowcock spoke of “a pattern of dying and rising” in Bishop Putney’s life.
“Thirteen years ago almost to the day he died, Bishop Michael came here and in lots of ways lots of things died to him that day – living in the big city, having extensive support systems and offices to help him.
“He left behind a family he was close too and theological support he enjoyed but in this dying was also the rising – he came to love Townsville again, to be proud of the city and its people who loved him back which became so life-giving for him.”
Fr Rush said “Faith, hope and love had been hallmarks of his whole life, but these virtues found their deepest meaning and their sharpest expression at the very end of his earthly life.”
The bishop’s sister Celcus Phillips also gave an insight into her brother’s close connection to his “two families” – the Church and his own biological family.
Mrs Phillips said as one of four siblings, two sisters and a brother Owen – who died last December – “he was very much part of a large extended family as “he laughed and cried with us like any regular brother, cousin and uncle”.
Bishop Putney’s contribution to education, ecumenism and indigenous affairs were also acknowledged by Townsville diocese’s Catholic Education Office director Dr Cathy Day, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission chair Thelma Paraker and Anglican Bishop of North Queensland Bill Ray.
“(Bishop Michael) gave us room to introduce many wonderful initiatives like Christian meditation for which he has become internationally renowned,” Dr Day said.
“He loved to be in the schools and in classrooms and enjoyed sitting on the tiny chairs with preps, walking on the beach with the children from St Michael’s on Palm Island and engaging in some provocative and often challenging conversations with secondary school students.”
Governor General Cosgrove’s message, read at the Funeral Mass on Monday April 7, summed up the general feeling on Bishop Putney’s passing.
“Australia, the Catholic Church, and the people of North Queensland have lost a good and brave man,” he wrote.
“Bishop Michael Putney was so very good and so very brave but more than this he was an inspiration to all he met and to all who knew of the cheerful stoicism and courage in the way he lived his final months.”