BISHOP Ken Howell has been on the road, literally, travelling the length and breadth of the Archdiocese of Brisbane.
“It’s Confirmation season – eight Confirmation ceremonies in five days,” Bishop Ken said, as he criss-crossed the archdiocese’s North Country deanery, taking in visits to Gympie, Maroochydore, Gayndah, Murgon and Nanango.
“So I’m out and about. I love driving in the country when I can,” he said.
“It is an important time to encourage parents and recognise how they have looked forward to the day when their child can make their baptismal promises within the community of faith.”
It’s more than a year since Bishop Howell’s episcopal ordination as an auxiliary bishop on June 14, 2017, and 35 years ago this week since he was ordained a priest.
Bishop Ken was standing in the Pomona cemetery when The Catholic Leader spoke to him by phone last week.
It’s not at all an odd place for a bishop to be when you consider the cemetery lies within the first parish a young Fr Howell was sent to as a newly-ordained priest 35 years ago.
“I was passing the cemetery, and I thought I should have a look,” Bishop Ken said.
“I did a few burials here in my time.”
One of the graves he stopped to prayerfully consider was that of a 13-year-old boy who died in a flash flood soon after Fr Howell first arrived in the parish, now called the Noosa District parish.
Back then it was called Tewantin.
“It’s amazing what you find out when you are travelling around,” Bishop Howell said.
“The boy’s father died about eighteen months later when a tree fell on his car while he was driving home – quite extraordinary
“That’s the story of life.
“That’s the story of Andrew James White, and his father Joseph James White buried next to each other here.”
Bishop Howell said it was complex to take the pulse in country parishes.
“At any one time there’s lots happening,” he said.
“Our Catholic schools are doing a pretty good job in country towns.
“People in country areas are very committed to their Church – there’s a great sense of the generations of families having been in an area and the church is central to that.
“Their children got baptised and married there. Those generational connections stand out.
“Perhaps the thing I’ve noticed in some of the towns is that people lament that there isn’t the future for employment.
“So the young ones move away to Brisbane, or somewhere else for university, and basically don’t come back.”
Bishop Howell noted that St Francis Xavier Church at Woolooga, in the Gympie parish, celebrated its final Mass last weekend before the church was closed down.
“That kind of thing is always disappointing for a community,” he said.
It’s quite a contrast for Bishop Howell, whose last parish before his episcopal ordination was Burleigh Heads – the largest Catholic parish in the country.
The new Mary, Mother of Mercy Church at Burleigh Waters, the new focal point of the parish, was consecrated and blessed in March last year, just before his departure.
“Yes it’s a bit different going from that to a church with a Mass of seven people,” he said.
Bishop Howell’s travels have also taken him to explore the diversity of parishes within striking distance of Brisbane, including Victoria Point parish and the nearby islands where a new church has been established.
“I met with Macleay Island people and celebrated Mass with the Coochiemudlo people on Saturday morning. So I did a bit of ferry-riding,” he said.
Standing in the quiet of the cemetery in Pomona, Bishop Howell said it was “nice to have a bit of space occasionally”.
“Just occasionally,” he said with a laugh.