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Brisbane Archdiocese’s former shepherd Archbishop John Bathersby has died aged 83

Archbishop Bathersby at Pray2010
Archbishop mourned: Archbishop John Bathersby speaking at the Pray2010 event. He died at 7am on March 9.

BRISBANE Archbishop Emeritus John Bathersby has been remembered as a long-serving and dedicated servant of the Church in Queensland after he died today.

Archbishop Bathersby served as the Bishop of Cairns for five years before taking on his role as Brisbane archbishop for 20 years.

He was remembered for his emphasis on prayer, the Eucharist and the centrality of Jesus as well as a commitment to ecumenism and the laity.

Archbishop Coleridge pays tribute to his predecessor

Archbishop Bathersby with an image of Mother Teresa
Man of prayer: “John was consumed by the desire to know and love Jesus, and he spoke of this more and more as time went by.”

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said in Archbishop Bathersby’s 20 years as archbishop, he was “no high-powered administrator or fiery preacher”.

“What he brought to the office was something deeper and more enduring,” he said.

“John was consumed by the desire to know and love Jesus, and he spoke of this more and more as time went by.

“This is his greatest legacy to the archdiocese.

“It led to a focus on deepening prayer, not only in his own life but in the life of the archdiocese.

“The mystic shone through in the little Aussie battler; and the effect of that is hard to measure but impossible to deny.

“From this there flowed his passion for Christian unity: he understood that the Jesus whom he had met knocked down the walls that divide.

“His deep sense of communion extended not only to other Churches but to the community as a whole.”

Stanthorpe boy becomes Brisbane archbishop

Archbishop Bathersby standing with school students
Lasting joy: Archbishop John Bathersby described his episcopate and priesthood as the happiest time of his life.

Archbishop Bathersby was born in Stanthorpe in 1936 to John Thomas, a shopkeeper and publican at the Country Club Hotel, and Grace Maud Bathersby.

He had an older sister, Carmel, a younger brother, Michael, and two younger sisters, Suzanne and Anne.

Both the Mercy Sisters and Edmund Rice Christian Brothers traditions formed his education, having completed his primary education at St Joseph’s, Stanthorpe, and secondary schooling as a boarder at Nudgee College.

He entered Pius XII Seminary, Banyo, after his schooling and was ordained in Stanthorpe parish by Bishop William Brennan on June 30, 1961.

His first seven years as a priest were spent in Goondiwindi before he was sent to Rome for further studies in 1969, where he completed a licentiate in Theology and a Diploma in Spirituality.

Returning to Brisbane, he worked as a spiritual director at Pius XII Seminary for seven years before, again, he was sent to Rome; this time to complete a Doctorate in Theology/Spirituality.

After returning to his post at the seminary, he was later appointed Bishop of Cairns in 1986 and later became Archbishop of Brisbane on January 30, 1992.

During his time in leadership, Archbishop Bathersby made ecumenical affairs front and centre both nationally and internationally.

Bushwalking, mountain-climbing, watching sport and listening to classical music were mainstays in his days off.

In 2003, he hosted the second Brisbane Archdiocesan Synod, which was the first archdiocesan synod to include lay people.

Happiest time of his life

Archbishop John Bathersby smiling
Joyful life: Archbishop John Bathersby was Archbishop of Brisbane for 20 years.

When Archbishop Bathersby retired in 2011, after Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation at the age of 75, he said it had been a “privilege” and a “lasting joy” to have been archbishop.

“It was marvellous to have shared the lives of so many Christians and so many people who may not be Christians but do good and care for the poor,” he said.

He had said he had never been happier in life than being called by God to priesthood and episcopacy.

He was also remembered as a “peerless spiritual director” in his years at Pius XII Seminary.

When he retired in 2011, Vicar General Monsignor Peter Meneely said Archbishop Bathersby’s “life-long work as a spiritual director gave him a great gift of discernment”.

“Many, many decisions have to be made in such a role,” he said.

“Some are easy, some are hard to make because of the impact of such decisions on people and on the life of the church.

“He was often able to identify a direction to go that at first was not totally obvious to the rest of us.”

Details of Archbishop Bathersby’s funeral will be finalised soon.

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