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Brisbane Emeritus Archbishop John Bathersby remembered for his devotion to Jesus, community

Archbishop Bathersby's body being brought into St Stephen's Chapel
Guard of honour: Pallbearers carry the body of Archbishop John Bathersby to St Stephen’s Chapel, where the coffin will remain until the late-Archbishop’s funeral on Monday March 16. Photo: Joe Higgins.

HIS contemporary priests and legions of Catholic faithful across Queensland remember Brisbane Archbishop John Bathersby – Bats – as he was fondly known – as humble, pastoral and caring, and with a natural and positive outlook on life.

“He was one of the greatest blokes you’d ever meet,” retired Brisbane priest Fr Peter Gillam said.

“He was friendly, he had a great sense of humour… it’s hard to put into words.”

Fr Gillam and a young John Bathersby attend- ed the Pius XII seminary in Brisbane together.

In 1969 both travelled to Rome to study, and then returned to teach in the seminary in Brisbane.

Archbishop Bathersby became spiritual director.

“He (Archbishop Bathersby) was a very holy man. And that is what probably set him apart,” Fr Gillam said.

Another close friend, former Bishop of Rockhampton Brian Heenan remembers ‘Bats’ as “a man for all seasons”, who he met during seminary training together.

“That’s been 60 years of mutual and strong friendship,” Bishop Heenan said.

“John to me was very down to earth Australian.

“His natural love of people… that came out in the way he was training seminarians.

“As a man from Toowoomba, who became Bishop of Cairns… he had a very lovely connec- tion with the whole of Queensland.

“That was an asset for him always.”

Archbishop’s body taken to St Stephen’s Chapel

Archbishop Coleridge touches the coffin of Archbishop Bathersby
Leaders together: Archbishop Coleridge touches the coffin of Archbishop John Bathersby after a simple ceremony to welcome his body to St Stephen’s Chapel. Photo: Emilie Ng

Archbishop Bathersby’s remains were taken into St Stephen’s Chapel on March 11 for the people of Brisbane “to surround him with prayer”.

Family, friends, and staff and priests of the Archdiocese of Brisbane formed a guard of honour as pallbearers carried the Archbishop’s coffin into the chapel.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge said many important figures had entered St Stephen’s Chapel to pray, including Australia’s first saint, St Mary of the Cross MacKillop.

“Here we bring the body of John Bathersby and his story, and set it in this chapel as a way of recognising the extraordinary story of John Bathersby, who was so intimately and permanently part of the story of God’s people in this part of the world, and indeed throughout the world,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“So we take his story and we bury it as it were in the story of the Church that he so loved.”

Archbishop Bathersby’s remains will be lying in repose inside St Stephen’s Chapel until his funeral at the Cathedral on March 16.

Tributes flow from Brisbane Catholics

Archbishop John Bathersby
Servant leader: Archbishop John Bathersby after his Farewell Mass in 2012.

Malcolm Hart, director of the National Centre for Evangelisation, remembers Archbishop Bathersby as a leader who introduced “great enhancements in youth ministry, ecumenism, pastoral councils and lay leadership in Australia”.

He was touched by the way Archbishop Bathersby engaged young pilgrims heading off to World Youth days.

“… how he would carry with him a piece of paper with every young pilgrim’s name, crossing them off his list once he had met them personally and learnt their name,” Mr Hart said.

“Archbishop Bathersby had a great passion for all to personally encounter Christ as he did in his prayer life, his bushwalking and mountain climbing, in the Eucharist and in the people of the archdiocese.”

The Catholic Leader writer Selina Venier has her own, personal story about Archbishop Bathersby’s caring nature for his flock. It started with a rare invitation.

“His offer wasn’t an ordinary one – Mass in his home ‘chapel’ on a weekday morning with my ready-to-be-born son, two daughters, his sister Carmel and her husband,” the Stanthorpe-based columnist said.

“It was 2013 and Archbishop Bathersby had lovingly prepared the chapel, post retirement and upon his return to his hometown of Stanthorpe on the Granite Belt.

“We’d not long moved there, too, and relished in this uniquely personal contact from someone who was the embodiment of our former home – and Church – of Brisbane.

“To say the prayerful experience was glorious would be an understatement because it was the Mass in its purest form.

“The words Archbishop Bathersby spoke, his gestures and the Word of God were perfection personified.

“There were no unnecessary additions or subtractions, no pretence and an overwhelming sense of the presence of Christ.”

Guard of honour for Archbishop John Bathersby
Love and respect: Staff and priests of the Archdiocese of Brisbane formed a guard of honour to welcome Archbishop John Bathersby’s body back to the St Stephen’s Cathedral precinct. Photo: Emilie Ng

Fr Gillam said the “whole drive” of his friend “Bats” was his pastoral nature.

“He’d go out Saturday morning to see Archbishop Rush after he retired,” he said.

“He’d go out after tea of a night time and visit sick priests in hospital.

“He’d just drive himself around.

“Then he’d come home and work until about midnight.

“He was a tiger.”

Fr Gillam and Archbishop Bathersby shared a love of horses.

“We used to go to the winter carnival. That is the only time he went (to the races) in Brisbane.

“He’d go two or three days over the winter carnival at Eagle Farm.

“And then we used to go to New Zealand every year for three weeks.

“And we’d have a week in Auckland, mainly for the races, and then we’d go down to Dunedin and he’d do hikes,” Fr Gillam said.

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