By Paul Dobbyn
EVEN when ordering his episcopal garments, Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green was reminded of his police ministry spanning many years.
As he explained, it happened through “sheer coincidence”.
Just days away from his ordination as Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes due to take place last Thursday, July 3, south-east Queensland’s much-loved and respected police chaplain of eight years was delighted to tell the tale.
The bishop-elect was too busy to visit Rome for the necessary fitting due to combined roles of south-east Queensland police chaplain, Pauline Fathers provincial vicar for Australia and rector at the shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Canungra’s Marian Valley.
“So I went to the phone directory to find a local tailor to get my measurements,” he said.
“The plan was to send this information to a priest friend in Rome who would take the measurements to Gammerilli’s, a leading manufacturer of clerical apparel.
“The tailor I chose at random located in Nerang turned out to be a policeman’s wife.
“She was so excited to be able to do this for me.
“She was also intrigued to have a look at the garments – her husband’s a Catholic, she’s not – when they came back from Italy.”
Turned out her measurements were “spot on” too, he said.
“However, alterations were needed although not,” he chuckled, “because I’d added weight since the measurements, quite the reverse actually.”
The fact was, the Pauline priest never expected to become a bishop.
In an interview not long after news of his appointment on April 12, with a broad Australian accent revealing his country roots, then Fr Macbeth-Green said: “If someone told me a month ago that I would be appointed Bishop of the Wilcannia-Forbes diocese, I would have said they were joking.
“I still can’t believe it’s actually happened.”
At the time he also spoke of his joy as returning to his place of origin.
“When I became a monk I never thought that I would minister to people in my home diocese,” he said.
“I’m humbled by this appointment and also excited about going home and giving something back to the people who gave me so much.”
Just how close he will be to his roots was revealed in another part of the conversation on the eve of his departure from Marian Valley.
“My bishop’s house in Forbes will be at 22 Clement Street,” he said.
“Up until last year, our family house was at 20 Clement Street.
“Mum moved out of there last year to go into a nursing home.”
Organising the bishop’s garments was but one item in a whirlwind of activity leading up to the Pauline priest’s departure from Queensland for the NSW diocese.
There was also an episcopal coat of arms to arrange, the finished product containing an Australian windmill, reference to the significant part the machine played in bringing water and thus life to farming communities.
Then there were the send-offs – from the Queensland Police Service at Coomera Community Centre on May 31 to a massive farewell attended by more than 600 people from a vast range of ethnic communities at Marian Valley on Sunday, June 29.
Referring to the police send-off, Bishop-elect Macbeth-Green said “among those present was the ex-Commissioner (Bob) Atkinson and a lot of other brass”.
“There were many beautiful speeches – it was all very humbling,” he said.
“I saw a couple of police widows and (Gold Coast policeman slain in May 2011) Damien Leading’s father-in-law also spoke.
“It was quite emotional at times, for me too … I’m not used to this sort of thing.
“Now some are turning up at the monastery to say goodbye again.”
On the road to Parkes on June 30, also his birthday, Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green spoke of his delight at the Marian Valley farewell Mass the previous day.
More than 600 people from a vast array of ethnic communities – Sri Lankans, Indians, Croatians, Polish, Vietnamese, Mauritians, Slovenians, Hungarians, Japanese and many others – turned up in cold and windy conditions to farewell the shrine’s rector for the past eight years.
Also present was the only other Pauline bishop in the world Stanislaw Dziuba of Umzimkulu, South Africa.
They were also welcoming the new rector, Fr Albert Wasniowski.
“It was such a good day,” Bishop-elect Columba Macbeth-Green said.
“I was amazed at the turn-out.
“You couldn’t have wanted for a better send-off.
“I had been a bit worried I’d cry; it was sad but it was also happy.”
His order’s Father General Fr Arnold Chrapkowski, from the mother house in Poland, was present for the farewell and spoke in tribute to the bishop-elect’s contribution to the Marian Valley community and the Pauline Fathers.
Representatives of the various ethnic communities presented tokens of appreciation.
Four mitres made by a member of the Ukrainian community were among treasured items Wilcannia-Forbes’ bishop-elect received.
All this busyness was but a low-key precursor to the next phase.
Stopping at Warwick on a cold Monday morning with some Marian Valley supporters, Bishop-elect Macbeth-Green detailed his head-spinning schedule between then and the night of Saturday, July 5.
“We aim to reach Parkes presbytery by around 7pm,” he said.
“Tomorrow morning (Tuesday July 1) I head off to Forbes to meet Bishop (Michael) Kennedy, the diocese’s apostolic administrator.
“He’ll be filling me in on the various details on Wilcannia-Forbes diocese.”
Ahead of the bishop-elect also lie two civic receptions – one in Parkes, another in Broken Hill – as well a dinner with priests and some Australian bishops in Forbes on the evening of his episcopal ordination.
Then there is the installation itself.
The vastness of his new diocese is highlighted by the separate ceremonies required.
His episcopal ordination was to be in Parkes’ Holy Family Church on the morning of Thursday, July 3.
His installation, however, was to be in the Sacred Heart Cathedral on the night of Saturday, July 5.
Of the road ahead, Bishop-elect Macbeth-Green referred to some words he had used in his homily at his farewell Mass in Marian Valley on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul.
“We see from these two very different saints how God can use our weaknesses,” he said.
“Peter was a fisherman and Paul had been persecuting Christians. “So basically, it’s not a matter of how much talent you have but of how much you open yourself to the Holy Spirit to make the best use of whatever gifts you have.”
READ MORE: Bishop Macbeth-Green to unify diocese