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Reflecting on the life of my friend Michael

Much loved: Bishop Michael Putney.

Bishop Michael Putney.

Talking Point by Fr Joe Duffy

I PHONED Bishop Michael Putney a few weeks ago, as I regularly do.

We have been good friends since 1963 when we met as first year seminarians at Pius XII Seminary, Banyo.

My usual opening line when phoning Bishop Michael has been “Where are you? What are you doing?”

His response a few weeks ago: “I’m driving home from work. I’m talking to you on my hands free.”

This was the quintessential Bishop Michael.

He was terminally ill, energy levels depleted, but still courageously at the helm of the Townsville diocese.

When first diagnosed with cancer he could have resigned or retired but he chose to give the church and people all of himself, just as Pope John Paul II had done.

These were his intentions. He told me they were and he gave me that reason why.

Most of us who started at Banyo in 1963 were ordained priests in 1969. Every year in early January we get together for lunch either on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane.

Our reunion in January 2013 was ominous.

That was where Bishop Michael (pictured right) announced that he had recently been diagnosed with cancer and his specialist predicted he would not still be alive by year’s end. We defiantly toasted his good health and resolved to be reunited with him again in the same restaurant in January 2014.

Against all odds Michael was present, still  with us, this January.

Among the thirty students who enrolled at Banyo in 1963 Michael was the brightest and the youngest.

He had a brilliant mind and an amazing memory.

In 1971, I think that was the year, he was chosen by the Queensland bishops to study post graduate theology in Rome.

I travelled to Rome to visit him and other friends.

It was my first time in Rome and Michael put me on the passenger seat of his Vespa scooter and we set out together to explore Rome.

Michael’s motorbike skills did not match his academic prowess, but remarkably we did not have an accident.

Bishop Michael liked meeting people and had a prodigious capacity to remember names.

Ecumenism was his passion and his area of specialised study.

He made many firm friends among people of other faiths in many countries.

He combined his leadership of the church in Townsville with many overseas trips to inter faith conferences.

He maintained important contacts especially in dialogue with Anglican, Methodist and Lutheran traditions.

Each year I visited him in Townsville and went with him on pastoral visitations to far flung destinations in the diocese like Palm Island, Winton, Hughenden, Bowen, Charter’s Towers and Collinsville.

He was always welcomed in these places with warmth and affection.

I noticed how he remembered people’s names from previous visits.

He also recalled things these people had told him six months or a year before.

The Church has lost a great mind.

Fr Joe Duffy is the parish priest of Maroochydore.

Written by: Staff writers
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