Planning is intensifying for an historic event for the Catholic Diocese of Armidale and Northern Inland NSW as a whole. The Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Bishop-Elect Michael Robert Kennedy will take place in the Cathedral of Saints Mary and Joseph in Armidale on 9 February 2012, commencing at 10:30am.
The ceremony will take close to two hours. Retiring Bishop of Armidale Luc Matthys will be the Principal Celebrant. His Co-consecrators will be George Cardinal Pell of Sydney and Bishop Gerard Hanna of Wagga Wagga.
A large crowd of clergy, parishioners and the general public is expected to participate in the ceremony. Bishop Matthys said the Cathedral will hold over 700 people and a marquee in the Cathedral grounds will shelter the overflow.
Invitations have gone out to the 23 Parishes of the 91,500 sq km Armidale Diocese. The Principal and a boy and girl captain from each of the 24 Catholic schools in the Diocese have also been invited. Papal award recipients have been requested to wear their medals at the ceremony. Invitees have been asked to RSVP by 13 January.
Bishop Matthys said the Ordination will be just the fourth time that a Bishop of Armidale has been consecrated (or ordained, as the ceremony has been called from 1969) in Armidale. He said the Catholic Diocese of Armidale was cut off from the Archdiocese of Sydney in 1862, but no bishop was appointed here until 1869, and he was consecrated in Cork, Ireland. His successor, Bishop Torreggiani, was consecrated in London. Bishop O’Connor and Bishop Coleman were both consecrated in Armidale, and there were no more ceremonies of that kind until Bishop Manning’s in 1991. Bishop Matthys was ordained a bishop in Armidale in May 1999.
Bishop Matthys was the ninth Bishop of Armidale and served for 12 years. He said the average length of each episcopate has been almost 16 years. The longest was Bishop O’Connor’s, from 1904 to 1932, and the shortest was Bishop Freeman’s, from December 1968 to July 1971, when he became the Archbishop of Sydney.
Bishop Matthys is satisfied that he will be handing the Diocese of Armidale to his successor in a good position. "More clergy are needed but we’re not doing too badly. Organisationally and financially we are not facing any difficulties."
Bishop-Elect Kennedy said that his initial reaction to his appointment was one of excitement. “I thought I should be nervous. Yet, I felt at peace with the news. The number of people assuring me that I am in their prayers has contributed to that peace," he said. "I am both honoured and humbled to have been chosen to be a successor of the Apostles as the Bishop of Armidale."
Aged 43, Bishop-Elect Kennedy will not be the Diocese’s youngest Bishop. Two prior Bishops of Armidale (John Coleman and Edward Doody) were 42 when appointed.
"My age doesn’t concern me. I gave my life over to God and this appointment, at this point in my life, is God’s Will. My young age presents one quirk, in that I will be the spiritual Father to the Priests of the Diocese, many of whom will be much older than I," he said. "As a ‘Gen-X’ Bishop, I see it as a positive that I will have an evident ability to relate to younger generations. However, we can all understand one another across generations. I hope that I am seen as somebody who can understand and communicate with teenagers when I am 75."
The youngest of nine children, Bishop-Elect Kennedy said he feels blessed and truly grateful that he grew up in a loving, secure, stable, caring family. "It saddens me that this is less common today."
"My parents came from farming backgrounds. I grew up in the rural Riverina locality of San Isidore near Wagga Wagga. My father was a public servant in Wagga and my mother was a nurse until she became a stay at home mum."
Bishop-Elect Kennedy’s education began in a small, two-class country school at San Isidore. He then attended a school run by the Christian Brothers in Wagga. "I was so happy with my schooling that I decided to become a school teacher myself. I taught for three years at Xavier Catholic High School in Albury.”
He then commenced studying to be a priest. He began his priestly formation at Vianney College, Wagga and completed his studies in Rome at Propaganda Fide, obtaining a Licentiate in Sacred Theology.
Ordained into the Priesthood in the Diocese of Wagga on August 14, 1999, he was the assistant priest in Griffith (1999-2000); Rector of St Francis’ Residential College at Charles Sturt University (2001-2003); assistant priest in Albury (2004-2006); and the Parish Priest of Leeton since 2007. His teaching background was one of his qualifications to be a Lecturer at Vianney College where he taught Moral Theology and Church History.
He was the Parish Priest of Leeton, NSW, and the Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Murrumbidgee Deanery when his appointment as Bishop of Armidale was announced in December last year.
Former Armidale local, Bishop Gerard Hanna of Wagga Wagga was delighted that one of his senior priests was appointed. "Over the last 13 years he has shown a very balanced approach to his pastoral ministry. I believe that he is well suited in his new role,” Bishop Hanna said.
The Bishop-Elect has been to Armidale a couple of times. “I visited again just before Christmas last year and met the Clergy. The city of Armidale is beautiful and the Cathedral is magnificent. A number of years ago I visited the town of Moree and a North West cotton farm. So, I know the Diocese is picturesque and the people are welcoming."
"Geographically, the Armidale Diocese is much larger than Wagga. However, I am accustomed to long drives on country roads in the course of my duties. I am looking forward to seeing the New England North West region. When Bishop Matthys took office almost 13 years ago, he made it a priority to visit every Parish in the Diocese in his first year. Bishop Matthys has recommended that I should try to visit as many Parishes in as short a period of time as possible so people have the opportunity to meet me," he said.
Bishop-Elect Kennedy said he will certainly take that recommendation on board. First, a momentous milestone in his life and the life of the Catholic Church in Northern Inland NSW will occur in a month’s time. The Bishop-Elect will arrive in Armidale in the week prior to his Ordination and Installation.
After the new Bishop settles in, Bishop Matthys will move from Armidale to Tamworth, and is looking forward to re-learning the clarinet.