Late archbishop John Bathersby gives Easter Sunday Mass at St Stephen's Cathedral
Late archbishop John Bathersby gives Easter Sunday Mass at St Stephen's Cathedral

Archbishop funeral to be live-streamed

RETIRED priest Father Bill O'Shea will be forgiven if he feels a little sentimental as Melbourne Cup day approaches this November, knowing his old friend John Bathersby won't be dropping by to study the form with him before placing bets.

Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby, who led the archdiocese from December 3, 1991, until his retirement on November 14, 2011, died at The Wesley Hospital at Auchenflower on Monday following a stroke.

"Melbourne Cup Day was just something we always did together,'' Father O'Shea recalled this week.

"John would come up to my place at the Sunshine Coast on Monday and we'd watch the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday and he'd usually stay Tuesday night and get back to work the following day.

"And, yes, we enjoyed placing a few bets.''

 

Former archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby died on Monday.
Former archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby died on Monday.

 

The two men, both aged 83, met as 14-year-old schoolboys at Brisbane's Nudgee College, kicking off a friendship that lasted seven decades.

Archbishop Bathersby, one of five Catholic archbishops of Brisbane since 1917, was bred in Stanthorpe as the son of a pub owner and shop keeper and only the second Queenslander appointed to lead the Brisbane church in its 160-year history.

Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, in comments following Archbishop Bathersby's death, captured the extraordinary generosity of spirit that marked the man who fused a powerful ecclesial spirit with an unpretentious, earthy approach to life, allowing him to communicate effortlessly with people from all sorts of backgrounds.

Comfortable with a racing form or drinking a beer in the front bar of a country pub, the deeply spiritual Archbishop Bathersby was also "consumed with a desire to know and love Jesus Christ,'' Archbishop Coleridge said.

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

 

Young John Bathersby (right) with siblings Carmel (left), Sue and Michael
Young John Bathersby (right) with siblings Carmel (left), Sue and Michael

 

Father O'Shea remembers the lack of pretension, the humour, the love, laughter and the compassion that all defined the long life of a man who, though capable of deep introspection, channelled his energies outwardly, helping others on their journey through life. Ordained for the Diocese of Toowoomba at St Joseph's Church in Stanthorpe on June 30, 1961, Bishop Bathersby's first parish was Goondiwindi from 1962 until 1969.

His impressive intellect led him to Rome to study spiritual Theology under the guidance of Canadian Jesuit Priest Father Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan, widely considered one of the great Catholic theologians of the 20th Century who, among other books, authored two studies on the 13th Century priest and philosopher Thomas Aquinas.

He was ordained as Bishop of Cairns in 1986 and then succeeded Archbishop Francis Rush at Brisbane in 1991, serving his diocese until his retirement on November 14, 2011.

"You know, on many Monday mornings, even when he was Archbishop, he would get up extremely early and he would go off and climb a mountain - something like Mount Tibrogargan (one of the Glasshouse Mountains),'' Father O'Shea recalled.

"And then he'd just get back and get into his office and go to work.''

Father O'Shea said his friend possessed a powerful mind.

"But I don't think he was really an academic - I would not say he was a scholar.

"He was a sporting type and that goes way back to Nudgee where he was in the first 15 (rugby union) and the first eleven (cricket).

"He liked getting out into the outdoors and mountain climbing.''

 

John Bathersby and family
John Bathersby and family

 

John Bathersby kneeling (centre) with siblings Carmel, Michael and Sue (sitting)
John Bathersby kneeling (centre) with siblings Carmel, Michael and Sue (sitting)

 

Horse racing was also in the Archbishop's blood.

His mother's maiden name was Conquest - a name which Queensland racing fans would remember as prominent in the industry throughout much of the last half of the 20th Century and which boasted names such as champion jockey Ron Conquest and his father Norman.

The egalitarian culture of the Australian racetrack fitted easily with Archbishop Bathersby's personality.

"He could talk easily with the rich and powerful and he could talk easily with the battler - they were all one and the same with John,'' Father O'Shea said.

It was a life richly lived, yet the cruel disease of dementia undoubtedly robbed Archbishop Bathersby of quality of life in his last years.

"I remember about 10 or 11 years ago he said to me that he was worried he was losing his memory,'' Father O'Shea recalled.

"And I said something like, 'well, that happens when you get old John.

"And he said, no Bill, I am serious, I keep forgetting the name of priests and parishioners, and it's starting to worry me.''

On March 6, three days before Archbishop Bathersby died, father O'Shea dropped by to say hello, as he often did.

"You know, in a way we lost John several years ago because of dementia but he did turn his head towards me when I visited him.

"He may have known it was me; I hope he did.''

Archbishop Bathersby is survived by his three sisters Carmel Mahoney, Sue Nolan and Anne Johnson, and his brother Michael Bathersby.

A funeral mass is being planned at the Cathedral of St Stephen in central Brisbane for Monday.

The funeral will be limited to just 500 people, following recommendations to cancel major events to minimise coronavirus spread.

The Catholic Church will also live-stream the funeral.

 

Archbishop John Bathersby on his 75th birthday in 2011
Archbishop John Bathersby on his 75th birthday in 2011

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