Friday, 27 January 2012

Armidale: prayers for a Bishop-Elect please

Continuing my series of diocesan profiles, today Armidale.

Source: ACBC

Armidale's very new bishop is yet to be actually consecrated (or ordained as a bishop if you prefer!) - that is scheduled to happen on 9 February (the principal consecrator will be Emeritus Bishop Matthys, with Cardinal Pell and Bishop Hanna of Wagga Wagga as co-consecrators).

Ranked twenty-third in terms of Catholic population, Armidale had around 43,223 catholics in 2006, and takes in some 91,500 sq kms (NB For this post I've relied, where there is a choice, on figures from a recent diocesan press release distributed via the Bishop's Conference media group - the figures for the diocese's size and number of parishes don't quite line up with the I assume now outdated data on the Catholic Hierarchy website).

Transparency and accountability

In a press release on the upcoming consecration of Bishop-Elect Kennedy, Bishop Matthys said that he was 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."

Of course, it is hard to provide any kind of independent assessment of that statement,  due to the strange lack of a diocesan website for Armidale, the only holdout amongst Australian dioceses (despite a long running campaign on the part of the Cooees). 

Hopefully this lack will be swiftly rectified under the new regime (though I rather suspect this series is making some other dioceses wish they were likewise free of that affliction called the internet)!

It is true though that the Catholic Schools Office website does have some interesting and useful historical information on parishes, schools and religious communities (as well as the very cute map below depicting the activities of the region):

Source: Armidale CSO website

In 2006 the diocese had 32 priests in total, slightly up on the number when Bishop Luc Matthys took office in 1999.

It has 23 parishes, each of which has a priest - but many parishes contain several churches, some of which are administered by religious sisters.

Despite some significant efforts to promote Sunday observance Mass attendance rates in 2006 at least were below the national average - the diocese had 0.9% of the nation's Catholic population resident, but only 0.7% of those who attend mass regularly (perhaps the absence of a website makes it difficult to find out when Mass is actually on!).

Nonetheless, Armidale has a reputation for orthodoxy and orthopraxis under Bishop Luc Matthys, who celebrated his golden jubilee in December.

I could only find two parish websites on the net.  One was the fairly standard kind of thing you'd see in any diocese.  But the home page of Tamworth's St Nicholas bears clearer witness to the diocese's conservative reputation:

"...Accordingly, we strive to be: a Catholic Church Community - Faithful to the teaching of the Church - Faithful to the Eucharist and to Prayer - Faithful to the Catholic way of life-sharing what we have with those who are in need!"

And its bulletin bears that out, with the parish offering substantial confession times in each of its three churches, a note on which week it is in the Liturgy of the Hours along with the weekly calendar of saints feasts, and other positive indicators of a vigorous parish life.

Liturgy and religious life

I'm led to believe there is a regular Latin Mass held in Armidale - but there don't seem to be any details of it on the web.

There are several active religious orders present n the diocese, but as far as I can see, no contemplatives.

The bishop-elect

Source: The Irrigator
Bishop-elect Kennedy, aged 43, seems set to build on the strengths this diocese already has.  A press release quotes him as follows:

"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."...

"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."

Please keep Bishop-Elect Kennedy in your prayers.


A Canberra Observer said...

It is possible that web-based communications are not as relevant in rural dioceses - is there a lesser pentration of the IT culture in those places?

Kate said...

Give me a break!

This is Tony Windsor's electorate, the man who supports the Gillard Government in part on the promise of the National Broadband rollout taking place there asap (as a result it has been one of the national test sites since May 2011).

There are several sizeable towns in this diocese, including tourist centre Tamworth (pop around 55,000), a University campus (viz University of New England),an astrophysics research centre at Narrabri, and as virtually everywhere in Australia, a fair degree of internal migration.

Moreover, courtesy of the Government, pretty much every kid in the diocese's 23 schools is likely to have a laptop!

I would have thought if anything websites are more important for regional communities, not less.

A Canberra Observer said...

It wasn't directed at you or your analyses - it was simply a thought bubble hypothesising what might preoccupy the chancery, as seemingly because the lack of emphasis/presence of the web must be due to something - I know from family experience that it is easy to forget that not everyone has joined the information super highway.

And I agree, if the people are connected then the website is a powerful and probably necessary tool in the tool box.

Aplogies and peace offerings.

Kate said...

Didn't take it personally don't worry.

It is puzzling why an otherwise excellent bishop has resisted so hard on this, but I guess there is a view about the net amongst some of the older generation... certainly if my mother (of the same age) could ban it, she would!

Father K said...

Great priest, great man, Armidale is blessed by God -our loss their gain, posted by a fellow diocesan priest of WW

Anonymous said...

What has the fact that this is Tony Windsor's electorate got to do with there being no webpage for the Armidale Diocese???? Kate I would say, with knowledge, that not 1 school in the diocese has a laptop for every child.