After a lengthy period of uncertainty, Pope John Paul II has appointed Wollongong's Bishop Philip Wilson as the co-adjutor Archbishop of Adelaide, to succeed Archbishop Leonard Faulkner when he retires at the end of this year.
It seemed to signal a welcome reversion in Australia's episcopal appointments to the earlier practice of crossing State boundaries to find suitable candidates. For example, Bishop Luc Matthys of Armidale (NSW) was a Melbourne priest before his appointment in 1999, and the new Bishop of Lismore, NSW, comes from Hobart (see box below).
Bishop Wilson was born in 1950 and ordained a priest in the Maitland Diocese in 1975. After studying religious education in New York, he was appointed Director of Religious Education for the Maitland Diocese in 1978. After completing his Doctorate in Canon Law in 1995 he was appointed as the third Bishop of Wollongong on 12 April 1996, and consecrated on 10 July 1996 (Canon Law requiring that a bishop-elect must be consecrated within three months of his appointment).
In 1997 he was asked to lead the Australian delegation to the 12th World Youth Day in Paris. He had a group of around 45 from the Wollongong Diocese with a total of 500 from across Australia. By 2000, the Australian delegation to Rome had increased to 1250 young people.
In February 1997, Bishop Wilson took action to terminate all celebrations of the Third Rite of Reconciliation within his Diocese. This practice was not widespread - being confined to a handful of parishes, usually during Advent and Lent. He asked for the establishment of celebrations of the Second Rite within each Deanery.
This move was significant as it came almost two years before the Statement of Conclusions committed Australia's bishops to eliminating illicit use of the Third Rite. However, as recently as last Advent, the Rite continued to be celebrated in some Australian parishes with apparent episcopal approval.
The establishment of annual Masses for Wollongong's religious, as well as for married couples, has been well received.
During 1999, Bishop Wilson planned and got underway some much-needed restoration work on Wollongong's Cathedral, which was subsequently re-opened by the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio, Archbishop Francesco Canalini, on 8 December 1999.
In early 2000, Bishop Wilson established the Compeer Program with the assistance of the St Vincent de Paul Society and Centacare. The program is designed to help people with mental illness receive help from trained lay people by way of friendship and accompaniment. It is meant to provide a network for people with mental illness to draw support for everyday human activities.
A major event of Bishop Wilson's period in Wollongong was undoubtedly the holding of a Eucharistic Congress between 11-25 June 2000. It was the first such congress in Australia to be held outside a capital city. A highlight of the event was the celebration of Mass in two of the Eastern Catholic Rites - Ukrainian and Melkite.
The feast of Corpus Christi was marked with an outdoor concelebrated Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, officiated at by Archbishop Canalini and attended by over 3,500 people. Those present were reminded of the extraordinary gift of the Eucharist and how respect for it needed to be shown through acts of devotion undertaken with reverence. Later in the day, a Blessed Sacrament procession took place followed by Benediction at which Archbishop Hickey of Perth gave an address on the "great gift of the Faith."
In October 2000, Bishop Wilson led a Diocesan Jubilee Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Rome, Assisi, Fatima, Lourdes, and other centres of significance for Catholics.
During his four years in Wollongong, Bishop Wilson has shown himself to be a very open, friendly and warm personality who has plenty of time for people. These qualities will equip him well as he faces the up-coming challenges of governing a larger diocese. Adelaide's Catholics are fortunate to have such a bishop as their future spiritual leader.