Vol 42 No 3
From the Book Launch, Wednesday, 25 June 2008.
ONCE I began reading this text I found it hard to lay the book aside. It is a tender account of our former bishop’s life and ministry amongst us. So delightful and refreshing is the fruit of Dr Tom Boland’s research that it instantly generated a type of resurrection experience within me. In this book, Bishop Wallace springs back to life in the precise way we knew him, regarded him and appreciated him as if he had never left us these past nigh eighteen years. It rekindled for me my respect and my reverential fear.
Today heralds a unique occasion in the Diocese of Rockhampton. This book is the first exclusive record of a Bishop of the Diocese crafted for this purpose. The same writer earlier provided a much fuller and more detailed account of Archbishop James Duhig. James was Archbishop of Brisbane for forty-eight years, with five years at the side of his predecessor as Co-adjutor, following eight years as the third Bishop of Rockhampton. His tenure here, merely one–sixth of his Brisbane pastorate, though only one half of Bishop Wallace’s, occupies a chapter of that large biography.
I consider this more slender volume as a blend of amazing grace and remarkable intelligence. Those two attributes belong to both the subject of the book, Bishop Wallace, and to its writer, Dr Boland. This launch merits brief reflection on the grace and intelligence of both the bishop and the historian.
Bernard Wallace served as the eighth Bishop of Rockhampton from 1974 until 1990, dying towards the end of the year having successfully tendered his resignation, regretfully, in the wake of diagnosed and advanced cancer. Earlier attempts at stepping aside as his years advanced failed. Rome was obviously reluctant to lose the service of an eminently competent and trustworthy bishop. His own wish to resign was far from self-centred but rather to align himself with his expectations of priests and an acute awareness of dwindling energy.
The exceptional grace, however, is that Bernard Wallace had responded to a vocation to the priesthood. His initial inclination was to missionary life. He recounts that surprising twist in these words:
I was drawn to the priesthood through the Missions. In fact, my original desire was to be a missionary rather than a priest. As a boy, I rejected the notion of being a Christian Brother—having no taste for teaching. Similarly, I had left aside the diocesan priesthood, because I felt no attraction to parish work. Yet, in God’s good time I finished up as a diocesan priest and taught in a seminary for twenty-five years—and liked it. Surely the Almighty must have his own sense of humour.
He came from Melbourne—far afield. Over the years his affections for home waned, even slightly embittered, in political and ecclesiastical terms. When Bernie’s mind was formed it became a force as irresistible as an immovable object. Hence, the author is no less scant relaying Bernie’s cutting criticism, including the hierarchy, in critical even cynical, phrases. He wasn’t always fond of bishops. Some consider his appointment as a bishop a just desert. A more intimate knowledge of the workings of episcopal life, however, softened his outreach and quite colourful descriptions of his confreres. The view from the inside tempered the view from the outside.
Providence obviously collapsed each of his personal life preferences. He embraced the ways of providence and allowed them to shape his life for excellent service as a humble, retiring man, endowed with extraordinarily simple tastes, unassuming of position, reticent whilst diligent in the exercise of high office, inevitably borne with impeccable dignity, zealous in every aspect of priestly function whether in the city or the vast rounds of country, in conditions harsh or kind.
As a young priest his pastoral zeal took root in Bundaberg and Mt Morgan. His theology was sharpened by the long years of academic lecturing at Banyo Seminary. For fourteen years, Father Wallace and Doctor Boland lectured at each other’s side. Dr Boland manages to portray a concealed, complex character in a complimentary and charitable manner worthy of them both.
Bishop Bernard was a brave man. He expressed his convictions forcefully. He stood his ground resolutely. He followed his ideals passionately. He urged a restructuring of the diocese built on the solid base of lay cooperation and shared responsibility determined that priests would enable its happening. His recorded addresses to the clergy and to the Diocesan Pastoral Council are legendary. His confident trust in people was indelibly impressive. He espoused the laity into becoming a living and visible Church. The Church’s strength lay in its broad and solid base; a well formed and well intentioned laity.
The Australian Church, the National Bishop’s Conference and the International Ecumenical Commission claimed from him scholarly contributions. A warm photograph on page 82, himself with Pope John Paul II, wears the label ‘Two thoughtful leaders’. It could not be better described. Seminary students knew his clarity of thinking and accuracy of exposition. We had already caught from him what later became his Episcopal motto: ‘The Truth will set you free’. (John 8: 31)
In the Seminary, staff and students relished his competence mixed with rare compassion. The completion of St Joseph’s Cathedral, his foresight for an isolated aerial western ministry, the provision of Aged Care Facilities in Bundaberg and Mt Morgan, along with direct engagement in the Aboriginal apostolate all generated intense interest. They signal his expansive and far reaching vision and commitment to unfolding mission.
In essence, Bishop Wallace was a man of rich, complex and varied presence. It ranged from acid tongue comments to docile behaviour. His wading through a pond, shoeless and sockless, trousers rolled up, to pick water-lilies for nuns could scarcely be heralded as spectacular; but for a man like Bernie, it appears heroic. His liturgical style tended to be mild or bland, even retiring. But it consciously deflected any attempt to exhibit himself in deference to the sacred mysterious presence of the risen Christ which he judged more paramount. The balance came in lively lecturing on Liturgy, Scripture or Theology and vigorous preaching of the Word of God.
I am disappointed that his academic record does not list Canon Law, especially as he directed my interests surprisingly in that direction. There lies a flaw in everyone! His local education legacy rests with the still flourishing annual Bishop’s Inservice Days for Teachers where his brilliance sparkled.
Bernie was a fiercely self restrained and quiet man. Often conversation, comment, contribution or observation needed squeezing from him. He never intruded or pushed himself forward. This quiet demeanour suited his more absorbing and reflective manner. The book testifies to these aspects of character and personality. Still waters flow deep. His ways reflected neither shallow nor facile traits. He was fertile to the core. The opening paragraph of Chapter One sets the book’s appetising tone. ‘Of course, the man’s a fool’ the bishop said. Bernard Joseph Wallace, Bishop of Rockhampton, set many a hall ringing with that denunciation. It was characteristic, almost defining, of his life and endeavours. It was the energetic explosion of a perfectionist, aware of the sharpness of his own mind, impatient at the incapacity or mental lethargy of someone who should know better. It was the anguished outcry of one who suffered acute migraine all his long life, yet still devoted his intellect and will to the unending pursuit of truth and clarity.’
The writer, therefore, Dr Boland fits as a most suitable ‘potter’ for this splendid work. Like the Bishop he too wears Australian recognition for his historical expertise and linguistic flare. His academic background includes a Doctorate in Church History, a long record of public lecturing and the author of several highly acclaimed historical researches.
In this instance, he writes with a grace that matches that of the bishop. Father Tom has produced an interestingly thorough journey into a good and gracious man’s life. Like the Bishop, himself a well seasoned priest, he is also acutely conscious of his vocation, lived sincerely through its share of testing circumstances, but nurtured by faith and prayer and safeguarded in the skilful love of a disciplined life. He so understood his subject as to do him true justice.
Se we hold this record. I cannot comprehend any more suitable and lasting tribute to Bishop Wallace than a book in his honour that weaves the threads of his life. Bishop Wallace loved books. He loved people in book form. They were the company he most enjoyed. Often he gathered the masters of the world around him on his desk or lying on the floor beside him. He read prolifically. His library was his earthly treasure and lasting legacy. He remains a source of energy and enthusiasm to the seminary for ongoing generations of its students who inherited the library.
With a book, of course, you can shut someone off without a word. Simply close the book. One or two words was all he ever needed, otherwise, in your presence to achieve the same result. He was a master at creating silence. Words were his world. He liked silence, even solitude, sometimes, edged with loneliness. He spoke educationally and spiritually enthusiastically as if imbued and inspired by the Spirit. His words were the entrée to his refined and cultured being.
I sincerely thank Bishop Brian Heenan for inviting me to launch the biography in Rockhampton and congratulate him for the encouragement he has been to Doctor Boland. I salute Doctor Boland for the tedious hours of research which underpins what we now cherish; and once again bow my head in profound admiration for Bishop Bernard Wallace.
You may noticethat, generally, photographs are sparse in this work. Bernie’s shy nature inclined him to avoid the camera. In so doing, he has squashed any temptation to review his life in comic form. He certainly warrants better treatment than the casual. He has received the best from the hand and the heart of Doctor Tom Boland.
I am enormously proud to praise them both, to raise up this splendid text and to declare Bernard Joseph Wallace 1974-1990 by TP Boland now launched.
—Fr John Grace VG.