OBITUARY: Bishop John Mackey


A former Catholic Bishop of Auckland, John Mackey who died on January 20th 2014, was a man with a great mind linked to a deep humanity and a strong Catholic faith.

He was the ninth bishop of Auckland, performing the role between 1974 and 1983 after which he went into early retirement owing to a recurrent illness.

One of his finest contributions to the development of New Zealand society was when he became involved in working with the late Honourable Mervyn Wellington, the Minister of Education in the Muldoon Government, to help implement the ground-breaking Private Schools Conditional Integration Act legislation, which was passed into law in the dying days of the Third Labour Government in 1975.

Today Integrated schools number 325 and educate 86,000 young people. The schools are now accepted as an integral part of the State education system. This was not always the case at the time when John Mackey was asked to partner the Government and help facilitate the process of integrating each school, one by one, into the State system. Since integration was a foreign concept to many officers of the then Department of Education and the various Education Boards that were responsible for administering the nation’s primary schools, there were many obstacles that had to be overcome. The model that Mervyn Wellington and Bishop John Mackey adopted was to meet formally each month at Parliament to iron out specific local school site issues that needed to be attended to. In so doing the integration process was speeded up considerably, much to the relief of those Proprietors and schools which were mainly Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian and Anglican.

Very rapidly a strong, genuine friendship was built up between the two men, so much so that Merv Wellington, his wife Helen and their children became regular weekend visitors at Bishop’s House in New Street, Ponsonby.

When the Lange Government came to power in 1984, the work of integrating the schools was largely complete. The enduring legacy to New Zealand bequeathed by these two men is a vibrant Integrated school sector which is able to hold its head high and be seen as strongly contributing to the well-being of New Zealand society. As a matter of interest, Integrated schools, pro-rata, enrol twice as many Pacific youngsters as in the wider State sector.

Bishop John Mackey and the Honourable Merv Wellington were both strong leaders who believed in what they were doing and were able to demonstrate, as is often the case when trust is built up between parties, that productive outcomes are able to occur.

Bishop John Mackey was essentially an intellectual, yet he possessed a strong practical streak, which was based on faith that had a compelling embracing humanity in its expression. New Zealand society has been deeply enriched by the partnership both he and the Honourable Merv Wellington forged, first out of necessity, and then through a sustained friendship.

Br Pat Lynch, FSC Chief Executive, New Zealand Catholic Education Office