Bishop John Adams ordained as third Bishop of Palmerston North

Bishop John Adams was ordained and installed as the third Bishop of Palmerston North in a colourful, prayerful 130-minute Mass attended by 700 people in a very crowded Cathedral of the Holy Spirit on Saturday 30 September.

More than 1000 others watched on a video live-stream.

The Christchurch-born Bishop Adams had the congregation in his hands by the end of the service, when he compared his thoughts on being asked to take his new post with the meaning of Manawatu, the district with Palmerston North at its (literal) heart.

In June, he said, he was phoned by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa – the Pope’s diplomatic representative in Aotearoa New Zealand – to ask if he would accept the post of bishop.

He accepted with a mixture of honour and trepidation, he said, the latter not least because he was about to have open-heart surgery.

During the operation, “my heart was stopped for 90 minutes. ‘What is the lord doing?’ I remember asking myself, until I discovered that the word ‘Manawatū’ means ‘to have a still heart’. ”

Eight bishops present and retired took part in the Mass with Bishop of Auckland Stephen Lowe as presider. Many of Bishop John’s friends and family members including his mother Joan were there, many having travelled from Christchurch, where he had been parish priest of St Peter Chanel Parish in North Canterbury.

Bishop John’s ordination marked the end of four years of Palmerston North Diocese being without a bishop, following the resignation of Bishop Charles Drennan on 4 October 2019.

“It’s been a long journey,” Bishop Lowe said in his welcoming remarks, and, turning to Archbishop Rugambwa with a smile, noted that the Diocese of Hamilton was waiting for a new bishop.

During the formal Rite of Ordination, Archbishop Rugambwa read the Letter of Appointment from Pope Francis and held it aloft.

In his following homily, Bishop Lowe said more than anything, a bishop was a man of prayer. New Zealand’s bishops were truly men of prayer, including Bishop-elect Adams. But bishops could not be men of prayer alone, they were also men of humility.

“Brother,” said Bishop Lowe. “It is your task as bishop in a world that is so fractured to love your brother priests, to love your people, the people you serve as their shepherd.”

Next followed the formal Promise of the Elect, in which the bishop-elect is questioned in the presence of the people on his resolve to uphold the faith and discharge his duty.

Bishop Lowe: “The ancient rule of the holy fathers ordains that a bishop-elect is to be questioned in the presence of the people on his resolve to uphold the faith and to discharge his duty. And so, dear brother, do you resolve by the grace of the Holy Spirit to discharge until death the office entrusted to us by the Apostles, which are about to pass on to you by the laying on of our hands?”

Bishop-elect Adams: “I do.”

Nine further solemn questions followed, after which everyone kneeled while Bishop-elect Adams prostrated himself on the floor in from of Bishop Lowe while the Litany of the Saints was sung. Everyone then stood for the Laying On of the Hands. Bishop Lowe placed his hands on the head of Bishop-elect Adams, followed by the other seven bishops doing the same. The Laying On of the Hands is a traditional and distinctive rite in the ordination of bishops, priests and deacons and emphasises the collegial nature and character of the Episcopal order.

The Book of the Gospels was then held opened above Bishop-elect Adams for the Prayer of Ordination, symbolising the primary duty of a bishop to preach the gospel.

After the Prayer, Bishop Lowe anointed the head of the kneeling incoming bishop with holy chrism oil and handed him the Book of the Gospels: “Receive the Gospel and preach the Word of God with all patience and sound teaching.”

Bishop Lowe put the bishop’s ring on the new bishop’s right hand, then the mitre on his head, then presented him with the crozier, the sign of pastoral office. These insignia are signs of fidelity, holiness, governance and pastoral care. Bishop Lowe then led Bishop Adams to his cathedra, his bishop’s chair, where he received the kiss of peace from all the bishops.. Bishop Adams then took over the celebration of the Mass, including communion.

At the conclusion, Bishop Adams, draped in his new korowai bestowed by the local Rangitāne people, addressed the congregation, thanking his everyone for their warm welcoming. As well as his quip about his heart and Manawatu, he joked that he would not give another homily. The only thing worse than a bad homily was a long, bad homily!

“Becoming a bishop means I also inherit a new family, the priests and people of Palmerston North Diocese. The past few weeks have been a busy but hugely reassuring time for me due to the warmth of the welcome I have received. I want to thank you all for this.”

Bishop Adams acknowledged the two retired Palmerston North bishops who had taken part in his ordination, bishops Owen Dolan (coadjutor 1995-2004) and Peter Cullinane (1980-2012). This day of ordination was also bishop emeritus Dolan’s 95th birthday. He also thanked Msgr Brian Walsh and Fr Craig Butler who had acted as diocesan administrators while Palmerston North waited for a new bishop.

“I also leave behind the family I had expected to serve out my days with in Christchurch. Led by Bishop Michael Gielen, my brother priests from Christchurch – many of whom are with us today – have been nothing but gracious in their farewell to me. A sign of this graciousness being this crosier I hold; a gift from them. Thank you brothers.”