50 years of priestly service

Palmerston North Cecily McNeill3 February 2012 Bishop Peter Cullinane of Palmerston North celebrated 50 years of priesthood on December 23. In his homily Cardinal Tom Williams who ordained Bishop Peter…

Palmerston North

Cecily McNeill
3 February 2012

Bishop Peter Cullinane of Palmerston North celebrated 50 years of priesthood on December 23.

In his homily Cardinal Tom Williams who ordained Bishop Peter in 1980, just four months after his own episcopal ordination, told the congregation that ‘in the ordination ceremony the priest commits himself ‘to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the gospel and explaining the Catholic faith’.

And in the Prayer of Consecration the bishop prays that the priest he is ordaining may ‘be faithful in working with the order of bishops, so that the words of the gospel may reach the ends of the earth, and the family of nations, made one in Christ, may become God’s one, holy people’.

‘Peter James Cullinane made that commitment and heard those words prayed over him in the chapel of the Brignole Sale Negroni College in Genoa.

‘No one here would doubt that he has been extraordinarily faithful to that commitment over the full 50 years since his day of ordination as priest’.

Cardinal Tom said Bishop Peter was the obvious choice for bishop under whose leadership the fledgling Palmerston North Diocese ‘has prospered splendidly’.

‘Your people came swiftly to respect, admire and love you, and now are deeply saddened by your impending retirement.’

He spoke of Bishop Peter’s fortitude in recovering from a ‘fairly massive’ heart attack 10 years after starting the diocese ‘that would have felled for good and all a more robust person’.

But Bishop Peter carried on ‘who would know at what cost’.

‘I and my fellow bishops marvelled then at his courage, and have continued to do so through the 20 years since. We marvel too, Peter, that whatever about the damaged heart tissue you remain light-hearted in the face of health problems, whole-hearted in carrying out your responsibilities, kind hearted in your relationships with your people and stout-hearted in confronting pastoral and administrative challenges.

‘Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (but no relation to your emeritus coadjutor, Bishop Owen), addressed his brother bishops at a recent meeting with these words:

“Love for Jesus and his Church must be the passion of our lives. We bishops must resist the temptation to approach the Church as a system of organisational energy and support the required maintenance. The Church is Jesus – teaching, healing, saving, serving, inviting. Jesus often bruised, derided, cursed, defiled.”

‘Peter, you have long been well aware of the truth of those words. From the day of your ordination you well realised that your vocation demands sacrifice – putting others before self, confronting stressful situations, attempting to meet needs with inadequate resources, combating frustration, disappointment, misunderstanding. And you knew that only love could make that sacrifice possible through year after year of ministry, priestly and episcopal.’

Cardinal Tom referred to the letter to the Ephesians on love [3:17ff] … until knowing the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God’.

This love can include all the closeness and tenderness, intimacy and passion associated with human loving. But it is more because the love of Christ ‘which surpasses all knowledge’ … is a gift of a loving God that enables us ‘to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure to the last’.

‘Bishop Peter, your life and ministry … have been testimony to the truth of those words. You have witnessed over those years to the truth that the vocation to priesthood, serving as Christ served, although it involves sacrifice and commitment, is not only possible but becomes a rich source of fulfilment and deep happiness because it is rooted in love – Christ’s love.

‘Before all else, it is for that love we give thanks this jubilee day – the love that has sustained you through 50 years of dedicated and challenging ministry. I haven’t the words with which to express adequately to you our delighted congratulations on your Golden Jubilee, and our gratitude for your commitment, dedication and leadership as priest and bishop.