Diocese remembers Bishop Joe


Homily by Monsignor Frank Marriott


BishopJoeGrech 350“The Word of the Lord was spoken to Abraham in a Vision,” says Genesis.

"To Sandhurst Joseph!" said the Pope.

Silos are all the rage today - deserted railway sidings and small deserted towns are coming alive with the painting of their silos. Soon after being installed in this Cathedral, Bishop Joe set out, with a guide to the North West of our Diocese. Very soon in the journey, he asked his driver – “What is that?” – “A silo” – “What’s a silo?”

Not long after, the Maltese-born, Melbourne-educated man again asked – “What’s that?” – “ A silo” – “Are there more than one?” By this stage, they had travelled the equivalent of being, if they were in the Mediterranean, halfway to Italy.

So began Bishop Joe’s fruitful mission in Sandhurst. He grew to love the country. It was by faith that Abraham set out – for Joe it was an act of obedience, mixed with many a tear that wrenched him from his prayerful charismatic mission in the western suburbs of Melbourne, to come to a city he had never visited!

You could then and now count on one hand the number of Maltese families in Bendigo; by dint of hard work Monsignor John Duffus found a suitable housekeeper who could speak the language and prepare the food. This city-bred person, with continental tastes, lover of crowds, eager to engage found himself, like Abraham, having obeyed and journeyed to where he did not know.

Charismatic inclined, demanding responses, we ever slow to add our AMEN to his many invitations. He welcomed, we moved slowly; and the two cultures began to appreciate each others’ goodness.

Joe had a great love for youth – they responded to him; World Youth Days and Rallies energised him; and his mantra “God does not make rubbish” found many a listening ear and heart!

Like Abraham, Joe liked to travel. Retreats, Rallies – not so attentive to conferences. One such memorable event was the gathering of the five thousand evangelical pastors and Catholic priests in Argentina. The current Pope, as Archbishop, evoked Joe – It was an attempt to shew the increasing tensions in that country. Joe was delighted and it helped him to continue his ecumenical work. Not all was roses. His backing of St Kilians’ offer to host Ordinations for the Anglican Community whilst their Cathedral was being repaired, was countermanded by exterior forces. A sad day for all.

The charismatic role came easily to Joe. It took time and a particular educational challenge, which he resisted with the backing of many people, saw Joe emerge as the Bishop Ordinary, a Bishop with local tasks. He blossomed.

This role was still laced with ample consultation, willingness to hear the difficult questions and then to act. He built on the many structural changes initiated that Bishop Daly had initiated, strengthened them and also the next steps – in Education, particularly with the Review of Religious Education, with the growth of the Diocesan pastoral council, supporting the various youth initiatives and partaking in the furthering work of Adult Faith Education. Many remember the famed pilgrimage to the Biblical lands and on to Rome for the Canonisation ceremony of Mary McKillop, ending in Malta for the Ordination of his countryman, Robert!

New works, too, were on the agenda. He gave the go-ahead for the Marist College here, the reform of special education like our three ‘Doxa’ schools, and tackled the emerging shortage of priests. Initial efforts were not always positive, but eventually, his friendships with Cardinal Vidalt of Cebu and the willingness to provide educational opportunities at Corpus Christi College turned the program around. We enjoy the fruit of those decisions today – the presence of the young Filipino men is encouraging some of our home-grown youth to consider priesthood!

We laughed a little at his foibles in English. The message on his answering machine “Leave your name, telephone number and I will get back at you” never changed.

He was very human, loveable and, as Archbishop Coleridge said, "On occasion like a big kid." So to die on the feast of the Holy Innocents was perhaps appropriate. We did not think so at the time.

Joe spoke best with two hands. He was inhibited by the Crozier – and to a lesser extent by the Mitre. Both were handed to the Altar servers as the procession reached the rear doors. Then it was back down to two-handed business.

Ill health dogged his latter years; the quarterly sessions overnight at St Vincent’s were a thorn in his side. He had received a positive report in early December 2000, so the phone call to tell me Joe was sick and could not attend reconciliation on the Wednesday before Christmas was a shock. Only a touch of the flu, see you tomorrow.
Tomorrow never came. Carmel, his secretary, recognising the seriousness, called his local GP who immediately organised to have Joe taken to St Vincent’s. He came back to see us in a casket!

He left our world at 3.00 p.m. to the hymn “Here I am Lord” led by Philomena Billington.

We sorrowfully joined in!

The words of Simeon today were apt – “A sword will pierce your soul” as we returned to Bendigo in silence and tears and wonderment at God’s plans!

Joe tried "to inflame the faithful”; "to enlighten the pagan"; to arouse in us a new vision and fresh understanding of the love of God and the glory of God’s people.

Looking back, the fears and foreboding of having a city-bred, migrant bishop in country Victoria gave way to an appreciation of his giving us fresh eyes to see ancient truths in a deeper manner.

Sandhurst was indeed better for Bishop Joe being with us. Each of us will have our memories. I hope that this remembrance will stir you to say thanks for his involvement in your lives.

Finally, can I ask us to honour Bishop Joe’s memory today, to honour his service and commitment to us, by simply doing what he often asked us to do in this Cathedral, to say loudly, “Amen to that!”


BishopJOe Anniversary Large

Bishop Shane Mackinlay commemorating the tenth anniversary of Bishop Joseph Grech's death, Sacred Heart Cathedral Sunday 27 Decmeber 2020. Monsingor Frank Marriott and Fr Tony Shallue join the prayers. 

Photograph by Liesbeth Van Emmerik