by JOHN FONG
The many years of service as a priest and as a bishop by Hamilton Bishop Emeritus Denis Browne were fittingly recognised at a packed Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Hamilton on September 8.
A Mass of Thanksgiving was celebrated on the feast of the Nativity of Mary to acknowledge and give thanks for Bishop Browne’s ministry during 55 years as a priest and 40 years as a bishop. The day was also the bishop’s 80th birthday.
Bishop Browne was the celebrant and with him were Bishop Stephen Lowe, Cardinal Thomas Williams, Bishops Peter Cullinane, Owen Dolan, and Colin Campbell and many priests and deacons of Hamilton diocese.
To the delight of Bishop Denis, his long-time friend Archbishop Sir David Moxon arrived unexpectedly. They were bishops respectively of the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in Hamilton. They worked closely together and the two cathedrals held combined annual services for Ash Wednesday and Advent. Latterly, Sir David was appointed director of the Anglican Centre in Rome and was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Representative to the Holy See. This was for a three-year term which ended in June of this year. Sir David explained to the surprised Bishop Denis that he had recently returned home.
Bishop Browne was ordained a priest on June 30, 1962, in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland by Archbishop James Liston and served in Gisborne, Papatoetoe, Remuera, and Tonga.
He was ordained as a bishop in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland on June 29, 1977 and served in the Cook Islands and Niue. He was the tenth Bishop of Auckland from 1983 until 24 August 1994 when he became Hamilton diocese’s second bishop following the death of Bishop Edward Gaines.
NZ Catholic asked several long time cathedral parishioners for their views on Bishop Browne and his influence on the diocese during the time he was Bishop of Hamilton.
Alan McAllen wrote: “Bishop Denis is a man of great faith and the [Hamilton] diocese experienced a spiritual renaissance under his leadership during the time he was our bishop. He led by example with his great love for prayer, the Mass, the sacraments and the Scriptures. He inspired and encouraged us to treasure these as the great gifts of faith. He also introduced us to ‘Proud to be Catholic’.
“Bishop Denis’ homilies were very special as one felt that they were addressed to you personally and they were very uplifting.
“Bishop Denis is a man with the common touch who always makes you feel at ease in his company. He is caring and compassionate and, when not away, frequently attends requiems of former parishioners he has known during the 20 years he was bishop”.
Another parishioner, Professor Peter Kamp, said, “Bishop Denis has shown enormous leadership in the area of promotion of Catholic school education in the Hamilton diocese. He oversaw the substantial rebuilding of many of the schools in the diocese and also has been very supportive of Roman Catholic chaplaincy on the campuses of the University of Waikato and the Waikato Institute of Technology.
“Bishop Denis developed ecumenical relations with the Anglican Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki. With Sir David Moxon they supported the establishment of the Te Ara Hou Christian Social Services Village on the former site of our diocesan centre on Morrinsville Rd.
“In recognition of the significant leadership Bishop Denis made to education of school children in the wider central North Island region, his support of the chaplaincy at the university, and his ecumenical leadership together with Sir David Moxon in bringing together their communities in worship, the Council of the University of Waikato awarded its highest honour, an Honorary Doctorate, to Bishop Denis (and also to Sir David Moxon) on 21 April 2016.”
In his homily on September 8, Bishop Browne thanked the people of the diocese for their love and support. He has made many friends in his time as their bishop.
A common sentiment in Hamilton diocese is to wish Bishop Browne very many happy, enjoyable, and relaxing years ahead and thank him for his loving and effective service for God and the Church.