by Jeff Dillon

Bishop Colin Campbell was ordained the sixth Bishop of Dunedin on July 9, 2004 and relinquished that role when Fr Michael Dooley was ordained the seventh Bishop of Dunedin on April 26, 2018.  

Looking back over his nearly 14 years in charge of Dunedin diocese, Bishop Campbell has witnessed a number of significant changes and has many highlights to recall.

As with other parts of New Zealand, the restructuring of Dunedin diocese has seen big changes. Bishop Campbell noted that “after 2007 it took up a serious head of steam and is now near completion”. Invercargill is the last area to be restructured into a pastoral area and the aim is to have one parish. That development is nearing completion.

Liturgy changes with the introduction of the 2010 Roman Missal also got his attention. “I’ve had a fair bit to do with that,” he said.

He noted that at one stage he conducted a survey and wrote a report based on the responses he received. That article and the results were published in the UK Catholic weekly The Tablet. He explained that the basis of the objections to the “new clumsy and clunky translation” was that it hindered “full, conscious and active participation of the community at worship”.

He was hopeful that with recent moves under Pope Francis the introduction of the 1998 translation of the previous Missal would now happen as its “English is much more intelligible”.

Another change in the diocese is that there are fewer clergy now than in 2004. At that stage there were 47 clergy but that has diminished now to 38. He observed that “having often a wider pastoral area they are very committed and dedicated and naturally I am concerned about their welfare with wider responsibilities”. Fortunately many are assisted by dedicated lay people. The composition of the clergy has changed in recent times with the Dunedin diocese having two priests from the Philippines, one from India and one from Sri Lanka currently. That boost of overseas clergy was a relatively minor change compared to dioceses in the North Island.


Bishop Campbell lamented the lack of indigenous vocations from the local area in the sense that when he was in charge of the seminary for a few years prior to 2004 the majority of the seminarians were what could be called typical New Zealanders at that time, but that is no longer the situation. He pointed to the general nature of Catholic family life these days as having an impact.

He observed that once, not so long ago, a typical five-year-old child from a Catholic family starting school would know their prayers and how to make the sign of the cross. That is no longer true. In fact he has told teachers that they may be the first person of faith that the children meet. He noted that the school was there to complement what was going on in the home. He likened the situation to a three legged stool composed of Church, family, school. If one of them is missing then the consequences are obvious. So teachers often face an uphill struggle.

In some instances some small communities can be really strong bases of faith and had “rich veins of vocations”. An illustration of that is that including now Bishop Michael Dooley, the last three Dunedin bishops have come from relatively small Southland communities. (Bishop Len Boyle from Nightcaps; Bishop Colin Campbell from Otautau; Bishop Dooley from Heddon Bush). Bishop Campbell noted that at one stage there was a saying “the further south you went the stronger the faith” and this feature could be seen in Dan Davin’s stories. That saying may not stand up to scrutiny nowadays, he observed.

In commenting further about the importance of what is happening in the home, he noted that when enquiring of parents about their promotion of the faith in their homes. Some responses had an aspect of what Americans call the MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over) complex. When they stated that grace before meals was said he wondered if anything else was happening. “Unfortunately we are the most secular country in the world now,” he commented.

In a recent newspaper article it was mentioned that 33,000 Catholics live in Dunedin diocese (according to census data), but Church figures indicate slightly more than 5000 regular Mass-goers.

However Bishop Campbell praised the efforts of teachers in the Catholic schools. “We are blessed with good principals, DRS teachers and staff who are doing their best to promote and lead with our Catholic character.” He noted the contribution of the Dunedin Catholic Education Office with Tony Hanning at the helm and the hard working property manager Bill Haydon, “whose work in schools had been the envy of others”.


Turning his attention to other aspects of his role he mentioned several things that have brought satisfaction. Being part of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference was one. “With New Zealand being a small country, our conference is a close knit unit, we all know each other well and we work well together as a unit.” Another aspect was “I am serving on the executive committee with the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania. This involves bishops’ conferences in New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands and Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. One of his last duties as bishop was attending the FCBCO assembly in Papua New Guinea.

Bishop Campbell noted his involvement with the Catholic Charismatic Movement, with which he has been connected since 1971. His involvement had run the gamut of local, national and international scenes and he had been a keynote speaker in many Australian cities.

Another aspect of his role was attendance at the annual Bishop’s Shield speaking competition between the four secondary colleges in Dunedin diocese. “I have always been very supportive of our young people to be able to speak and articulate well in the public arena.” His hope would be that they would carry that ability into their adult lives and help spread the Gospel message.

There are many other things that as Bishop Emeritus he will look back on with satisfaction. He will continue to reside in one of the clergy retirement town houses on the grounds near Holy Cross Centre at Mosgiel and he will be available for helping in the diocese and giving retreats.