by NZ CATHOLIC staff
AUCKLAND — Bishop John Mackey, a man who was gifted with one of the best minds in the New Zealand Church, according to one historian, died at St Joseph’s Home in Ponsonby on January 20, aged 96.
The ninth Bishop of Auckland, from 1974 to 1983, Bishop Mackey became the first New Zealander to have been ordained a bishop by a pope, when he was ordained by Pope Paul VI at St Peter’s Basilica in Rome on June 30, 1974.
A priest for 72 years, Bishop Mackey’s time as Auckland’s bishop saw the integration of Catholic schools into the state system, the creation of Hamilton diocese from Auckland, the Springbok tour of 1981, and the passing of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act.
n Kind and urbane
But as Zealandia editor Fr Dennis Horton noted when Bishop Mackey resigned on January 1, 1983, for health reasons, he is remembered for his kindliness and urbanity, his hope and humour, his forebearance of human foibles and his patience with dissent, even in the midst of, what became his signature phrase, “our sad and sinful world”.
In his history of Auckland diocese, In Cruce Salus, Fr Ernest Simmons described Bishop Mackey as, “Gifted with one of the best minds in the Church in New Zealand, [he] is a gentle man of unusual sympathy — the kind of person who has a large circle of people who class themselves as personal friends”.
Born in Bray, County Wicklow, Ireland, in 1918, the young John Mackey came to New Zealand aged seven, with his mother, who had been widowed.
They stayed with her brother, Fr John O’Byrne, the first parish priest of Epsom. It was in this presbytery that John spent his early years. He attended school at the Epsom convent, St Benedict’s, Newton, and at Sacred Heart College.
He studied for the priesthood at Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, and was ordained on November 23, 1941, after which he was assistant priest in Remuera and Thames.
In 1941 he became chaplain to the Mobile Hospital Number 4 of the United States Navy, then based on the Hobson Park playing fields.
While at Thames, he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Auckland University and then his Master of Arts degree, as well as a Diploma in Education.
In a foreword to one of Bishop Mackey’s books, a former apostolic nuncio in New Zealand, Archbishop Thomas White, wrote that, while in Thames, Fr Mackey indulged in “hare-brained escapades in solo flying . . . that did not exactly thrill the very dignified Archbishop James Michael Liston”. It was also noted that Fr Mackey was an “avid cinema buff”.
Fr Mackey joined the Catholic Education Office in Auckland as assistant to Fr F. Terry, having the title “Assistant Inspector of Catholic Doctrine”.
In 1952, after being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, he did two years of post-graduate study at the University of Notre Dame in the United States. From 1952 to 1971, he was diocesan inspector of Catholic schools in Auckland, a position equivalent to the Director of Catholic Education.
Fr Mackey obtained a PhD in 1963, with his doctoral dissertation later published as The Making of a State Education System. Fr Simmons called this work “one of this finest historical works ever produced in this country”.
It dealt with events leading up to the passing of the Education Act in 1877. The book became a prescribed text for education students in New Zealand. Fr Mackey also played a major role in preparing the Catholic submissions for the Currie Royal Commission on Education.
He also served on a UNESCO committee on education.
In 1972, Fr Mackey was appointed to the faculty of Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, where he taught history for two years. The same year, he was named a prelate of honour by Pope Paul VI, with the title of Monsignor.