AUCKLAND — Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland once thought that becoming a bishop “would be a nightmare”.
Bishop Dunn told three pupils of St Mary’s Northcote that he never
thought he would be a bishop.
chuckling as he answered their question. “I was very happy at St Mary’s in Northcote being a parish priest.
“I never dreamed for a moment that I would be the bishop of Auckland. That would have been a nightmare,” he added,
and the children laughed with him.
“I thought it would be too big a job, whereas I liked being in a parish where you sort of got to know the people in the parish and all the young people in school, too, in St Mary’s.”
Lachlan, David and Anija spent a lot of time with their
teacher, Maria Mistlberger, thinking of what questions to
ask the bishop. They were curious to find out what made Bishop
Dunn decide to be a priest, if he thought he would end up being
a bishop, and if he got paid as a bishop.
“Yes [I get paid], but I get the same allowance as any other
priest,” he told them.
After the interview, Bishop Dunn, who used to serve
as the parish priest of Northcote, asked about some people
from the school. He told the children he knew them from
when he was there 22 years ago.
“That is so old,” 10-year-old Anija remarked, which made Bishop Dunn laugh.
“That’s not quite so old,” he told her.
The bishop told the children his thoughts about not having a family
of his own, what jobs he took on before becoming a priest and what it is like being a bishop.
If you want to find out more about Bishop Dunn through the eyes of the children, read his full interview in eye spy below:Lachlan: So, we read on-line that you originally came from London. At what age did you come to New Zealand?
Bishop Pat: I was about nine months old. So if you ask the question, what do I remember, I don’t remember anything. Because my parents were New Zealanders. They were over there and I was born when they were over there. As a child, we came back on Pan American. And they gave us a certificate that I’ve flown around the world on Pan American.
Lachlan: You went to St Michael’s School in Remuera. What was the school like for you?
BP: School was quite fun. We lived about a block away from school. We used to walk to school every day. We were quite close by. But what is interesting was when I went to school, all the teachers were sisters. It was always nuns. They were all the teachers which was funny.
L: What was your parents’ reaction when you said you wanted to be a priest?
BP: Oh, they were quite happy. I have two uncles who are priests and they were always a part of the family. Two of my father’s brothers are priests. We always knew Uncle Jack and Uncle Peter were priests. Mum and dad always said they just wanted us to find a job or a career that we found satisfying and that we would be happy in. But they always said if you wanted to be a priest or a sister that would be fine, too.
Anija: What inspired you to follow God?
BP: You mean to follow God as a priest? I suppose it was mum and dad. We try to have grace before meals. They were always quite strong Catholics so they would always take us to mass every Sunday. And they would often go to church during the weekdays, too. So, it was sort of just like part of who we were.
Anija: How old were you when you became a priest?
BP: When I became a priest, I was 26. But when I went to start studying, I was 19, I think.
Anija: Do you get paid to be the bishop?
BP: Yeah, but I get paid the same as all the priests who get an allowance. We all get the same allowance which is quite a good system. If priests are in very wealthy parishes or from very poor parishes, we all get the same. So, it’s easy for us to move from one place to another.
David: What are the challenges of not having your own family and being the bishop of Auckland?
BP: There are challenges. Often I see families and think, Oh, wouldn’t it be lovely to have my own family. But as the bishop, or even as a parish priest, there’s a sense, too, in which we have a family, which is all the people in the parish. I, sometimes, think I’ve got a huge family which is all the people in the diocese. (He laughs.)
David: When you were the parish priest of Northcote, did you ever think you were going to be the bishop of Auckland? Why or why not?
BP: No, I never did think I would be the bishop of Auckland. (He chuckles.) I was very happy at St Mary’s in Northcote being a parish priest. I never dreamed for a moment that I would be the bishop of Auckland. That would have been a nightmare. (The children laughs.) I thought it would be too big a job whereas I liked being in a parish where you sort of got to know the people in the parish and all the young people in school, too, in St Mary’s.
David: What does a bishop do to relax? Do you go fishing, play golf or go to the movies?
BP: I don’t go fishing because I went fishing when I was a kid and I was horrified when I saw the fish die. (He laughs). I used to go running, jogging, but now my knees are not so good. But I go walking when I can. I go for a walk around West Haven by the boats down there. And I go to the movies when I have the chance but I don’t often get the chance. I watch TV.
Lachlan: Have you met Pope Francis? What’s he like? Can you invite him to New Zealand?
BP: (He laughs.) These are very good questions. No, I haven’t met Pope Francis. But everyone who has says he is really nice. I met the other popes: Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. I’ve met them a few times. I haven’t been to Rome yet since he was elected so I haven’t had the chance to meet him. I’m looking forward to that. I’m not sure when it will be. We would love him to come to New Zealand. But whether he would be able to do that, we don’t know. If he comes to New Zealand, it would be a bit awkward because the government needs to be involved, too. He can’t just come as a private citizen so we go out to the airport and meet him when he arrives. He’d have a special plane.
Lachlan: Did you have any pets?
BP: No, not me. But we had at home, we used to have dogs. One dog after another, not a whole lot together. We had three dogs that I can remember. One was a tiny one. My uncle had a farm. And there is this tiny little dog, like a dwarf dog. And so, we had that for a while. Its name was Tiny. Then, we had another dog, sort of like a fox terrier. We called him Super. His full name was Super Hanger-on because one day, he turned up at the front door, and one of my brothers or sisters or mum gave him something to eat and he never left. So, we said he was a “hanger-on”. We don’t know where he came from.
But I’ll tell you an interesting story. When he first arrived, my father thought, “no, no more dogs”. So without telling any of us, he took Super in the car with him. My father was a doctor and he was going to see a patient on the other side of Auckland. When he got to the other side of Auckland, he let Super hanger-on out. He didn’t tell us this because we would have been horrified. When he came home that afternoon, Super Hanger-on was already home. (Everyone laughs) Dogs are really clever that way, aren’t they? Then, Super hanger-on became Dad’s favourite.
Lachlan: How long have you been a priest?
BP: I’ve been a priest since 1976 so that’s 37… it’ll be 38 years this April.
Anija: Do you miss having a family?
BP: Yes, but not a lot because my life is so full anyway. I have a very full and very busy life. I partly think, too, it would be very hard to be a good husband or father with all the things that I do.
Anija: What do you do as the bishop?
BP: As the bishop, I’m like the head of all the priests. I put the priests in parishes and they are really there as my representatives. I try to visit the parishes and I visit the priests. I meet with the priests quite often. Yesterday, for example, I was up north of Auckland. I was meeting with all the priests who served in Whangarei and north. Have you ever been to Whangarei? (The children say no.) It’s two hours north of Auckland and this parish is right up the top of the North Island and I was meeting all the priests there.
Anija: Do you and other bishops have regular meetings or catch-ups?
BP: Yeah, we do. We call it the bishops’ conference. We actually meet four times a year. We’re often on the phone to each other or e-mailing. But twice a year, especially, we have a whole week together, discussing things in our diocese and across New Zealand. In the first week of April, I will be in Wellington for a week meeting with all the other bishops.
David: Would you recommend being a priest or a nun? And, why?
BP: Oh yes, I would. It’s a very enriching life. It’s a very fulfilling life. It really came home to me when I was first ordained. I was a young priest and I was sent to work with the Maori people in Mangere, South Auckland. I was really very moved. When I came, I was just a Pakeha young priest and they accepted me as one of them. Do you know what Maori people call priests? Pa. So my name, Father Pat, was Pa Patiriki. What struck me was the way in which they were so friendly and welcoming to me. And then, as I moved around different parishes, in every parish that I went, everyone just sort of welcomes you immediately because you’re going to be their resident priest. You’ve got a new priest, Fr Maliu. You know how when a new priest arrives, everyone says, “hello, Fr Maliu or Pa Patiriki”.
David: Do you travel around Auckland or New Zealand?BP: Yes, I travel around Auckland because I’m the bishop of Auckland which is from the bottom of the Southern Motorway, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Thames, to Pukekohe up to the top of the North Island that’s the area that I have responsibility for. So I do travel quite a bit around that whole area. Like yesterday being up North. And I travel around New Zealand a little bit like when I go to meetings. Sometimes, I go on holidays to another part of New Zealand. But mostly, with my job, it’s the whole Auckland region to the top of New Zealand.
David: Before you were a priest, did you have a job?
BP: Yes, I was a student but I had holiday jobs. I used to work in a shop and I was a truck driver. I worked in a hospital as an orderly. But the job that I did most while as a student was I was a security officer. The company wound up now but I used to work for Securitas. So I’ll be sort of a night watchman or a day watchman. What was really funny, too, was I had a uniform and I had a motorbike. Sometimes, when I was going to work, people, on the mirror of their car would see me in a uniform on a motorbike and they thought I was a policeman and would slow down.
I must tell you a funny story. When I was at St Mary’s at Northcote, I used to go into the school. I used to visit the classes. One day, it was getting close to Easter. I was talking to the class about how Jesus suffered and how he was nailed to the cross and everything. To keep the boys interested, I was telling them about how someone was nailed to the cross, how horrible it was. Anyway, one of the boys said, “Father Pat, Father Pat!” And I said, “yes, yes, what do you want?” And he said, “Maryjane, here, just fainted.” (laughs) Anyway, I knew the family quite well and they said, “don’t worry about Maryjane. She just sensitive to blood.” (everyone laughs)
David: Those are all the questions that we have.
Children: Thank you, Bishop Pat.