For the first time in the history of the Catholic Church in New Zealand, the son of a permanent deacon has been ordained as a bishop.
Deacon Henk Gielen acted as deacon during the ordination Mass of his son, Bishop Michael Gielen, 48, as an auxiliary bishop of Auckland, at the Vodafone Events Centre in south Auckland on March 7.
More than 3000 people from throughout New Zealand attended the celebration, which had strong Maori and Pasifika cultural elements. The venue was chosen because St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland was not large enough to accommodate the expected congregation.
Before the Mass, NZ Catholic asked Deacon Gielen if he could ever have imagined when his son was growing up in the central North Island forestry town of Tokoroa, that the pair of them would one day be flanking Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, with one as a deacon and the other as a new bishop.
“No father knows what will become of their children,” Deacon Gielen said. “But you love them and give them your best and hope they will flourish.”
Deacon Gielen, from Papamoa Coast (All Saints by the Sea parish), is very proud of his son – the oldest of six children in his family.
He said that the news that his son was to be a bishop came as something of a shock and he is still getting used to the idea.
But he thinks God called Bishop Gielen to this ministry because “Michael has a heart for[the] less privileged and a heart of compassion”.
Deacon Gielen thinks there probably are other instances in the Church where a permanent deacon has a son who is a bishop. But this is the first time it has happened in New Zealand. (Speaking to NZ Catholic when his appointment was announced in January, Bishop Gielen said he has met priests in the United States who have biological fathers who are permanent deacons – but he has never met a bishop who has.)
March 7-8 was a busy weekend for the Gielen family, with 35 relatives travelling to Auckland for the ordination from various centres, including Nelson, Whangarei, Pirongia, Hamilton, Tauranga and elsewhere in Auckland.
Bishop Gielen’s family had various roles at the ordination Mass, including Deacon Gielen being the deacon and proclaiming the Gospel reading, John 21: 15-17. Bishop Gielen’s sister Anna Francis read the first reading, Jeremiah 1:4-9, and the prayers of the faithful were read by Bishop Gielen’s nieces and nephews. Bishop Gielen’s mother Maureen and sister Leah Clark took part in the procession of the gifts.
In his words of thanksgiving at the end of the Mass, Bishop Gielen thanked his mother and his father, and all his “precious family”, for “your unwavering love, your challenges and your encouragement”.
He made mention of the people watching a live stream of the service, including his sister Liz – who was too pregnant to fly – and her husband Andy, as well as a cousin who is a religious sister in England.
When NZ Catholic asked Deacon Gielen what final word of fatherly advice he might have for his son as a new bishop, he said: “Be a man of prayer, be humble, be compassionate and learn from Bishop Pat.”
Bishop Gielen, who has served as director of formation at Holy Cross Seminary in Auckland, spoke in his thanksgiving speech on March 7 about when he was seven years old, a time when he was battling with asthma and struggling at school.
“A year later, all that changed. We started going back to Mass as a family. It was like rivers, fresh springs of living water, flowing within us, slowly changing us. And as a little boy, I noticed it.”
It was in Tokoroa that Bishop Gielen was ordained as a priest in 1997 by the late Bishop Max Mariu, SM, who was the first Maori priest ordained as a Catholic bishop. Bishop Gielen recalled in Auckland that he was the only priest Bishop Mariu had ever ordained.
As well as working in parish ministry in Hamilton diocese, Bishop Gielen studied at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States and at the Gregorian University in Rome.
“I have good news,” Bishop Gielen said in his thanksgiving speech.
“Whether you are seven or seventy, Jesus loves you. Jesus will never leave you alone. Jesus has amazing things in life for you, whatever your age is, if you trust him and ask him into your life, like my family did. It’s amazing what he can do when we say, ‘yes’. Thank you for your ‘yes’ and let us travel together in our waka (Maori canoe) wherever God leads us.”
The apostolic nuncio to New Zealand, Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa, was unable to attend the ordination Mass as he had returned from Italy and placed himself in self-isolation for 14 days in line with guidance from New Zealand authorities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The archbishop was not ill.
But his message for the ordination was read by Msgr Edward Karaan, deputy head of mission and first secretary at the apostolic nunciature in Wellington. Msgr Karaan asked those present to pray for priestly and religious vocations.
“Bishop Michael Gielen is known for his zeal for vocations promotion,” the message stated.
“In fact, in its December 2015 issue, the NZ Catholic had this featured Catholic news: ‘Holy rollers on a long ride for priesthood’. It reported that Fr Michael Gielen and seven seminarians of the Holy Cross Seminary had cycled for 33 days from Cape Reinga at the northern end of the North Island to Bluff on the southern coast of the South Island to promote vocations for the priesthood.”
The message encouraged people not to be afraid to promote priestly and religious vocations.