Papal blessing for Bishop Owen Dolan’s 25 years as a bishop

8 Bishop Dolan


Typical of Bishop Owen Dolan’s warm and big-heartedness, the invitation to join with him to celebrate 25 years since his episcopal ordination went out to all across the largely rural diocese of Palmerston North.

On Thursday, December 10, parishioners, friends, religious and clergy gathered around the altar at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit to thank God for Bishop Dolan’s generosity and years of faithful service.

After the welcome, presider Cardinal John Dew read the Apostolic Blessing of Great Joy from Pope Francis.

Translated from the original Latin, the words of the blessing were: Congratulations, combined with a spirit of faith, preaching with the inquiring mind of Christ and particular care of the clergy, awarded to emeritus coadjutor Bishop Owen. The words prompted a long round of applause from the congregation.

“A saying has it that it’s an ill-wind that doesn’t bring somebody some good”. My heart attack in 1990 was the turn of events that brought us Owen, in 1995”. said homilist Bishop Peter Cullinane. “It completed a circle, which started in Palmerston North and finishes in Palmerston North”.

Born not far from the cathedral, Bishop Dolan’s mother died when he was a week old. He was raised by his father’s family in Hawera. After ordination in Hawera’s St Joseph’s church on July 21, 1954, his appointments took him to parishes in the Taranaki, Manawatu and northern Hawkes Bay regions, which would later become part of the Palmerston North diocese. Then it was to Peru for five years, where he worked alongside the Columban and the Maryknoll Fathers in Lima and Arequipa. Working with the Latin American people had an impact on him, and shaped his life as a priest forever, he reflected when celebrating his 65th year of priesthood.

Back in New Zealand, it was parish ministry in Wellington, prior to being appointed vicar general for the Wellington archdiocese.

The day before the then-Fr John Dew was ordained a bishop in May, 1995, the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Thomas White, spoke to then-Fr Dolan about the situation in Palmerston North. Given Bishop Cullinane’s ill-health, the decision was made for a coadjutor rather than an auxiliary bishop.

“As I watched John Dew lay prostrate on the floor during the litany of the saints at his ordination, I thought – Oh golly, I could be the next one on the floor. And so I was,” said Bishop Dolan in 2020.

Five months later, he was ordained the coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North on December 10, 1995. He was back at his birthplace.

“If you had suspected that travel is in Owen’s DNA, you’re going to have to acknowledge that he really is a homing pigeon. To put that more theologically: God is Lord of all history, not just some of it, and so every moment in that circuitous route was meaningfully within God’s providence,” said Bishop Cullinane.

“So, in Owen’s name and mine, I call on the Catholic community to take pride in what is best in the priesthood. And we call on Catholic parents, and grandparents, to at least point out that priesthood is a privileged and focused way of helping people – in things that will still matter when much else no longer does!” Bishop Cullinane added.

Lunch followed in the diocesan centre, where there was also the cutting of a celebratory chocolate cake.


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Michael Otto

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