People who knew him well and even those associated with him for a relatively short time told me they sobbed when they heard the news. The grief was overwhelming.
We should have been prepared – we knew the huge toll the court case had taken on him as he fought, successfully in the end, to prove his innocence. And we knew his health was deteriorating as he battled cancer and other medical issues.
But I think we hoped, perhaps unrealistically, that he would eventually get better and manage to have some quality time with his family and friends, or even make some further contribution to the Church he so loved.
We hoped that the injustice of what took place in the latter part of his episcopacy would be remedied and his public reputation rightly restored.
Unfortunately it took his death for the veil of silence to be lifted and for the outpouring of grief to open the way for his achievements and ministry to be fully recognised.
On a personal level, after the initial shock subsided, it was like the pause button had been released and my mind rewound to all the happy times we shared together over the past 11 years – our amazing pilgrimage to World Youth Day in Poland and time spent together on vacation in Rome with my husband and another couple. The Archbishop generously offered his time to show us around. We shared beautiful meals, toured the Vatican and took the train to the Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gondolfo. He organised for the four of us to celebrate Sunday Mass with him in a chapel in St Peter’s Basilica. I was put on reading duties and even though we got stuck in a queue and were 15 minutes late, the Archbishop was standing at the altar waiting for us when we finally arrived!
The little things also came flooding back – the chats in the car about politics on our way to an interview or an article he’d read in one of the many secular and religious publications to which he subscribed, from the New York Times to The Tablet. The phone calls where he’d always start humbly with ‘it’s only me’.
Often he’d call about a media issue but then he’d end up with ‘but the real reason I’m calling is to tell you I saw a photo of Maddy (my daughter who plays netball for the NSW Swifts) in the Sydney Morning Herald’ or similar. Archbishop Wilson closely followed Maddy’s netball career after first meeting her at a youth festival in Adelaide in 2010. They met again at dinner in our home after she’d just returned from living at the Australian Institute of Sport. He was fascinated by the AIS and asked lots of questions, mainly about the food at the cafeteria.
Food was a great source of joy for him; he would tell me all about the cooking shows he’d been watching on TV. Not renowned for my culinary skills, I would listen politely before turning the conversation to our common infatuation with Call the Midwife and Vera.
So many people have told me of their special memories of the Archbishop over the past few weeks, including his personal support for them when they lost loved ones or were going through difficult times. The heartfelt tributes and anecdotes from his life published in this month’s paper are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s as if in dying, he has come back to life. I thank God for that.
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