Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ
It was my privilege to serve as the Auxiliary Bishop to Archbishop Wilson, and it was he who ordained me Bishop in 2006. Working and living with him as his Auxiliary on a daily basis for two years, and maintaining close contact with him in years beyond that, and knowing his leadership as president of the Bishops Conference, and working together with him for Caritas Australia, and then being appointed as Administrator to take over from him, I saw much of the outer and inner man who was Philip Wilson.
He spent many hours daily and weekly in his little Bishop’s chapel in West Terrace. His fidelity to a life of prayer remained through all the dark days at the end, where his breviary and some prayer books were the only companions he kept with him for his reading and prayer life.
One could talk of his administrative skills and his erudition, and his profound understanding of canon law and his knowledge of history but it was his love for the Church, especially the leadership of the Church, that marked him. He had such talent and his gifts all pointed towards him playing a role of significant leadership in the Church, especially as his relationship with his priests grew stronger. All this was cut short and several years of suffering injustice were inflicted upon him with false accusations and public insult. Even when his conviction was quashed numbers of commentators and others remained unforgiving, deepening his hurt. He knew he had been visited with a cross most would find hard to bear, and he did so without me ever hearing any words of rancour or anger. His response was always to take it to prayer.
We thank him for his creative work for the Archdiocese, his leadership of the Bishops Conference (it was he who suggested the Plenary Council) and his care for the works of compassion and welfare in the Archdiocese.
When I told my four children about the death of Archbishop Philip Wilson known in our family as ‘The Arch’ they fell silent. Then Frank, 12, said ‘I really hope there is a lot of cheese in heaven Mum because he really loved cheese’.
That he did, giant wheels of it. He also loved his family, reading biographies, newspapers and The Australian Women’s Weekly, rugby, wine, military strategy, a politically incorrect joke, telling stories about The Vatican, a wicked laugh, a challenging conversation, gossip (mainly about politicians) and women. True, Archbishop Wilson was an unsung champion for gender equality, promoting many women to senior positions in the church and one of the few men I’ve known who truly believed that gender discrimination had no place in society. He treated all people equally, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, religion or status.
We formed an unlikely friendship shortly after he arrived in Adelaide in 2001. I’m sure many people on the sidelines wondered what a non-Catholic, potty-mouthed media commentator and a Catholic Archbishop had in common, but our friendship was strong, honest and enduring. I admired him greatly for his knowledge of almost everything. There wasn’t a book he hadn’t read, a subject he hadn’t studied or conversation he’d not participated in. His mind was like a sponge, always ready to soak up the next detail which you’d see him churn over in his mind before he’d comment. He was fascinated with humanity.
He was considered and considerate and his life’s passion was to make the world a better place. He told me that although he’d received the attentions of the ladies when he was a young fit rugby player in NSW (he may also have mentioned the word ‘handsome’), he always wanted to join the priesthood. It was his calling and his commitment to the Church and to the challenge of relevance in society which continued until the day he died.
He’d come to our house for dinner and one of my most fond recollections of such occasions was the wedding of HRH Prince William to Kate Middleton. We ate “English” themed food, gave him a plastic Union Jack flag to wave at appropriate moments and sat on the couch together under a crochet blanket. He knew the history of every uniform, stripe, badge, epaulette, brooch, flag and symbol. It was like having a living version of Majesty Magazine in your lounge room.
He married my husband and I at the Cathedral in 2005. I’d casually joked that I wanted him to be ‘more dressed up’ than me. When I met him outside the church he stood back and waved his hands over his robes. As usual, he didn’t disappoint, putting in quite an effort, I even got the Thurible! (I admit I had to look that word up just then.) ‘You look magnificent,’ I said. ‘So do you,’ he said (of course he would say that) then he said ‘come on let’s get you married’. I followed him down the aisle. I’d follow him anywhere actually. My life is richer for knowing him. It was an honour to be his friend, he achieved many great things and I will mourn his passing forever. RIP ‘The Arch’. You were loved.
MONSIGNOR David Cappo AO
When he began his ministry as Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson asked me, his Vicar General, to join him in his vision for the Archdiocese of Adelaide. It is the breadth of his vision and his insights that I most vividly remember and treasure. He understood that migration and refugee movement throughout the world were having a powerful and positive impact on Australia and the Church. He saw that a tipping point was occurring as the Church moved from a Caucasian centre to an African/Asian centre, and that we needed to prepare for it and to ensure that a multicultural Church in Adelaide was truly inclusive. He was devoted to our migrant and refugee communities, and he had a special care for priests from other countries. Also, Archbishop Wilson transformed the diocese in new and up-to-date ways to properly respond to child protection, and inspired the diocese towards a vision and practical plans for safe environments for children.
He had his detractors both from without and within, yet he responded always with kindness to all. I never once heard him speak ill of those opposed to him. May his vision be taken up by others, and his ministry in Adelaide be held in high regard by the priests, deacons and the people of the Archdiocese of Adelaide. I will miss him. A good and true friend. May he rest in peace, a peace he most richly deserves.
Philip Wilson took up his responsibilities as Archbishop of Adelaide only a few months before I was elected Premier. During the next ten years we had a great deal of contact in many different ways. Archbishop Wilson combined a deep intellect with a powerful commitment to social justice and an energetic embrace of pastoral care. He was a compassionate advocate for Aboriginal people as well as a passionate supporter of the enriching value of multiculturalism for Australia.
Nationally and in South Australia he championed interfaith dialogue and I remember the work he did to bring Muslims and Christians together. In so many ways he sought to include rather than exclude. He was also there to cheer and encourage as well as to console when tragedies hit South Australia such as bushfires and the Bali bombing.
Sasha and I remember Archbishop Wilson’s brilliant homilies at events big and small, such as the memorial Mass at Adelaide Oval following the death of Pope John Paul II and celebrations to commemorate the canonisation of Mary MacKillop. His homilies made faith relevant to real life by anecdotes and personal stories that gave his message colour and resonance.
The Archbishop was rightly proud of the strengthening of Catholic education under his leadership and I was personally grateful for the strong support he gave to Monsignor David Cappo’s role as Social Inclusion Commissioner dealing with issues of homelessness, mental health, Aboriginal advancement and educational opportunity.
Sasha and I have strong memories of a dinner with the Archbishop where he vividly brought alive Vatican history and revealed a deep love of the city of Rome. We didn’t know then that we would one day be living there. We were both saddened to hear of Archbishop Wilson’s illnesses and his death and offer our deepest sympathy to his family and to the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.
Fr Dean Marin
As assistant administrator and then administrator of the Cathedral, I was the Master of Ceremonies for many of Archbishop Wilson’s Masses and heard many of his homilies. He had a brilliant mind with a broad knowledge not just of theology and the Church but of history as well and I was always amazed that he spoke without a text or even notes. There’s a couple of phrases that he would repeat in his homilies. Firstly, ‘from the moment of our baptisms’. Again and again, he affirmed the sacred dignity of every baptised Christian and each one’s God given role in the mission of the Church. The second phrase that reoccurred was, ‘as we live in the world today’. He always grounded the Word of God and our faith in the real-life situations of the day.
I remember one Christmas at the Cathedral when someone removed the statue of the baby Jesus from the crib and smashed it on the tiled floor. When we told the Archbishop, he got us to pick up the pieces and place them on a stand in the sanctuary. Next Sunday he reminded us of the brokenness that we all share as the Body of Christ and the salvation and glory that we are called to through faith in Christ, but always out of and in the midst of our weakness and brokenness.
The emphasis on the sacrament of baptism, the connection with real life in today’s world, the signs of the times, and the reminder of being a pilgrim people showed clearly to me that Archbishop Philip’s vision was thoroughly that of the Second Vatican Council.
I can remember when I spoke to him of a sick parishioner, he came with me to visit her and bring her Holy Communion. When first in the South East and preparing to do the funeral of the murdered son of a parishioner, he rang me to make sure that I passed on his thoughts and prayers to his grieving mother. Just a couple of examples of his pastoral care and love for people.
The Archbishop was a man of deep faith and prayer. He would never miss celebrating daily Mass and I can remember seeing him on many occasions walking the grounds of the Archbishop’s House, beads in hand, praying the rosary. When he stood down from public ministry for a time, he celebrated private Mass in the house chapel, but no Mass is ever a private affair, he would have been praying for all of us in the Archdiocese. Now we pray for him that he will share in the gift of eternal life and he will continue to pray for us still on the journey. In the Communion of Saints, we remain deeply connected and look forward to being reunited one day.
Andrew Steiner with the Archbishop after the Remembrance of the Shoah service.I would like to pay my deepest respect and tribute to His Grace Archbishop Philip Wilson. I have been privileged and blessed by His Grace’s brotherly love, friendship, encouragement and support. My life has been enriched by his wise counsel, kindness and gentleness.
His Grace greatly supported interfaith collaboration and remembrance. Archbishop Wilson generously provided Fennescey House for the establishment of the Adelaide Holocaust Museum –Andrew Steiner Education Centre (AHMSEC).
It seems Divine Providence guided his decision. At AHMSEC our role is to work through education and interfaith engagements toward a fairer, more just and compassionate society. I am greatly indebted for his sharing of my dream visioning and transforming it into reality.
I hope that His Grace looks down on the museum with great satisfaction, it being one of his monumental achievements. With the establishment of the museum Archbishop Wilson’s legacy will live on in perpetuity in his honour as a living memorial.
The African clergy serving in the Adelaide Archdiocese
We express our deepest sympathy on the death of Archbishop Wilson and stand in solidarity with all the clergy and people of the Archdiocese at this sad time.
Archbishop Wilson demonstrated for us visionary leadership and encouraged us in recognising the multicultural nature of the Church in Adelaide. He was instrumental in inviting priests from Africa to live out their priestly ministry in this Archdiocese, meeting not only the needs of the migrant communities but also the needs of the entire local church.
Upon our arrival in Adelaide, we have been made to feel very welcome, not only in words but also through the support, friendship and ministerial networking that have developed over the years. The Archbishop’s wishes encouraged us to not only serve the migrant communities but also to do so within the long-established Church structures and parishes throughout the diocese, which provided us with great challenges to grow and develop our ministries.
We are most grateful for the opportunity to express our gratitude in recognising Archbishop Wilson’s great vision and his support and friendship of the whole community.
Mgr Minh-Tam Nguyen
Like many people, the Vietnamese Catholics in Adelaide have felt a profound sadness at the passing of Emeritus Archbishop Philip Wilson. To them he was a beloved spiritual father and companion on their journey of life and faith.
He shared their lives in various ways, attending functions such as fundraising dinners, New Year dinners and Family Fun Day. He engaged with them in a relaxing manner through a conversation or playing a Vietnamese lotto game or picking a lucky envelope from the New Year tree.
He celebrated significant events with them such as Confirmation, Christmas and the Lunar New Year where there is a custom of hanging rolls of biblical verses from a tree to be picked by everyone. Archbishop Wilson always picked a roll for himself as its biblical verse would be an important source of prayer for him during the year.
Archbishop Wilson played a significant role in the recent construction project of the Vietnamese Catholic Community. As a spiritual father, he knew that this community needed a proper place for worship and another area for non-worship activities. As soon as the project was presented to him for approval, he was very happy to give it his blessing. He also suggested that the future church building should bear a Vietnamese aspect and be conducive to prayer. His input was important for both faith and culture. He celebrated the ground-breaking ceremony to begin the construction phase. As a result, Our Lady of the Boat People Church and St Joseph’s Hall have come into existence.
The Vietnamese Catholics in Adelaide are deeply grateful to him for everything he has done and pray for him. From the perspective of faith, they believe that we all are boat people because we are crossing the sea of life on our journey to Heaven. Emeritus Archbishop Philip Wilson was a boat person in faith who has reached his eternal destination before us.
It was my privilege to work for 10 years with Archbishop Wilson, as one of three female Chancellors on his leadership team, including Pauline Connelly, Jane Swift and Cathy Whewell. He was my leader, mentor and friend.
Archbishop was a man of great intellect and a man of wisdom, who read widely in religion, politics and particularly military history. He could hold his own in conversations and dialogues on a national and international sphere, but he experienced his greatest joy in interactions with his people, with cultural groups, families, the elderly and young people, and with his family and friends. He particularly valued his times with young people, and listened with encouragement, respect, wisdom and shared laughter.
Archbishop was welcomed into many homes, and was present at the important moments in people’s lives.
His faith was the foundation of his life, in moments of joy and times of suffering. His love of Jesus strengthened him in the times when he was most maligned and when he was ill. It is with love and gratitude that I remember Archbishop, motivated by this faith and love. A man of God.
Philip was a man of high principles and intellect. He was an enthusiastic conversationalist and sometimes erred in the direction of not listening, a trait he recognised. On the other hand he was kind and generous with anyone who needed help and affection. He was particularly kind and welcoming to the priests who have come from African countries He understood loneliness and relished friendship; as a canon lawyer he had a tendency towards legalism but he definitely considered all points of view.
From a business perspective he was quite outstanding and bold. He proudly said to me during the early days of planning for the revitalisation of the Archdiocesan finances ‘I am not afraid of debt’. This resolve was tested to an extraordinary degree and he held his nerve throughout all.
The SA Water Building is his testament, alongside the policy of the reduction of lazy assets. His internal strength and fortitude was sorely tested by many but he always was looking at the future. There is still plenty of future thinking and action needed and we should be seeing things through the wisdom of his eyes. He accepted the fact that not everyone agreed with him all the time.
We must never forget that he was exonerated on all charges. That means he was innocent and we as a Church should be proud of that and celebrate it in the face of the not so forgiving press. Philip was a futurist. We should think of him as we take the next steps into the future of our Archdiocese.