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'Our Phil, the unassuming hero'


Archbishop Wilson’s youngest sister MARIE-ANNE JOHNSON spoke on behalf of her sister Joanne, brother Mark and their families at the Vigil Mass.

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Phil was the long-awaited eldest child of John and Joan Wilson, born in Cessnock NSW in October, 1950. He was a brother to two sisters and two brothers.

A young Philip Wilson with his sister Joanne at the annual St Joseph’s Parish Frolic.

Philip once described our young lives in Cessnock as like living in Camelot. Life was just filled with so much love and happiness. For the five Wilson kids, life was simple. It was all about enjoying being together, having fun, working hard at school and being a part of the Catholic community – St Joseph’s Catholic Parish Cessnock, and our primary school. St Patrick’s played a pivotal role in our everyday lives.  Phil was an altar boy as soon as he was able. He loved this honour and practised the Mass at home with Jo and me as altar boys! Latin was the language of the Mass so Phil got that down pat too. His deep faith and love of God was guided by the example of our parents. Mum and Dad taught us to have faith, believe in ourselves and our decisions, always do our best, be truthful and be honourable people. Philip achieved this and more.

A highlight each year of our younger lives was our annual trek into Queensland to the ‘exotic’ Surfers Paradise. Here we’d spend three fabulous weeks, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. One year, our youngest brother Paul managed, with Mark’s help, to set himself adrift in a row boat in the middle of the Nerang river. After Mark alerts the family to the evolving situation, Phil springs into action, dives into the river, swims against the tide and begins to haul the boat to shore, while mum yells out ‘mind the sharks!’ The rescue completed, an exhausted Phil lay prone on the sand, while we step over him, go home and resume our afternoon tea. Our Phil, the unassuming hero.

It was a time of great sadness for Jo and I when Phil excitedly went off to St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill to begin boarding school. He thrived, worked hard and achieved great things. One of these was the loyal and enduring friendships he had with his classmates, a strong link only broken with death.

Sport was a big part of his teenage years. He played rugby, and swam, but rowing was his sporting passion. His determination in his senior years to be selected for the 1st VIII’s rowing team and be a part of the Head of the River Regatta was admirable. His love for Joeys lasted all his life. It was at Joeys, with the help of his mentors, that Phil decided his future path. At the age of 18, Phil announced to our family that his future was the priesthood. We knew then, that we now had to share him with the Church.

From being a curate, vicar general, an overseas student in New York and Washington to bishop and archbishop, Philip always took his responsibilities seriously and without complaint. He loved his time as bishop in Wollongong and always had a special affinity with that city. Adelaide was his final destination. As much as we tried to persuade him to return to NSW, he was emphatic that this was his home. As a family we thank those who made him feel so comfortable in his adopted city.

We always appreciated our time with Philip, sharing the latest family news, over a lovely meal and a good red. When Philip arrived in Adelaide there was always debate between the virtues of South Australian wines versus our wines of the Hunter Valley. He was always there for the joys of life – marriages and births of our nieces and nephews – and with that joy follows the sorrows of life, Paul’s death followed by our parents. We supported each other and do so today.

Philip gave total loyalty and love to his family as he did to God and the Catholic Church. He was always truthful, trustworthy and honest with his dealings with those he met. Rest in peace our darling brother.


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