Vale Bishop Bede Heather

Bishop Bede Heather, Bishop Emeritus of Parramatta died on 25 February 2021, aged 92.

Bishop Bede was born on December 7, 1928 and ordained a priest on July 15, 1951. He retired as Bishop of Parramatta in 1997.

He was born in Strathfield, the third child of William and Alice Heather. Educated at St Patrick’s College, Strathfield, and at St Columba’s College, Springwood, he studied for the priesthood at Springwood, Manly and at Propaganda College in Rome, where he was ordained a priest at Castel Gandolfo in 1951.

After completing postgraduate studies in Sacred Scriptures, he returned to Sydney where he was Assistant Priest in the parishes of Brighton-le-Sands and Willoughby, in the Archdiocese of Sydney.

He taught biblical languages and literature at St Columba’s Seminary, Springwood, and at St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly, for many years.

Between 1973 and 1976 he gained experience in Africa where he taught in the Bigard Memorial Seminary, Nigeria.

Upon his return, he had short stays as Administrator at The Entrance and St Ives before taking up an appointment as leader of a pastoral team at Mt Druitt in 1977.

In 1979 he was ordained as Titular Bishop of Obbi and became an auxiliary bishop with responsibility for western Sydney. Bishop Heather was co-chairman of the Catholic/Baptist International Dialogue.

On 8 April in 1986 Pope St John Paul II erected the Diocese of Parramatta and on 19 May in the same year Bishop Bede Heather took possession of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Parramatta and the Diocese of Parramatta was launched.

Bede’s ecclesiology was that of Servant Church. Bishop Bede said in his installation homily that he wanted the new Diocese to be “the face of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd” as it embarked on its mission.

In our diocese, Bede established many lasting works of faith, hope charity.  He established a Marriage Tribunal, the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Finance Committee, Centacare (now CatholicCare) and a diocesan Catholic Education Office.

The Priests’ House of Prayer built at East Kurrajong was a special work dear to his heart. His inclusiveness meant he welcomed priests born overseas and started the annual meetings of Anglican and Catholic clergy leading to the inaugural annual law service to mark the beginning of the law term.

Ever the teacher, he set up the Parramatta Pastoral Institute at Blacktown to provide spiritual and theological formation for lay persons. Following the International Year for Handicapped Persons in 1982, Bede began a professional outreach to handicapped persons. And, like Archbishop John Bede Polding, Bede had a special interest in the indigenous population in the Diocese setting up the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry.

Added to this were other initiatives such as single parents’ accommodation (Houses to Homes), and HIV Aids ministry. He was Chairman of the Board of Mount Druitt Hospital and established a stand-alone palliative care facility at Mount Druitt. The list goes on. He was a visionary.

Bishop Heather served the Diocese of Parramatta until his resignation on 10 July 1997. In retirement he lived on the Central Coast of NSW. His last residence was at St Ezekiel Moreno Nursing Home, Croydon.

At Bede’s 90th birthday celebration at Blacktown, his words had the ring of a final will and testament.  He spoke of the Olive Tree as a symbol of his life. He wrote, “St Paul and St John have each described in glowing terms the future hope of Christians. I just hope that when I close my eyes for the last time there will be a vision of light and two olive trees, one on the right and one on the left.” That is the symbolism of the olive trees at the sides of the ambo, the place from where the scriptures are proclaimed.

And, of course, Bede was a scripture scholar. Only two weeks ago he published twenty-nine pages of notes on the Book of Revelation, ending with Maranatha, “Come Lord”.

Even though he struggled for breath, he was conversing up to the last minutes of his life. He knew he was dying and many people came to say goodbye. He presided over his own death.

In your charity, please pray for the Repose of the Soul of Bishop Bede and remember his family in your prayers.  Please pray that angels will receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.