Bishop William (Bill) Wright was ordained eighth Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle by the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, on June 15 2011 at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Hamilton. His appointment followed the retirement of Emeritus Bishop Michael Malone who served the diocese as Bishop for 16 years.
Soon after his appointment as Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle was announced, Bishop Bill (as he prefers to be called) said, "In 33 years of being a priest I've only applied for one position, the rest found me. I've come to believe there's a certain 'providence that shapes our ends' and so far, things have turned out all right!"
This statement demonstrated a certain sanguine approach to life, which was backed up when he wrote, for the August 2011 edition of Aurora, "I am not much given to panic. I am content to assume that it will all fall into place for me one day…"
This approach has developed across a variety of experiences - personal and ministerial - in a variety of places. Bill Wright is the third and youngest child of Jack and Nan Wright (both deceased). He has a sister, Patricia and a brother, Robert. He was born on 26 October 1952 in Washington DC, where his father, an economist with the Australian Central Bank (Commonwealth, later Reserve, Bank) was seconded to the International Monetary Fund.
The family moved to Australia when young Bill was only a baby. He was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at Pymble and by the Jesuits at St Aloysius' College, Milsons Point, with two years at Wimbledon College, another Jesuit school, when Jack was London Manager of the Reserve Bank of Australia.
Bishop Bill nominates a Jesuit speaker during a Year 10 retreat as a trigger to priesthood, and admits to the feeling, at that young age, that "I'm just what the church needs"! While preparing for priesthood at St Columba's College, Springwood (1971‐73) and St Patrick's College, Manly
(1974‐77), and attaining a Bachelor of Theology, he was employed by the parishes of St Mary's (Western Sydney), Manly and Pymble as a youth worker. He says now that it is the role of young people "to stir, to rebel, to challenge - and to tell me where I'm going wrong!"
Bill Wright was ordained to the diaconate in October 1976 and to the priesthood on 20 August 1977 at St Mary's Cathedral. After ordination, he gained a BA(Hons), largely in History, at Sydney University.
He has served as follows:
- 1977-79 Assistant priest, St Michael's, Stanmore
- 1980-84 Studies at Sydney University
- 1985-91 Vice‐Rector, St Patrick's College Manly
- 1992-94 On loan to Parramatta Diocese; assistant priest, Holy Family Mt Druitt
- 1995 Assistant Secretary, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Canberra
- 1996 Assisting at Fairfield for a few months; Administrator, Enmore‐Tempe (sixmonths)
- 1997-98 Parish Priest, St Paul of the Cross, Dulwich Hill
- 1999-2005 Parish Priest, St John the Baptist, Bonnyrigg
- 2006-07 Assistant priest St Francis Xavier's, Moree (Diocese of Armidale) 'on exchange'
- 2008-2009 Parish Priest, St Patrick's Sutherland
- 2009-2011 Parish Priest, All Saints, Liverpool
- 2011- Current Bishop of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
Other recent appointments include being a member of the Archbishop's Council of Priests and Chairman of the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Board.
Not long before ordination, he said of the diocese he had only just encountered, "The principles of collaborative decision making and co-responsibility sit comfortably - implementation can be tricky! A large part of the early agenda is just to get around, meet people and see the places. Bishops can't take refuge in co-responsibility either…somebody's got to own the decision. The alternative: responsibility is so diffuse you don't know how it happened."
When asked about his hopes for the diocese, Bishop Bill said, "I would like to see much more evidence of a church of ideas, so that at the heart of things, there are some very strong Christian religious ideas, instead of rote practices or 'emotional devotionals'. We believe that human reason can attain to truth, so I would like to see in Catholicism a church that really valued the intelligence and rationality of its people, that engaged with questions and sensible answers. Intelligent participation in public affairs, and life, is hard work; you can't just say, 'There it is, take it or leave it. If you don't believe that you're not a good Catholic.'
Bishop Bill speaks often of a "seriousness of intent" that is central to what the church is about, in responding to education issues, addressing the declining number of clergy, encouraging young people to come on board, repairing the damage done in recent times to the Church's reputation. There are echoes here of his Jesuit education and he has said that, "It's only in later life that I realise how much Jesuitism has snuck in by osmosis." He speaks of "a Jesuitical voluntarism…a decision's got to be made, make it, do it." Bishop Bill admits that "I have been known in the past to change my mind - not often."
'Down time' may involve reading (history, church history, modern literature and classics, scriptural studies), tennis, bushwalking (not so far these days) and travel.
That sanguine nature mentioned earlier asserts itself again when he says, "There's a lot that can, and should, be left in God's hands."
Previous bishops of the Diocese of Maitland include:
- Charles Henry Davis OSB (1848 - 1854)
- James Murray (1865 - 1909)
- Patrick Vincent Dwyer (1909 - 1931)
- Edmund Gleeson CSsR (1931 - 1956)
- John Toohey (1956 - 1975)
- Leo Morris Clarke (1976 - 1995)
- Michael Malone (1995 - 2011)