After months of quiet in the City of Melbourne, the 150-year-old bells of St Patrick’s Cathedral rang with glee on Saturday 31 July for the episcopal ordination of the Most Reverend Martin Ashe and the Most Reverend Anthony John Ireland, Melbourne’s newest auxiliary bishops.

The pandemic has posed many challenges for the city’s public events, and Saturday’s ordination Mass was no different with attendees capped at 100 following an earlier easing of restrictions in Victoria. Albeit a smaller crowd, there was a palpable sense of joy throughout the cathedral as two of Melbourne’s most respected and senior priests joined the College of Bishops. Archbishop Peter A Comensoli led the Mass which was broadcast live to Community TV Channel C31 and the Archdiocesan YouTube Channel.

Also present were Most Reverend Terence Curtin (Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne), Most Reverend Gregory Bennet (Bishop of the Diocese of Sale), Most Reverend Denis Hart (Archbishop Emeritus of Melbourne), Most Reverend Paul Bird CSsR (Bishop of the Diocese of Ballarat), Most Reverend Hilton Deakin (Bishop Emeritus of Melbourne), Most Reverend Les Tomlinson (Bishop Emeritus of Sandhurst), Very Reverend Joseph Caddy (Vicar General of Melbourne) and other concelebrating priests.

In his homily, Archbishop Comensoli said that of the promises a bishop makes, what stands out is their call to be ‘courageous missionary disciples’ sent to proclaim ‘the name and saving life of Jesus Christ to all those who are open to hearing this joyful message … it is what Fr Martin and Mgr Tony are called to today, to live out faithfully in their lives.’

‘Here, in these men of God, may the name and life of Jesus Christ find a firm foothold, that the Spirit of the Lord given to them today might flow out into the lives of God’s people.’

An integral part of an episcopal ordination is the laying of hands where, in silence, each of the bishops present confers upon the Bishops-elect the grace to be good and wise shepherds. It is this simple action and accompanying prayer that enters the elect into the unbroken succession of the Apostles, who by the power of the Holy Spirit receive the fullness of Holy Orders and the authority to teach, govern and sanctify.

Both bishops were visibly moved by the occasion as they each offered their thanks and prayers to those present and watching online.

Bishop Martin Ashe gave a special mention to his family back home in Ireland. ‘I would like in a special way to acknowledge my family, my relatives and friends in Killarney and (County) Kerry and other parts of Ireland, who are with us this morning … although for them, it is the middle of the night. I’m sure that they won’t stop celebrating, just because it is the middle of the night. But you are very much in my thoughts today.

‘The seed the faith, and the reality of God’s love, found a place in my heart as a little child. And my mother and father’s faith was an important part of this … My mother is with us today through live streaming. I say hello to you, particularly. To be standing before you, as a bishop here in Melbourne is an acknowledgement of where it all began. My gratitude to God for that is part of my journey.’

Bishop Ireland also expressed his gratitude and paid special tribute to the many parishioners he has served over the years.

‘I have seen dedicated service, loyal love for the Church and passionate devotion to Jesus Christ. To live and work among you is truly inspiring.

‘In particular, I wish to thank the people of St Gregory’s Doncaster, which has been my home and mission for the last 12 years. Many of you would have loved to have been in the cathedral today. I thank you for all the messages that you have sent assuring me that you are with us in spirit and in prayer, and virtually.’

Bishop Ireland explained that his wooden crozier was a gift from the people of St Gregory’s, and in a special way represents the parish church which he now leaves.

‘My predecessor Fr Michael Sheehy built the church and everything is in wood,’ he said. ‘And so the crosier that has been presented to me by the Parish of Gregory’s depicts [this] and will be with me for the rest of my life.’

Friends, parishioners and fellow bishops from around Australia filmed these words of congratulations and thanks for Bishop Ashe and Bishop Ireland: