Bishop-elect Martin Ashe was born in Ireland, ordained at All Hallows College in Dublin, and at 24 arrived in his ‘new home’, Australia. For the last 43 years, he has served in various Melbourne parishes, has been pastoral director at Corpus Christi College Seminary, and was also director of Ministry to Priests for five years. All of this, he said, has prepared him for his new role as Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne.
Bishop-elect Martin Ashe is well known for his gentle, kind and pastoral nature. Throughout his priestly ministry, ‘being close to the people’ and ‘being a living sign of God’s love among the people’ has been his focus. For the past nine years, he has been parish priest at the Mernda-Whittlesea-Kinglake-Doreen parish of Christ the Light in Melbourne’s north.
Upon his recent appointment by Pope Francis to be one of two Auxiliary Bishops in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne – the other being Monsignor Tony Ireland – he wrote a letter to his parishioners. In it he wrote:
The announcement took me by surprise and all I can say is that I was humbled by the appointment from Pope Francis. He has put his trust in me in serving the Church’s mission in the world and in particular, here in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, making God’s love come alive for people. I accept this new challenge with the help of God’s grace accompanying me into the future. I would appreciate it if you could keep me in your prayers during this time.'
Reflecting on his life and journey, Bishop-elect Martin said he’s ‘very conscious of the reality of God’ in his life.
‘I am conscious of the reality of the Lord being present to me and that the Gospel of Jesus can be so life-giving for people,’ he said. ‘It can give them hope and a sense of purpose, and this is what I’d like to share with others and to be part of a community that’s doing that.’
Bishop-elect Martin grew up in Killarney, in County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland. The eldest of 11 children, his family life was immersed in the Catholic faith. He was the altar server at his local cathedral parish for a number of years and by the time he was 18, decided to ‘have a go’ at being a priest. ‘It was very natural, really,’ he said. He had an uncle in Australia who was a priest, and a number of cousins who were in religious congregations. He decided to enter All Hallows College, a seminary in Dublin established specifically for priests who’d be sent overseas.
Aged 24, he was ordained in Ireland by Archbishop Tomas O’Fiaich; he was to be a priest for the Archdiocese of Melbourne, arriving in September 1978.
‘For me, it was like an adventure,’ he said. ‘I was going out to Melbourne and I was willing to learn and to be open to whatever was there.’
His first parish was at Hadfield in Melbourne’s north. He said his Irish accent was so thick when he first arrived that he had to slow down so people could understand him. It has much improved now – so much so that when he visits Ireland, his family and friends say he has ‘an Australian accent’.
He has also served in parishes in Clayton, Blackburn and Sunbury, has worked as pastoral director at Corpus Christi seminary in Clayton, and was director for Ministry to Priests in Carlton for five years.
In all of these appointments, Bishop-elect Martin said, ‘I take every opportunity to touch the hearts of people.’
You never know what’s happening in people’s lives when you meet them but if you’re doing your best and trying to give, and you’re trying to proclaim the Gospel as best you can, then that’s what is important.'
He said, ‘We have to be a bit more conscious that for many of those in front of us, just speaking about Jesus and what Jesus offers is really at the heart of what we’re doing. We need to keep our focus on the Gospel itself and the heart of the Gospel in Jesus – that he loves us, that he’s given his life for us, that he’s there accompanying us through the power of the Spirit, that he’s offering us a way to live life to the full, and that his presence is for eternity with us too.’
Bishop-elect Martin also emphasised that the mission of the Church is to be close to and among those who are suffering.
‘Christ always had an eye for, and a heart for the one who was struggling, whatever that struggle might be. And that’s what we must be on about as well – keeping close to the woundedness of the world – so that we can offer something hopeful and something of the comfort of the Lord and something of our love really. That’s the mission.’
What gives meaning for us is how we engage with our world. For example, when we visit the sick or the elderly, what animates us is our faith. Our witness is not just speaking about Jesus but also the way we actually try to go where people are, where they’re struggling, where they need help – that’s where the mission is, that’s where Christ is going to be because you are there being Christ, and Christ is already there among them.’
Bishop-elect Martin draws much inspiration and encouragement from the life and example of Pope Francis. He said, ‘Pope Francis is trying to make us aware that every kind of action that is going out there and supporting people and meeting them where they’re at, especially where they’re suffering, is giving witness to Christ, because that’s what Christ was doing’.
He is also nourished and strengthened by his ‘relationship with the Lord’, by his prayer life and by joyful celebration of the liturgy and sacraments. He is grateful for the many long-standing friendships he has with brother priests in Melbourne and abroad. ‘I gain a lot of strength from their friendship and companionship,’ he said. ‘Also, the families and friendships I’ve made through parish life are really important to me, and not having them, I’d be less the person I am.
Little things are important to me – I like having meals with people and hospitality. And when I’m in the parish, just being close to people who are in need and being present.’
As Bishop-elect Martin prepares for his new role, he hopes his ‘heart for the people’ remains at the core. ‘Being a bishop is not something different,’ he said, ‘Ultimately, it’s really the Lord calling me in another way to continue the mission of the Church that I am really keen on giving my life to.
‘If being a bishop, please God, will help me to continue that in another way then whatever I’m being asked to do and any way that I can help to further that mission of the Gospel – with the Archbishop and his vision for the church in Melbourne – that’s what it is for me.’
Bishop-elect Martin shared that he has carried a copy of Pope Francis’ The Joy of the Gospel in his bag every day since the encyclical came out. He uses it as a regular source of inspiration and hope and will continue to do so.
‘I take it out and read just a little paragraph because I find in Pope Francis’ words and thoughts, a sense of hope and challenge,’ he said. ‘And also, there’s the whole thing of the joy of the Gospel. I try to pray that the Lord will help me to be focussed on what is good and hope-filled and that’s what we’re supposed to be on about.’
Following his ordination, Bishop-elect Martin will be based in Kingsville, in Melbourne’s west.
The episcopal ordination of Bishop-elect Martin Ashe and Bishop-elect Anthony John Ireland will take place on Saturday 31 July 2021 at St Patrick’s Cathedral from 10.30am. The Mass will be livestreamed to the Archdiocesan YouTube channel and broadcast on free-to-air TV community channel C31 (channel 44 on digital TV).