The Pontifical Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Most Rev Hilton Forrest Deakin AM DD (1932–2022), Emeritus Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne, was held on Thursday 13 October at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne.

Most Rev Peter A Comensoli, Archbishop of Melbourne, was the principal celebrant, with concelebrants including Most Rev Denis J Hart, Archbishop Emeritus of Melbourne, several archbishops and bishops from across Victoria and Australia, Fr Joe Caddy, Vicar General, priests of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and visiting priests.

The Dean of the Cathedral, Fr Werner Utri, welcomed those of Bishop Deakin’s family who were present—his sister, Nanette, and extended members of the Deakin family and friends—and those family members and friends who couldn’t be present, including Bishop Hilton’s brother, Robin, who watched via the livestream. He acknowledged the many people present who represented the various cultural and national groups that Bishop Deakin had dealings with ‘in his fruitful ministry as priest and bishop over so many years, particularly through his work with Caritas, not least of all members of our Indigenous community. You are all very welcome.’

Archbishop Comensoli commenced the Mass at the entrance of the Cathedral in order to prepare the coffin for procession to the foot of the sanctuary. Following the sprinkling of holy water, Gerard and Damian Sexton, friends of Bishop Deakin, placed the pall on the coffin, a reminder of Bishop Deakin’s baptism.

The coffin then processed down the aisle assisted by pall bearers Fr Martin Fleming, Fr John Petrulis, Danny Kelly, Vicki Clark, Joaquim Santos and Virginia Marcal da Costa. As they did this, members of the Aboriginal community, including Sherry Balcombe, manager of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria, and Melissa Brickell, conducted a sweeping ceremony, honouring the body of Bishop Deakin, while Troy Kuhl-Brickell played the didgeridoo.

Archbishop Comensoli echoed Fr Werner’s welcome to all at the Cathedral and those online, and acknowledged the presence of Her Excellency Ines Maria De Almeida, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, former federal Member of Parliament the Hon. Kevin Andrews, Dr Kim McGrath and Basil Varghese from the Office of the Hon. Steve Bracks AC, and members of various religious congregations.

He also read a letter from the Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, His Excellency Charles Balvo, who offered his condolences and a message from Pope Francis:

Saddened to learn of the death of Bishop Hilton Forrest Deakin. His Holiness Pope Francis sends heartfelt condolences to you and to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. United with you in thanksgiving for Bishop Deakin’s many years of priestly and episcopal ministry, especially his example of Christian charity for those most in need. … Upon all who mourn the late bishop’s passing, the Holy Father cordially imparts his blessing as a pledge of consolation and strength in the Lord.

Following this, close friends of Bishop Hilton, Fr Martin Fleming and Fr John Petrulis, placed the stole and mitre on the coffin, symbols of Bishop Deakin’s priestly ordination and episcopal service. ‘As a priest, Bishop Hilton ministered in the liturgy on earth. May he now sing the Lord’s praises in the liturgy of heaven,’ read Archbishop Comensoli.

Her Excellency Ines Maria De Almeida placed the Medal of the Order of Timor-Leste on the coffin, and Damian Noseda, Bishop Hilton’s driver for many years, placed an arrangement of Australian native flowers. The first reading was read by Bishop Hilton’s sister, Nanette, with the general prayers of intercession read by representatives of the Chinese, East Timorese, West Papuan, Congolese, Ukrainian and South Sudanese Catholic communities in their native languages. Nephews Paul and Terry Deakin brought up the offertory gifts as members of the Timor-Leste community sang.

Archbishop Comensoli shared some reflections on Bishop Hilton Deakin in his homily:

‘It was 29 years ago, in 1993, that I first heard that deep, resonant voice of Bishop Hilton Deakin. I was a newbie priest, recently appointed to assist Wollongong’s diocesan director of, then, Australian Catholic Relief. Hilton himself was a newly minted Bishop who had been appointed to the Bishops’ Commission for Justice, Development and Peace. We met, and I heard his voice for the first time, at an ACR diocesan directors’ conference.

‘At the time, I recall particularly Bishop Hilton’s striking way of speaking, and I was taken by the impact of what he said, though I have no memory of the content. He left a first-meeting impression like few could. I was completely unaware at the time of the priestly life he had already lived and the significant voice he had already raised with regard to the lives, culture and faith of the Indigenous peoples of Australia. And I was unaware of his then recent first engagement with another people, the East Timorese, and the voice he would develop with regard to their lives and struggles.

‘And I didn’t know at the time that this voice of his had nearly been permanently silenced some years before. “What use is a priest who cannot talk.” Of course, we are referring here to Father Hilton, that faithful man of God who nonetheless exercised his voice in ways that were not always appreciated by others. Such is the nature of a forthright preacher! Yet, his was a voice that, in the way of the prophet Micah, sought to act justly, to love faithfully and to walk with God (sometimes humbly!)

‘That other prophet, Isaiah, spoke of the Lord’s voice assuring his people that their tears would be wiped away and the veil covering their faces would be removed on the day of salvation. This promise of God’s would find fulfilment in his Son, who came so as to gather his people, lost and in need; no one was to be lost along Christ’s journey to Calvary; all who would have need to call to him were to be raised up with him.

Hilton seemed to have had an innate sensitivity to the tears of God’s people; he had a modern-day passion of an Old Testament prophet to seek the ways of God’s justice. He struggled for cultural renewal and pathways to peace. He did not ask ‘why’ from a distance but took seriously God’s call to him to be an active and persistent voice for God’s people who longed to belong.

‘This is reflected here today in you, the people who have gathered for his funeral: Indigenous Australians, the peoples of Timor-Leste and West Papua, the Chinese Catholic community, along with the Sudanese and Congolese; the Ukrainian Church; parishioners of Mt Eliza Parish and the Catholic faithful of Melbourne and beyond; priests and bishops; sisters and brothers from other churches and faiths.

‘We are—together—those people who the Lord of Hosts promises to gather on his holy mountain. It is where, in faith and hope, we pray that our brother and friend and shepherd, Hilton Forrest Deakin, has now come to have his tears wiped away and his sins forgiven. On this mountain the justice of God is united with his mercy, and peace reigns.’

Bishop Deakin Hilton has been buried in the Clergy Crypt at the Melbourne General Cemetery.

All photos by Fiona Basile.