Canberra Citizen of the Year

2009


Patrick Percival Power (born 1942)

Pat Power assists Archibishop Clancy at the blessing of St John the Apostle school, Florey 

Father Pat Power assists Archibishop Clancy at the Blessing of St John the Apostle School, Florey, 16 June 1979.

SOURCE: ACT Heritage Library image 000987, Canberra Times Collection.  Photographer Pat Brazil.

Pat was born in Cooma on 11 February 1942, the eldest of five children, and only son, of Kenneth Francis Power (died 1976) and Elsie Margaret ‘Olga’ nee Bookallil (1908-1995).

Olga was the only daughter of Nicholas and Margaret Bookallil. Nicholas was born in Machghara, Lebanon in 1867 and emigrated to Australia in about 1892, living first in Wellington before setting up his general store in Cooma in 1894. On his long service leave in 2008 Pat visited relatives in Lebanon before undertaking a 700km pilgrimage, on foot, to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Some of Ken’s Irish ancestors arrived in Sydney with the First Fleet; his own family lived in Croydon, Sydney and he had been on the staff of Loneragan’s flour mill in Gulgong before his marriage in 1939. Ken met Olga on a visit to Cooma. They married in 1939 and lived in Cooma until mid 1942 when Ken returned to Sydney to work in munitions, then settled in Queanbeyan in 1945.

Ken worked in shops in Kingston, so when Pat started school they shared the morning bus ride, Pat continuing on to Manuka to St Christopher’s school. In 1954 he was one of 330 foundation students at St Edmund’s College, Griffith, the first Catholic boys’ school to open in Canberra, but after his first year was sent to Chevalier College at Bowral, mainly to encourage better study habits. Pat is not sure that he received a better education at Chevalier but he did learn leadership.

From his first Holy Communion at St Christopher’s, aged seven, Pat considered the priesthood. It was not an immediate vocation, just an option in the back of his mind that began to take shape at the end of high school, and even then with some reluctance. His frequent attendance at Mass, ''mainly praying I would do all right during the Leaving Certificate'', was interpreted differently by the local priest who suggested that instead of taking science at university he should train for the priesthood. This was a seven-year course of study and self-discovery, and on the understanding that he could leave at any time Pat entered St Columba’s College, Springwood in 1959, finishing his studies at St Patrick’s College, Manly.

Although he did not enjoy seminary life, which he saw as a very closed society, he stayed the course. He claimed later that three things got him through: “the desire to be a priest, the friendship of my classmates and the holidays. Namely the time to come back to the real world and be reconnected with family and friends.'' He was ordained on 17 July 1965 at St Raphael’s in Queanbeyan, then posted briefly to Braidwood before returning to Canberra as junior curate at St Christopher’s church, Manuka for five years. The position carried with it chaplaincies to St Edmund’s and the Catholic Girls’ High School (later St Clare’s College), and to Canberra’s hostels as well as to the Young Christian Workers.

After two years at the parish of Saints Peter and Paul in Goulburn he was asked by Archbishop Thomas Cahill, then head of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, to study canon law at Propaganda Fide College in Rome. From 1972 to 1975 he was one of five Australians and New Zealanders among 180 students, about half from Africa and many others from Vietnam, South America and former communist countries. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience, while learning first hand how it felt to be in a minority in a strange land. Much of his life since then has been as an advocate for those on the margins of society.

Pat returned to Australia and was appointed secretary to Archbishop Cahill. The Archbishop could be intimidating, although Pat found that he appreciated straight talk; the main difficulty was that ''everything had to be done yesterday.'' Cahill died in 1978 and Pat then worked for his successors Edward Clancy and Francis Carroll, learning from their very different styles. He also served on the marriage tribunal, dealing with people wanting annulment. Already stressed by their own situation they often had to cope with uninformed criticism from others. It was a useful preparation for Pat’s return to being parish priest in Queanbeyan in 1985.

Pastoral care has always been his first love, but this term in his home parish was short – a bare 15 months. The position of auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese was vacant; Pat was one of three being considered. Not wanting to leave parish work so soon he wrote strong letters of support for the other candidates but the ploy failed. He was consecrated on 18 April 1986, the first locally born man appointed a bishop in the diocese. Not having his own diocese or See, Pat was also created Bishop of the titular (in name only) See of Oreto, Spain.

In Queanbeyan Pat had become involved in ecumenical work, particularly with the Anglican and Uniting Churches. Throughout his 26 years as Bishop he promoted inter-church co-operation and understanding, and counted Anglican Bishop Browning as one of his dearest friends. The ecumenical movement developed strongly in Canberra, in 1992 leading to the establishment of the ACT Council of Christians and Jews that Pat chaired jointly with Jewish representative Dr Hilton Stone.

As Pat settled into the role of bishop he realised that he was not giving up pastoral care, just finding new ways to help people, particularly by being a voice for people who might not otherwise be heard. Archbishop Carroll, also a man who never lost sight of his primary role as a priest, allowed Pat to spend much of his time in community activities. Part of the accolade on Pat’s award of Canberra Citizen of the Year summed up a life spent in the betterment of society:

''Bishop Power's commitment extends far beyond the Catholic community. He can always be found providing comfort, companionship and spiritual guidance to those in need, attending to the sick and bereaved, speaking out against prejudice and inequality, or advocating publicly for Aboriginal reconciliation, refugee welfare, peacekeeping, racial respect, the unemployed and the rights of the old and the dying,''

Always an intelligent interpreter of the church’s doctrines, and willing to explain his beliefs, Pat also tackled the big questions facing the church and society: homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the ordination of women, married priests and sexual abuse of children. He has been heard, if not always listened to or agreed with. Nonetheless, when it was time to appoint a new archbishop in 2005, the church hierarchy was left in no doubt that the new man had to be able to work with Pat Power. “The combination of a Canberra archbishop who is a skilled negotiator wedded to the well-known ability of Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Power to proclaim the Christian message publicly, clearly and courageously would be a great advantage for the Australian church.”

In due course Archbishop Mark Coleridge was appointed, moved on, and was replaced by Pat as administrator of the diocese until a successor was found. This time, Pat also decided to move on. Then 70 and the longest-serving Australian bishop, in June 2012 he retired from “meetings and bureaucracy” to return to a pastoral role as Father Pat, a supplementary priest in Canberra and in all the small rural parishes that have no resident priest.

Awards and Distinctions

  • 2006 ACT Honour Walk
  • 2009 Canberra Citizen of the Year for contribution to the ACT community by providing comfort, companionship and spiritual guidance to those in need and for speaking out against various issues including reconciliation, racial respect and the rights of the unemployed, the aged and the dying
  • 2012 Queanbeyan Honour Walk

Publications

2015 Power, Pat, Joy and hope: pilgrim priest and bishop, Kew East, Vic, David Lovell Publishing

Select Bibliography

1985 'Archbishop's secretary happy to return to parish work.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 23 January, p. 25, viewed 17 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122479717

1986 'Wednesday Magazine. Bishop 'a man of the people'.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 23 April, p. 27, viewed 17 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article118200215

1993 'PERSPECTIVE Appreciating the beliefs of others.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 28 April, p. 27, viewed 17 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article126985320

2012 SPEAKING TO POWER, The Canberra Times, 30 June.


See other Canberra Citizens of the Year.