The night two archbishops could have been killed
FORMER Catholic archbishop of Brisbane John Bathersby has been farewelled in a moving ceremony in which he was remembered as a loving, humble man of great wit and deep spirituality.
Mourners at St Stephen's Cathedral in central Brisbane were told the church would normally have been filled beyond capacity to farewell a man so deeply loved. But the threat of the coronavirus limited the congregation to 500.
Pope Francis sent a personal letter of condolence, while representatives from all major churches as well state and local governments were present.
Scores of priests attended yesterday's service, their presence seen both on the alter and in the pews.
Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge took the congregation back to Rome in the 1980s when both he and John Bathersby were younger men, studying theology and spirituality at the Vatican.
A weekly highlight for the priests was a Saturday night meal at a Rome restaurant where all present enjoyed good food and "possibly drank to much wine".
Archbishop Bathersby would hold court with his wit and humour, sharing anecdotes and recalling the marvellous characters of the Toowoomba diocese in which he had served as a young priest.
"He was delightful, often hilarious company," Archbishop Coleridge said.
One night after dinner, Archbishop Bathersby offered Archbishop Coleridge a ride home on his motor scooter.
Archbishop Coleridge said he "hung on for dear life'' as the scooter roared along the wet cobblestone streets of Rome and "was never more relieved to get home".
Looking back now, he said he found the Roman scooter trip extraordinary.
"Two Archbishops of Brisbane were on the Vespa that night, and both of us could have been killed," he said.
The pair first met when John Bathersby was spiritual director at Brisbane's Banyo Seminary and invited the young Mark Coleridge, then a young priest in Melbourne, north for a spiritual retreat.
Archbishop Coleridge said he expected to find a deep "otherworldly'' figure when he arrived.
"What I found could hardly have been more different," he said.
"He was an Aussie original and a Queensland classic."
Archbishop Bathersby's spirituality ran deep and he possessed a high level of intelligence, he said.
But he combined this with a robust physicality which allowed for a life long passion for sports and mountain climbing.
Archbishop Bathersby did not speak the language of philosophy nor specialise in intellectual argument, Archbishop Coleridge said.
Instead he offered "the argument of love".
Archbishop Bathersby, 83, led the Brisbane Archdiocese from December 3, 1991, until his retirement on November 14, 2011, one of only five Catholic archbishops of Brisbane since 1917.
He died at The Wesley Hospital at Auchenflower on March 9 after a long illness.