Townsville's new shepherd

Bishop-elect Fr Tim Harris

Townsville's sixth bishop was sitting in his presbytery kitchen when he learned his predecessor had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, writes Emilie Ng at the Catholic Leader.

Over the kitchen table at the Clear Island Waters church presbytery in 2012, Bishop Michael Putney told the parish priest and one of his former students in the seminary, Fr Tim Harris, that he was dying of cancer.

"I was one of the first to hear that he had cancer, and that things were not good," Fr Harris said. "He shared that information with me in my kitchen here at the presbytery.

"So isn't it interesting – he knew his health was in serious decline, I was one of the first to know, and I ended up his successor."

Pope Francis appointed Fr Harris, the Surfers Paradise parish priest, as Bishop of Townsville on Wednesday, February 8.

Bishop Putney died on March 28, 2014.

"It's a great honour and privilege to lead after Bishop Michael Putney," Fr Harris said.

"They are big shoes to fill. Every successor says that, but in this case I really mean it – he's a sacramental theologian, world renowned ecumenist.

"I'm neither of those – I'm a pastor who is like a general practitioner, who has to have an idea about everything and try to do my very best in those circumstances."

Bishop-elect Harris was on his way to take his mum to the dentist when he received the call about his episcopal appointment.

Roughly 20 minutes from the nursing home, he answered a call from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana.

The nuncio advised Fr Harris to "pull over immediately". "It was the longest message delivered to me ever, and I just listened carefully, closed my eyes. "I said, 'I accept, with the grace of God', not knowing what is before me.

"Because if I didn't say that ... I think I deny the work of the Holy Spirit, or really, deny God's grace in my life." "I'm not Bishop Michael Putney, I'll be Bishop Tim Harris but I will do my very best."


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