The Most Reverend John Lewis Adams was ordained and installed as the third Bishop of Palmerston North in a vibrant and prayerful, 130-minute Mass on Saturday, 30 September 2023. Around 700 people attended the Mass in a crowded Cathedral of the Holy Spirit. Over a thousand more tuned in remotely to watch the livestream.
Eight bishops, present and retired, took part in the Mass with Bishop of Auckland Stephen Lowe as presider. Many of Bishop John’s friends and family members including his mother Joan were there, many having travelled from Christchurch, where he had been parish priest of St Peter Chanel Parish in North Canterbury.
Bishop John’s ordination marked the end of four years of Palmerston North Diocese being without a bishop, following the resignation of Bishop Charles Drennan on 4 October 2019.
‘It’s been a long journey,’ Bishop Lowe said in his welcoming remarks and turning to Apostolic Nuncio to New Zealand Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa with a smile, noted that the Diocese of Hamilton was waiting for a new bishop.
In his homily, Bishop Steve spoke of the significance of the Gospel reading that Bishop John had chosen (John 15: 9-17).
‘The words the Lord Jesus spoke to his disciples are rightly addressed to you, Bishop John, as you live out the command to love God, love neighbour and love self,’ he said.
Bishop Lowe said more than anything, a bishop was a man of prayer. New Zealand’s bishops were truly men of prayer, including Bishop-elect Adams.
‘Often as bishops we’re expected to be all things to all people. But we rapidly learn that we are called to be men of humility.
‘This is our task as bishops, in a world that is so fractured. To be a bishop is to love your brother priests, to love your people, the people that you serve as their shepherd. To be able to say, then I call you friends.’
During the Rite of Ordination, His Excellency Novatus Rugambwa read out the Apostolic Letter of Appointment, the official document from Pope Francis appointing John Adams as bishop and held it aloft.
Next came the Promise of the Elect, where Bishop John was questioned by Bishop Steve on his resolve to uphold the faith and to discharge his duty.
Afterwards Bishop John prostrated himself in front of the altar while the Litany of the Saints was sung, followed by the Laying on of Hands by his fellow bishops.
The open Book of the Gospels was then held over his head, to symbolise the primary duty of the bishop to preach the Gospel.
The final parts of the rite are the Anointing of the Head with holy chrism oil, the Investiture of the bishop’s ring, mitre and crozier, the Seating of the Bishop, where he is led to his Cathedra (Bishop’s chair), and the Kiss of Peace from all the bishops.
Towards the end of Mass, the newly ordained Bishop John approached the lectern for his address, resplendent in gold vestments and mitre, with a korowai from the Rangitāne people around his shoulders.
‘Becoming a bishop means I also inherit a new family, the priests and people of Palmerston North Diocese. The past few weeks have been a busy but hugely reassuring time for me due to the warmth of the welcome I have received. I want to thank you all for this.
Bishop Adams acknowledged the two retired Palmerston North bishops who had taken part in his ordination, Bishop Owen Dolan (coadjutor 1995–2004) and Bishop Peter Cullinane (1980–2012). This day of ordination was also Bishop Emeritus Dolan’s 95th birthday. He also thanked Msgr Brian Walsh and Fr Craig Butler who had acted as diocesan administrators while Palmerston North waited for a new bishop.
‘I want you to know that I’m confident in my ability to lead you in this task,’ he said. ‘My confidence should not be considered arrogant, for I’m confident not because of my abilities – surely they are modest – but I am confident because, with the Holy Spirit, as Luke’s gospel reminds us, anything is possible for God.’
He continued with an emotional tribute to his family, before going on to offer thanks to the people of Palmerston North who have been so welcoming, as well as friends and colleagues in Christchurch he has left behind.
‘As you might expect, a call from the Papal Nuncio brings a certain mixture of both honour and trepidation,’ he continued, speaking of the phone call he received with the news he’d been appointed Bishop of Palmerston North. ‘For me it came around the same time that I got the news that I would need to have open heart surgery. During that operation my heart was stopped for about ninety minutes.
‘“What is the Lord doing?” I remember asking myself, until I discovered that the word “Manawatū” means “to have a still heart”.’
Finally, he gave thanks to his fellow bishops.
‘I’ve already seen the multiple demands that you must bear behind the scenes. I look forward to working with you in the future and sharing something of that happy burden,’ he said.