Bishop Joseph Grech

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Bishop Joseph Angelo Grech (1948 - 2010) was the first Maltese-born person to be appointed Bishop in Australia.

Early life

Bishop Joe was born in Balzan, Malta in 1948. He began his studies in Malta where he and his fellow seminarians were told by Archbishop Michael Gonzi that they could go anywhere in the world to finish their training, work for seven years in the diocese of their choice and then decide whether or not to return to Malta. At first Bishop Joe wanted to go to America, but eventually he decided on Australia and went to Melbourne in January 1971. He had also been influenced by a visit of Cardinal Knox, Archbishop of Melbourne, to the Seminary in Malta. He continued his studies for the priesthood at the Corpus Christi Seminary, which at the time was situated at Glen Waverley in Victoria. He settled quickly, showing himself as a bright student and fine companion.

Bishop Joe was ordained priest in November 30th 1974 in Ħal Balzan, Malta, his birthplace, so as to enable his mother and siblings to share the occasion. He went back to Melbourne to work and, after the allotted seven years, Bishop Joe decided to stay for life. He served as assistant priest in various parishes including Northcote, North Altona, Maidstone and Moonee Ponds. He then became parish priest of East Brunswick, which in the 18 months he was there became a centre of vibrant Catholic life under the influence of the charismatic renewal.

In an interview with Fr Lawrence Attard, Bishop Joe said: For the first fifteen years I worked in four parishes as assistant parish priest. I was stationed in places where most people had come from Italy. The Italians accepted me as one of their own because I was fluent in their language. They get on very well with the Maltese. In North Altona I was able to meet many Maltese. In 1989 I become parish priest in East Brunswick….Maltese priests have given their considerable share to the church in Melbourne, particularly in helping immigrants from Malta and Italy, not to mention those from English-speaking countries….Maltese are known to be good mixers, they intermingle easily with other ethnic groups.

Catholic Charismatic Renewal

The Archbishop of Melbourne sent him to study Spirituality at the Gregorian University, Rome from 1990 to 1992. Upon his return he became full time chaplain to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal and then in 1997 he was also appointed to Corpus Christi College provincial seminary as spiritual director.

In the eulogy delivered by Archbishop Mark Coleridge, this made him godfather to the many prayer groups, especially Italian-speaking ones, that sprang up all over Melbourne and beyond. He also established schools of evangelisation which stirred energy for mission, turning hearers of the Word into heralds of the Word. All of this was a crucial ministry, without which many would have gone elsewhere. It also helped the rest of us to see that the only way forward for the Church is to become more missionary. Yet in some ways it made Joe seem a marginal presence in the Archdiocese, an increasingly exotic figure who was underestimated by some, as he was at different times throughout his life. A sign that things were changing in the Church came when Archbishop Pell chose Joe to be spiritual director of the seminary, an appointment which surprised some who either didn’t know Joe or who underestimated him. The same reaction came when he stood in as Vicar General for a time and even more when he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne. The seemingly exotic man from Malta had moved decisively to the centre, and that was a sign of what was happening in the Church in this country and around the world.

Diocese of Sandhurst

Bishop Joe then moved to the Western region of the Archdiocese for which he seemed so well suited. He clearly thought that there he would spend the rest of his life. He set about planning and building a house in West Footscray – and what a house it was! Known affectionately as Casa Costalot, it was almost finished when Bishop Joe was appointed to the Diocese of Sandhurst. He was appointed Bishop in November 1998.

The appointment to Bendigo was a huge surprise to him. He became the sixth Bishop of Sandhurst in 2001. He never lived in the house he built, but Archbishop Coleridge did. Bishop Joe applied himself to the mission with all his gifts. To the diocese, he brought faith, energy, humanity, enthusiasm, encouragement and simplicity. Through this time, Bishop Joe was becoming more and more an international figure within the charismatic renewal, and he could have been full-time travelling the world as a preacher and teacher.

Invitations came thick and fast, and it wasn’t easy for Joe to balance these with his growing commitments in the diocese and the Bishops Conference. At times people forget that all bishops are involved on three levels – local, national and international. Most people see only the local. But some bishops are involved more than others at the national and international level and Joe Grech was one of those, according to Archbishop Coleridge. He had been the bishops' delegate for youth and young adults and for migrants and refugees. In relation to the role of the priest in migration he said: Wherever the emigrant went, the priest went with him. The priest helped the worker not just by administering the sacraments: he guided him to the doctor, the lawyer, the bank manager; he helped set up centres for the poor, the elderly, homeless children…. He also emphasised the fact that the ability of Maltese priest to speak Italian enabled them to service the large Italian-speaking community.

Catholic Church appointments

Bishop Joe died in 2010. Catholic bishops have remembered Bishop Joseph Angelo Grech as a charismatic man with a deep love for humanity and a great enthusiasm for the gospel. At the time of his death Bishop Joe was a member of the Bishops Commission for Pastoral Life with special oversight for the pastoral care of Migrants and Refugees. He had been recently appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants. Within the Commission for Pastoral Life, Bishop Joe was also responsible on behalf of the Bishops of Australia for Youth Ministry. He was also a member of the Bishops’ Commission for Mission and Adult Faith Formation with particular responsibilities regarding Catholic Missions. Bishop Joe was also a member of the International Catholic Charismatic Council representing Oceania. He was a much sought after international speaker with particular commitment to the Charismatic Renewal Movement, Priests’ Retreats and to Young People. President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Philip Wilson said Bishop Joe was an exceptional pastor who had campaigned to establish services in remote detention centres.

Bishop Joseph Grech Memorial Fund

As a memorial to Bishop Joe, the Maltese Community Council of Victoria established the Bishop Joseph Grech Memorial Fund early 2012 to offer an annual scholarship to younger generations of Maltese- Australians from Victoria to take a more active interest in Maltese history, culture and language by experiencing them first hand during a visit to Malta. Bishop Joe was extremely passionate about working with youth and had a wonderful rapport with young people. He worked with young people to help them build their self-esteem and to realise their full potential. He had an enthusiastic manner and unique and charismatic style of preaching.

Bishop Joe came from a humble Maltese background and went on to become a Bishop in Australia. He was very proud of his Maltese culture and kept in touch with many Maltese people across Australia. He was known throughout his life for his exceptional personal qualities, which included leadership, achievement and above all an enduring love for Malta. The inaugural scholarship was awarded to the successful candidate, Rita Catania at a reception held on 11 August 2012 at the Maltese Centre in Parkville. Born in Australia of Maltese parents, Rita has been involved in the Maltese community for a long time, most recently as a co-founding member of the MCCV Youth Committee. She has been involved with the Maltese language classes, where she made several presentations.


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