“The Lord Gives, and the Lord Takes Away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

by Ken Joblin - Editor, Inform

17 September 2023

These words from the Book of Job encapsulated my response upon hearing that Pope Francis had appointed Fr John Adams as Third Bishop of Palmerston North. Our Catholic ecclesiology gives us the insight that we are all members of the Body of Christ, irrespective of diocese or parish. We are not an inward looking club, but part of the Church universal on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven. It is with that understanding that we rejoice in the appointment of Fr John Adams, most recently Parish Priest of St Peter Chanel, Waimakariri, as Third Bishop of Palmerston North. 

My next response: “But we have already given two of our priests as bishops to other dioceses.” The words of our own bishop, found in his foreword to this issue of Inform, are helpful here: “It is a wonderful sign of the fruit of a diocese, when one of their sons is chosen as a successor of the apostles.” We can certainly be thankful for the work of our Christchurch bishops, and particularly of Bishop Meeking, who worked tirelessly to form his clergy in their priestly identity and the spirituality of the diocesan priest. 

In the Christchurch Diocese, we understand only too well what it is like to await the appointment of a bishop, an experience we have had twice in the last few years. We therefore empathise with our sister diocese who has been without a shepherd for some years now, and who has patiently awaited the appointment of her third bishop. 

In late June, Bishop-elect Adams said “I was initially surprised, but then joyful to hear, just over a week ago, about the invitation to become the next Catholic Bishop of Palmerston North. Whilst I am saddened that my very happy and fulfilled days in the Diocese of Christchurch will soon come to an end, I have experienced God’s providence in my life enough to know that the power of God’s grace is not limited by location. Surely, we now live in a time that urgently needs to hear the “Good News” of the Gospel. To the people of the Palmerston North Diocese, I want to say that my prayers for you have already begun, and I am looking forward to living and sharing with you that same “Good News.” His zeal for the Gospel must surely energise his new diocese, and its fruit will not just be judged by that produced in its Hawkes Bay orchards. 

Bishop Elect John Adams Rangiora 2 2023

The list of Fr Adams’ involvement in the life of the Christchurch Diocese and beyond is long and enumerated elsewhere. When Christ calls him to Himself, his achievements will matter as much or as little as anyone else’s, but there is little doubt he has given himself entirely to this diocese and its people, wherever he has been called to minister. Fr Adams was often found leading fruitful initiatives, such as trips of young people to the Philippines and New Caledonia to assist the people there. Fr Adams works as much in support of others, as he is gifted with the ability to see the gifts in others, to mentor and encourage them, and inspire confidence and clarity of purpose. I think of Jubilate in the Town Hall in 2021, where Fr Adams hosted the event and celebrated Mass with singers from all of our schools. Indeed, my own life in this diocese began with an invitation from Fr Adams to join his Tertiary Chaplaincy Team, based at Kolbe House in 2008.

A mark of the priesthood of Fr Adams is his desire to put Christ first. Wherever he has worked, Eucharistic Adoration became a regular practice, with the parish invited to join him. I saw this in Holy Cross Seminary, where, on a Thursday morning, we were invited to join him in the chapel. He encouraged us to connect with theological students from other colleges, in the spirit of ecumenism. He was at the forefront of sporting endeavours, being a dedicated golfer, tennis player, and table tennis player. We were never in doubt about the rugby prowess of the Crusaders. Fr Adams kept up his interest in choral singing at the seminary, organising international tours for two choirs, and encouraging us to give concerts with Auckland choirs with whom he also sang. All this was achieved while being a very good academic student. His view of the Church is certainly international, and he does not suffer from a localised myopia. While always involved in the busy Easter Triduum in his parish, Fr Adams found time to join with our Cathedral Choir and Orchestra on Good Friday evening for the yearly performance of Bach’s St John Passion. Our tenor section was always grateful for his help with that work, along with Handel’s Messiah in December each year. We benefited from his expertise as chair of the CBS Music Trust, and I know Don Whelan is very grateful for his work.

A priest has a unique calling to be part of the lives of his people. Due to Fr Adams’ involvement with the annual Hearts Aflame Summer Schools, his connection with New Zealand’s younger Catholics is extensive. He has celebrated any number of weddings. Fr Adams takes spiritual direction very seriously, always seeking it out and offering it to others. He has guided many of our younger people as they discern marriage, priesthood, or religious life. All priests are called upon to walk with people in grief, and Fr Adams is no exception, at times doing so with people who are facing real tragedy.

It is a great gift for anyone to mix comfortably with many people, while remaining authentic and credible. Fr Adams is as comfortable with the Charismatic movement as he is with those dedicated to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, with people for whom sport is their passion, along with those for whom sacred music is at their heart, for those who have lived faithful lives at the heart of the Church, and for those who have yet to discover the depth of her Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. Fr Adams often notes that we now see more faces in a week than people saw in a century but a short time ago. He has certainly touched the lives of many in this diocese in his twenty years as a priest.

Bishop Elect John Adams Michael Gielen 2023
Bishop Elect John Adams Rangiora 2023

This article is in danger of reading like a eulogy, and of course, many priests do many good things. We are certainly grateful for what Fr John has done for us and what he means to us. While there is a sense of loss in his leaving, this keen sense of sacrifice makes the gift of Bishop-elect Adams all the greater to the Palmerston North Diocese, with whom we look forward to a deepened communion. We pray that Bishop-elect Adams will always experience God’s providence in his life, that the power of his grace is not limited by location, and that he will not lose his zeal for his people, who urgently need to hear the “Good News” of the Gospel. The Lord has indeed given. “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

The Episcopal Ordination and Installation of Bishop-elect John Adams will take place on Saturday 30 September in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Palmerston North, at 11:00am. A live stream will be made available. For further information, see our Facebook page and diocesan website.