A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Lofty, No Ordinary Bishop – by Kathleen Baran

Reviewed by Fr John Craddock sm

G Loft BookLofty, No Ordinary Bishop by Kathleen Baran is no ordinary biography. It is not only the outline of the life of a holy priest and Bishop but also one which allows reflections by people who knew and loved Bishop Gerry. It is more than a life’s story for it encompasses insights into war time and post World War II Catholic Family life in NZ, Marist and Mission Life in Solomon Islands, before and after its 1978 Independence, and then a glimpse into NZ in the first decade of this century. The story, complete with selected reports on this and that, gleanings from others on a variety of local topics, eulogies, testimonies, and personal reflections on the needs of people, well demonstrate the variety of situations that a missionary bishop and the church in the Pacific encompass.

The scope is quite enormous and reveals the admiration the author has of her subject. At times, as if to make sure we know the wider context, we are thrust, pushed or pulled into areas well outside a biography which makes every page turned quite exciting with sometimes the unexpected and the unnecessary! The colourful cover, a myriad of lovely coloured photos, many taken by the author on location and the quality of the production are excellent. This though does increase its weight! More detailed maps of Solomons, Auki Diocese in particular, on the inside covers in the next edition could be welcomed. Kathleen has used many primary sources, even to the extent of publishing entire letters either by Gerry or to him, indicating that every word is important for the reader to savour the nuances of this Bishop’s approach to ministry and to his personality and spirituality that spark it. Another author may have simply summarised more and interpreted more.

Bishop Gerry Loft sm

Bishop Gerry Loft sm

The reflections on Bishop Loft by local people are of immense significance as they are the ones to whom and with whom Bishop Gerry ministered. Their appreciation of him is evident. In years to come, I foretell that this biography and snapshot of the diocese of Auki and other parts of Solomons will become an essential resource for study in missiology, the founding bishop of a diocese in Melanesia, the advent of a developing local church and its necessary need for self sufficiency. I loved the action of Bishop Cardone OP, Lofty’s worthy successor, of dedicating a classy sports field at Buma in his honour and most of the youth who use it were confirmed by Bishop Loft himself. They will remember him, and hopefully follow, in sound health and Catholic life.

Kathleen Baran, author of this her first opus, is to be congratulated for her initiative, enterprise, enthusiasm and expertise in producing this wonderful Catholic resource. It deserves to be in every public library and Catholic Primary and Secondary school in NZ, Australia and the Pacific. In our times where there tends to be less public admiration, even in some Catholic circles, for the life of a dedicated missionary priest, here we have a life that allows full appreciation. It will be for another, perhaps from the diocese of Auki itself with local perspective and wisdom, who one day will take up the task of an evaluating biography on Bishop Loft.


Auki Lodge, Solomons

If you wish for a neat summary, I think there is none better than the opening sentences of the middle paragraph of page 1, where Fr Michael McVerry sm, fellow veteran Marist missionary in the Pacific, says it “was difficult to separate Gerry the man from Gerry the man of God. He was of God. This is where his passion came from.” This personal insight and the rest of this paragraph well written by the author give a glimpse into the inner life of a saintly hero.

I strongly encourage the widespread use of this book, to inspire and uplift, to give God thanks for such a life well spent, and to introduce more Kiwi Catholics to this section of our lesser known Pacific which is very much part and parcel of our Catholic heritage.    

Published by Kingfisher Books (NZ) Auckland

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