A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Death of a Marist

Bishop Robin Leamy SM

Born: 27 July 1934

Ordained: 21 July 1958

Died: 1 January 2022

Bishop Robin Leamy SM died aged 87 on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Bob grew up in Khandallah, Wellington, the third in a family of five children. At St Pat’s, Silverstream where Bob went to secondary school, he was known as a great cricketer and sportsman. He was selected as captain of the New Zealand Brabin Shield under 21 side but the tour was cancelled due a waterfront strike. So, he went to Greenmeadows to the Marist Seminary.

After his ordination in 1958, he completed his MA with honours at the University of Canterbury. Discerning a missionary calling, Bob went to Oceania. In 1963 he was appointed as the Director of Catholic Education in Samoa. 

From 1971-76 he was Marist regional superior in Samoa assisting and caring for Marists there. In1977 he was appointed provincial of the Oceania province of the Society of Mary and he left Samoa to live in Fiji. He became the provincial leader of the whole Marist province of Oceania - a formidable group at that time in 8 different Pacific countries, both Melanesian and Polynesian, French speakers as well as English speakers. Bob was quickly recognised as being concerned for each man in his province. He worked hard to visit each as often as possible. It is recorded that on getting home from one of his visitations he commented that he had slept in a different bed for each of the 56 previous nights. He did not mention riding on rough badly formed roads, or in rough seas in small boats. But those experiences were certainly part of his missionary life. 

Robin Leamy was appointed as Bishop of Rarotonga in 1984. In his funeral homily, Msgr Farmer, who worked in Rarotonga with Bob, recounted that during his first full day in Rarotonga, he was not to be found in the office. Instead, he went out in shorts and tee shirt, with racquet and tennis shoes, found a tennis court and enjoyed playing a game with complete strangers.

“He was a mature man,” Msgr Farmer said, “well-grounded and put together in every way. He knew how to give himself space, and this he would not compromise on. He didn’t get his identity from his work. He wasn’t one to rush around in order to save the world. His love of sport — especially cricket, tennis, rugby and golf — all of these opened avenues to people of all walks of life.”

As a missionary leader Bob was a man of prayer; but it was his more public activities that gained him notice among those he served. He enjoyed being with his people, visiting their homes, playing tennis or simply sharing a meal. He was a very social person but it was always a part of his ministry. 

Bishop Bob fell ill in 1996, and was diagnosed with pancreatitis and a heart disorder. St John Paul II accepted his resignation as Bishop of Rarotonga, and he returned to Auckland, where he assisted Bishop Patrick Dunn.

Msgr Farmer also noted that Bob had “always very strongly identified himself as a Marist, a son of Mary, a disciple of Mary.”

Bob’s youngest sister, Sr Patricia, SMSM, added that “It is beautiful that Jesus and Mary came for you Bob on a Saturday, and on the Solemnity of the Mother of God”.

Bishop Bob heard Christ’s call to go out to the whole world and proclaim the gospel – for him it was the many different parts of the world of the Pacific. Throughout his life, he was, as Isaiah proclaimed “a messenger of good news”.

Msgr Farmer concluded his homily by saying, “You have sailed the Pacific in rust buckets, like the apostle Paul, for the sake of the Gospel, but now you are at home in the Father’s house”.

Fr M O’Connor SM and the NZ Catholic

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