Celebrating 20 Years: Bishop Don Sproxton marks anniversary of Episcopal Ordination

04 Apr 2022

By Jamie O'Brien

Perth Auxiliary Bishop Don Sproxton 20th anniversary of Episcopal Ordination.
Bishop Sproxton waves to the congregation, following his Episcopal Ordination, Thursday 21 February 2002 at St Mary’s Cathedral. Photo: Archdiocese of Perth.

It’s not often a parish priest gets a call from an Apostolic Nuncio and it was no less of a shock when in 2001 then Mirrabooka Parish Priest, Fr Don Sproxton got the call from Archbishop Francesco Canalini, who was Apostolic Nuncio to Australia at the time.

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of his Episcopal Ordination, Bishop Sproxton spoke with The Record Editor Jamie O’Brien about his time as Auxiliary Bishop.

What was your initial reaction to receiving the call to become Bishop – and where were you at the time?

I received a phone call from then Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Canalini in early November.

I had just come back to the parish house after visiting Bunbury for an ordination (a time when mobile phones were not so common and we had to rely on the trusty home phone and answering machine).

I had been in Bunbury for Bishop Gerard Holohan’s first celebration of ordinations (Bishop Gerard was appointed in June 2001 and ordained in September that year).

It came as a bit of a shock, or more of a surprise rather. Having previously been secretary to Archbishop Goody and then Archbishop Foley, (1981 to 1987) I understood what the role and work of a Bishop looked like and I have to admit, I was somewhat daunted by it all.

However, I remember the Nuncio saying to me, “I can understand you would be surprised and perhaps a little fearful, as we [fellow bishops] all have been ourselves.”

“The Lord will help you and give you what you need,” were his exact words.

I was then given a short time to consider and I wrote to him to say I had accepted the nomination.

Who has been/is your biggest inspiration/role model in your life as a priest and Bishop and why?

I would say Archbishop William Foley.

He was the Vocations Director when I entered the seminary in 1971 and later became Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral in 1976; I was appointed to St Mary’s Cathedral by Archbishop Goody to minister as a deacon until my ordination to the priesthood in December 1977.

After my ordination I was appointed as an assistant priest, and so I worked with him fairly closely during those years.

Later, he went to Geraldton after his appointment as Bishop in 1981, returning to Perth when he became Archbishop in 1983, at which point I was Secretary to Archbishop Goody.

Archbishop Foley asked me continue in that role for another four years, after which I became Parish Priest at Wongan Hills (1988) and then Mirrabooka (1993).

I was always very impressed by his care and pastoral approach for people.

He was very influential in my development as a priest.

What has been some of the highlights of your role as Bishop over the last 20 years – and why?

I had the privilege of serving on the Catholic Education Commission as a Commissioner for 18 years.

I have also contributed to the work of St John of God Health Care as Chair of the Members Representatives, for the same amount of time, which I have very much enjoyed.

I have also very much enjoyed my role, working with Archbishop Hickey when I was first appointed and now with Archbishop Costelloe, covering so many areas of administration and ministry.

What else would you like to achieve/do/hope for, over the next 10 years or so?

I have another six years before retirement, so I guess in this time, I want to have more time in the parishes; spending time with the parish priests and their people, getting to know the communities and understanding what their needs are.

And also, helping them navigate through the various challenges and issues they face.

I am looking forward to the work that transpires from the Transition Project which will hopefully release Archbishop Costelloe and myself so that we can engage with the parishes and agencies more in the work that they do.

What do you think/feel should be done to better announce the gospel?

I believe the mission of the parishes is to announce the gospel in all of its activities and in all their ministries; this should be their starting point.

Over the past few years, I have been working in the priority area of Strengthening and Revitalising Parishes, also known as Parish Renewal, as part of the 2016-2021 Archdiocesan Plan.

The Parish Renewal priority area works to help parishes become more effective in announcing the Gospel, helping our parish communities develop that sense of mission in each person so that they can be an example of faith to others.

And finally, what has been your biggest challenge during your time as Bishop?

I think initially for me, it was moving away from being a parish priest, which meant that I no longer had that direct involvement in a particular parish.

For us bishops the other major challenge is to make sure our parishes are safe especially for children. We have an important role and opportunity to make our parishes safe.

In our Archdiocese, we have the Safeguarding Project, which has been a magnificent initiative of Archbishop Costelloe that I have been very happy to support.