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- Published: Tuesday, 13 May 2014 15:56
LIFE STORY: BISHOP TED COLLINS MSC
SOMETHING BETTER: Edmund 'Ted' Collins answered a call to "something better"
By Damir Govorcin, Published in 2003.
Why did Ted Collins toss in a promising career in the NSW police force to join the priesthood? Well, says Ted, now the Bishop of Darwin: "It was like indigestion ... the idea kept coming back up".
The bishop's trademark sense of humour and easygoing nature have made him a much-loved figure in NSW, South Australia and the Northern Territory over the past 40 years.
This year, to mark the 40th anniversary of his ordination, celebrations were organised at St Mary's Cathedral in Darwin and at his former parish in Randwick, where he had two stints as parish priest at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (1964-67 and 1978-85).
His former parishioners showed their appreciation by packing a function room at Randwick Racecourse for a luncheon and concert to celebrate the life of a man they
call "a true shepherd".
"Bishop Collins is such a wonderful person, and he is greatly missed at Randwick," said parishioner Joan Taylor.
"With his genial disposition, he has overcome many obstacles in his life and I pray that he will spend many more years looking after the Top End."
Bishop Collins says he has been overwhelmed by the love and support he has received over the years, and was delighted to "return home" to Randwick to see so many old friends.
"I spent 12 years at Randwick, so it has a special place in my heart," he says. "It was terrific to see so many familiar faces and I was amazed by the turnout."
Ted Collins, the youngest of five children in an Irish-Catholic family, grew up in Bermagui on the NSW far south coast.
He was a keen sportsman and loved surfing, cricket, golf, rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules.
"Bermagui was great place to grow up," he says. "There was always plenty to do.
"I was always active and tried my hand at many different
"I've got nothing but happy memories from my childhood."
There were tough times, though.
He was only five when his mother died, leaving his policeman father the task of raising five children on his own.
"It was a big blow, losing Mum at such a young age," says Bishop Collins.
"It put a lot of pressure on Dad, but he did a great job.
"Just my sister Madge and I are alive."
It was only natural that Bishop Collins would follow in his father's footsteps, joining the police force at the age of 16.
He was based in Sydney for eight years, describing his tenure as a policeman "as some of the happiest times of my life".
"Becoming a policeman was something that was in the blood and it was my way of helping serve the community," he says.
"I saw some gruesome things, but that was part of the job.
"I had happy memories in the police force and I wouldn't have left the job if I wasn't going on to something better.
"I would lock someone up while they were getting sober, but I didn't feel I was helping them enough."
The "something better" that was beckoning him was the priesthood.
And, in July 1963, at the age of 32 he was ordained by Cardinal Gilroy.
Apart from his two stints as parish priest at Randwick, Bishop Collins served in the parishes of Hindmarsh, Adelaide (1968-70), and Nightcliff, Darwin (1971).
He became superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in the Northern Territory and director of Catholic Missions in the Territory (1972-77) before he was ordained Bishop of Darwin in 1986.
"I always felt drawn to the priesthood," he says. "I wanted to do something better with my life.
"I felt being a priest gave me more of a chance to help someone by getting to know them and helping them with their problems.
"I haven't had any regrets with the choice I made."
Bishop Collins will never forget the night Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin in 1974.
He was attending Midnight Mass at St Mary's Cathedral when the cyclone hit on Christmas Eve, smashing everything in its path.
"We were told that the cyclone was going to hit at six on Christmas morning, but by 11.30pm it had hit and it was the most terrifying experience of my life," he recalls.
"I will never forget the roar of the wind ... the lights went out in the cathedral and windows were smashing, with glass all over the place.
"It was a devastating time ... many lives were lost and people's homes were totally destroyed. I didn't get any sleep that night and I said a few decades of the rosary."
Bishop Collins says he was excited to be appointed Bishop of Darwin, but he had a "gut feeling that it was going to happen".
"Before I went on a sabbatical to New Mexico I knew that I was in contention for the position, so it wasn't a shock when I got the job," he says.
"When I got a call in the middle of the night from my provincial to say I was appointed, I didn't think twice about accepting the position."
His reign as bishop hasn't been without controversy.
He campaigned strongly against the Northern Territory Parliament's decision to legalise euthanasia.
The Federal Government overturned the decision, banning euthanasia in the Territory.
"Euthanasia is murder and you can't legalise murder," the bishop says. "I fought tooth and nail, along with many other people, to stop it. "And, thank God, it was banned.
"I have sympathy for people in pain, but it's not the way out. "God will take you when he wants to."
Despite heart bypass surgery a few years ago, the 72-year-old bishop shows no signs of slowing down.
"I went in for back surgery, but then the doctor told me I needed a bypass," he says.
"I can still play golf, but walking long distances can be a struggle."
Asked what he will do in retirement, Bishop Collins says: "Probably play more golf"