There is a moment forever etched in Bishop Peter Ingham’s mind.
Amid the countless times the Catholic Bishop of Wollongong has comforted the sick, performed marriage ceremonies and baptisms, or celebrated feast days and masses, one encounter has always stuck with him.
‘‘In my days in Sydney, a woman who I knew in the parish was dying from cancer and I went to see her in hospital,’’ he recalled.
‘‘The way she looked at me, it was almost like she was looking right into my soul.
‘‘You could see she was really wanting to be supported as she faced death.
‘‘It was a very impressive moment that I’ve never forgotten because I could sense she was trying to reach me to give her what she needed at the critical time in her life.’’
On the eve of his 50th anniversary of becoming a priest, Bishop Ingham was reflective.
Ordained on July 18, 1964, when he was just 23 years old, he remembers the ceremony as one of the most spiritual moments of his life.
After seven years at the seminary, he was ordained at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, alongside two other Illawarra ministers – Father Bryan Jones and Father Maurice Rosa.
In the five decades since, having seen the good and bad of human nature, he has found what he believes could be the key to happiness.
‘‘To my mind, as I’ve got older, life is about relationships,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s about the way we relate to each other and how we support and help each other.’’
During his priesthood, Bishop Ingham has served as an assistant priest, the private secretary for Cardinal Freeman, secretary of the Archdiocese of Sydney and as a parish priest in Ryde.
In 1993, he was ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, before being made Bishop of Wollongong in 2001.
Although the bishop never wavered in his decision to become a priest, he has faced other challenges during his years with the church.
Most recently, he spoke at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, expressing his frustration at the time it took for Wollongong priest John Gerard Nestor to be removed from the ministry.
‘‘As bishop, I’ve tried to uphold the standards and make sure we’re trying to eliminate the possibility of children being at risk,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ve worked hard to protect children and introduce procedures to ensure that.’’
Bishop Ingham is required to resign from his position on his 75th birthday.
But he has no intention of ending his service to his parishioners, partly in thanks for what it has given him.
‘‘I’ve been reflecting on the fact that over the years I’ve learnt more than I’ve ever taught, because you learn from each other,’’ he said.
‘‘I often look at the congregation at Mass and think the faith and the goodness that’s in those people, I’d like to get some of that too.’’
His golden jubilee was also acknowledged by Pope Francis, who sent the bishop a letter, written in Latin, expressing his congratulations and blessing the Wollongong diocese.
Wollongong, Fairy Meadow and Gwynneville parishes will celebrate Bishop Ingham’s 50th anniversary with a Mass at 10.30 on Sunday, July 20, at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Wollongong. A Diocesan Mass to commemorate the anniversary will be held in September.