Bishop Barry Jones (2007-2016)

Listen to a Catholics on Air interview with, then, Monsignor Barry Jones about his work with the Maori Community in Christchurch (19 March 2000)


Neighbourhood kids marked lines in chalk on a Rangiora back street for their rugby games. From this humble melee of rucks and scrums emerged a humble bishop. Even in his red-trimmed soutane and skullcap, Bishop Barry Jones never forgot where he came from.

He might not have forgotten skinned knees and bruises either, from spirited rugby matches played on asphalt – plus soccer, hockey and tennis battles. Thankfully, the price of playing on the street was no worse than minor scrapes, as few cars ventured down this no-exit lane. The pay-off came in the shape of skills that would stand the young Jones boy well as a talented sporting all-rounder and 1st XV rugby player at St Bede’s College.  His belief in physical fitness, spawned in his love of sports, drove him to continue running and cycling long distances well into middle age.

Barry Philip Jones and his twin-brother Ray were born at Rangiora in 1941. As infants they would have been hardly aware of parents Harry and Ellen building their own home, down that quiet street, in that peaceful North Canterbury town.  Younger brother Allan, who became a Marist priest, says Barry and Ray were always known simply as “the twins”. They were a “very tight unit”, he says. Allan, in turn, was always addressed by Barry as “old son”. The boys had one sister, Pauline.

Kids of all sorts joined in the mini test matches outside the Jones’ home. Their miniature Lancaster Park developed a “sense of streetness”, Fr Allan says.

Religious differences meant nothing in the rough-and-tumble clashes, though the Jones boys attended St Joseph’s Catholic School and most of the others went to the local state school. The differences were equally disregarded on the daily commute by train to Christchurch for secondary schooling. Bishop Barry mixed easily with boys heading to St Andrew’s, Christ’s College or Christchurch Boys’ High – boys he would be playing against on Saturdays for St Bede’s.

This friendliness was reflected later when, as a priest, he greeted the growing tide of Christian ecumenism. He retained friendships with his childhood mates for the rest of his life. Bigotry had no place in his thinking. Fr Allan says he identified himself as Catholic but, among his friends, the different faiths “merged as salt in water”.

Bishop Barry was a top-stream student at St Bede’s. He excelled in his favourite subjects, Latin and French. His love of language led him in later life to learn Te Reo Maori. His fluency was a great help in his work with the Canterbury Maori community. 

Fr Allan remembers his teenaged brother Barry being very active in the St Joseph’s youth club. He took part in the social activities and played drums in the band for club dances.

In school holidays he worked at various jobs, including potato-picking, cleaning at the Rangiora Farmers store, pouring petrol, and delivering groceries by van. The name he made as a hard worker lasted through the rest of his life. He was often noted for the long hours he spent working during his time as Bishop of Christchurch.

Bishop Barry entered Holy Name Seminary at Riccarton in 1960. He completed his studies for the priesthood at Holy Cross College in Mosgiel and was ordained by Bishop Brian Ashby at Rangiora in 1966.

Forty years of priestly service in the Christchurch Diocese followed. He served as assistant priest at Timaru, the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch, Greymouth, and Sockburn. He was parish priest consecutively at Kumara, Akaroa and Greymouth and parish administrator at Riccarton, Bryndwr and the Cathedral.

His specialist pastoral appointments included chaplain to Te Rangimarie, the Christchurch Maori mission. He was chaplain also to Burnham Military Camp and Vice Rector of Good Shepherd House, a study centre for men before joining the seminary. With Bishop of Christchurch John Cunneen suffering long-term ill health, Jones was appointed Coadjutor Bishop in 2006. The following year Cunneen retired and Jones became Bishop of Christchurch.

His term as bishop was dominated by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011. Extensive damage to the cathedral and the vast dislocation of everyday life for thousands of his flock became Jones’ overriding concerns. He dealt with these issues with his usual stoicism, compassion and painstaking thoroughness.

First Episcopal Mass October 2006 [#3480]

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziell said: “(Bishop) Jones was instrumental in ensuring there was a good process for investigating and weighing up options for the future of the cathedral”.

All the while the people of Canterbury were stressed and grieving from the loss of lives and limbs, homes and hopes, jobs and public services. Cardinal Dew of Wellington said the suffering and distress were “always close to mind for him and he would often express to those of us outside Canterbury the challenges and daily stresses that the people of Christchurch were experiencing. He would often be mindful and express the needs of those that were most vulnerable, such was his empathy and pastoral nature”.

The work took its toll. Bishop Jones’ health slumped and he suffered a series of strokes. Following a heart attack he was admitted to Christchurch Hospital where he died peacefully in the early morning of 13th February, 2016. He was 74.

Summing up the bishop’s character, Cardinal Dew said: “He was a man of few words but unafraid to speak his mind, and always with wisdom. He had an incredible sense of social justice, a grasp of tikanga Maori and (was) fluent in te reo”.

Dew added that Jones had a “dry sense of humour” and was a proud New Zealander with an abiding love for Rangiora. Could the cardinal have had in mind a humble home on a quiet cul-de-sac where ragged boys chased a leather ball between crooked lines of chalk?

Requiem Mass Programme 19 Feb 2016


Thank you to the author, Michael Crean

Images from the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch Archives – Unaccessioned Photographic collection

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