He might have been labelled Edward the Unwilling, for Fr Edward Joyce was aghast when notified of his appointment as the fourth Bishop of Christchurch. The big, hearty but humble priest was a true Kiwi bloke of his era, known simply as Eddie to family, Ted to friends.

His qualifications for the title of “Kiwi bloke” included being a North Canterbury farm boy, pupil at state primary and secondary schools, lover of cricket and rugby, angler who enjoyed a tipple, returned serviceman who kept in touch with old mates from the war. Impressionable males admired this bulky bishop driving a brand-new Ford V8 Custom Fordor Sedan!

In spite of all this, or perhaps because of it, Edward was chosen as bishop. Not only as bishop, but as the first Mosgiel-trained and first Christchurch Diocesan priest to be elevated to this position.  Many in the diocese were as surprised by his appointment as he was. For here was a mere 46 year-old priest with minimal experience in local parishes and no academic qualifications, while any one of various senior priests and monsignori of proven ability had seemed more likely to be selected.

Edward’s initial reluctance to accept the sceptre was reflected in a comment by Auckland’s Bishop James Liston. “The news of the appointment was for the chosen one a trial that struck deep into his heart,” Liston said.

There were, of course, sound reasons for his appointment. The year was 1950. Canterbury was celebrating its centenary. World War II was in the recent past; patriotism was prevailing. Population figures were soaring and an economic boom lay just ahead. It was time for a local man, not a foreigner, nor even a North Islander, to be bishop.  It was time also for a practical Kiwi with ability to manage the changes and events that were looming. Departing Bishop Patrick Lyons (returning to Australia after setting the Christchurch Diocese on a firm financial footing) echoed this sentiment by remarking on Edward’s “unusual skill in getting things done”.

A file containing scores of letters congratulating Joyce on his appointment as bishop sits in the Diocesan Archives. The well-wishers range from church figures to military chiefs and war veterans, from rank and file Catholics to national and local government politicians and managers. Several Protestant leaders wrote endearingly, including Joyce’s personal friend, the Dean of ChristChurch Cathedral and soon to be Anglican Bishop, Alwyn Warren.

Edward Michael Joyce was born at Lyttelton in 1904. His father John, a clerk at the Lyttelton Jail, was acclaimed for his work as Acting Principal Warder. However, in 1907, John quit his job and moved the family to a farm at North Loburn, near Rangiora. John had grown up at North Loburn himself, so it may be that he was returning home to take over the family farm. However, no evidence of this can be found in the archives.  The Joyces were a deeply religious family of Irish stock. Edward’s mother Mary, nee Byrne, was a sister of the Bishop of Toowoomba, Australia. Edward’s elder brother James was a Marist priest. Other siblings were Ada, Tom and William.

Edward attended North Loburn Primary School and Rangiora High School. His reference from Rangiora principal J E Strachan said Edward was “a lad of sterling character” who had shown strong organisational skills as student representative on the school council. After just four years of secondary, he embarked on eight years of priestly training at Holy Cross Seminary in Mosgiel. Edward was ordained in 1930 by his uncle, Bishop James Byrne of Toowoomba, Australia, at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch.

His first posting was as a “loan priest” to the Auckland Diocese. In the depth of the Depression, Edward served as curate in Ponsonby, from 1931 to 1934. Vacancies were few in the Christchurch Diocese so he next considered applying for leave to serve on an outdoor preaching team in London.  However, his uncle, Bishop Byrne, was ailing so Fr Joyce was instead granted leave to serve under him in Toowoomba. His uncle died nearly two years later and Edward returned to Christchurch.

Before going overseas with the army, Fr Joyce served as Assistant Priest in the Addington Parish. He frequently visited his parents at North Loburn. His father’s 1941 diary, in the Diocesan Archives, refers to Edward’s deep concern for brother Tom who was suffering from a chronic illness. The diary refers also to Edward’s army call-up and invokes God’s care and protection for him.  Edward entered Burnham Military Camp at the end of 1941. He was demobilised four years later, having worked as chaplain to New Zealand forces in the Pacific during the Allied campaign against Japan. Based in Fiji and Tonga, he was tireless in a range of activities designed for the welfare of New Zealand soldiers, sailors and airmen, regardless of their religious beliefs – if any.

These activities naturally included sports. Edward was manager of the NZ Army cricket team and played for the South Island Army team against the North Island. As such matches were taken very seriously, he must have been at least a handy player.  An insight to Edward’s work is available in a war memoir written by Christchurch businessman Jeff Millburn. The following is a quote referring to Fr Joyce. “He was of the Roman Catholic Church. I was reared in a Presbyterian household, but if I were asked to direct you to a first grade practising Christian I would point you to Padre Joyce,” Milburn writes. He adds that Joyce “lived to serve”. He visited “every little place where any New Zealanders were stationed. “Whether Protestants, Roman Catholics, atheists, agnostics or just disinterested, everyone had a warm feeling for the padre.”  Milburn recalls that, some years after the war, Fr Joyce encouraged him and his wife to go into business. The couple followed his advice with success. They also became ardent listeners to the religious talks and sermons Fr Joyce gave on the radio.

Returning from the war, Fr Joyce was posted to the Army Reserve with the rank of Major. Meanwhile he resumed his vocation as a priest of the Diocese of Christchurch. Among other duties he was most active working with military veterans and war refugees. He also assisted at the Greymouth Parish.

Bishop Lyons then appointed Fr Joyce as an Assistant at the Riccarton Parish, explaining: “Your special work will be the care of the upper part of this parish, which includes Upper Riccarton, Hornby and Islington”. The bishop added that he regarded Fr Joyce as “one of the senior Assistants in the diocese and one who has undoubted gifts for very successful pastoral labours”. It would be no surprise then, that he became foundation Parish Priest of the newly established Parish of Sockburn in 1948.  His brief term at Sockburn was his only posting in charge of a parish. In 1950 he was consecrated Bishop of Christchurch in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament by New Zealand’s three other bishops, McKeefry, Liston and Kavanagh. Sadly, his father was by then deceased and his mother was unable to attend because of illness.

Fr Tom Liddy, who served at the cathedral for 12 years, many of these as Cathedral Administrator, describes Bishops Lyons and Joyce in a handwritten memoir and in an article in The Tablet. While not attempting to contrast the two, Liddy refers to Lyons’ strength in finance and administration which had “put the diocese on its feet”, while describing Joyce as “very human… most discerning… not academic but ‘knowing’… a large man with a big heart”.

Bishop Lyons had worked closely with Fr Joyce and the tone of letters between the two (in the Diocesan Archives) reflects genuine friendship. Later Bishop of Christchurch, Dr Brian Ashby, wrote in 1980 that Fr Joyce’s “varied abilities came to the notice of Bishop Lyons who entrusted him with a number of chaplaincies and representative duties”. In his diocesan centennial history, Held Firm by Faith, Fr Michael O’Meeghan SM says Fr Joyce became “a sort of executive officer” to Bishop Lyons.

As an example, Fr Joyce’s diplomacy in negotiating vexed funeral and burial arrangements for Catholic victims of the 1947 Ballantynes fire tragedy proved successful and drew widespread admiration.  It may be inferred from Liddy’s writings that Joyce was Lyons’ protégé. It may be presumed that Lyons’ setting of a solid financial base for the diocese helped his successor with the challenges that were to come.

Bishop Ashby recognised the challenges that faced Joyce in his 13 years as bishop. Chief among these was “rapid growth” in the diocese. As examples: 14 new parishes were to be established, new schools built, new religious orders arrived, new priests ordained (“in numbers unknown,” as Liddy says). The growing need for lay teachers to fill school staffing vacancies raised issues of training in religious education and payment at State levels.

+Ashby adds that the groundwork for handling such matters had been done by Lyons. However, Bishop Joyce still had to deal with issues arising, ranging from Catholic participation in Canterbury Centennial celebrations, to the death of King George VI – as a military man and active member of the RSA and Canterbury Officers’ Club, Joyce probably rated as an Empire loyalist.

Pope Pius XII’s death and the new Pope John XXIII’s announcement of a 2nd Vatican Council, with the promise of “opening the windows of the Church to let the winds of change blow in”, must have presented a challenge to all bishops. Edward Joyce would not have been immune.  Bishop Joyce’s circular letters to parishes provide a window into his style. Most prominent is his dedication to Catholic education for all Catholic children regardless of their parents’ ability to pay. He makes consistent claims for the value of Catholic schools, both in religious formation and academic achievement, which may seem a tad ironical as his own schooling was entirely in the State system.

The costs of running schools soared. Joyce attacked the problem on three fronts. He appealed to all Catholics to contribute generously to diocesan education collections. In a circular he labelled this issue as “one of grave urgency”. He cited a 33% increase in pupil numbers in primer classes between 1953 and 1955 and stressed the issue must be addressed immediately.

He “imported” teams of nuns and brothers from religious orders overseas to staff existing and new schools, which they could do at less cost than lay-teachers.  Meanwhile he massed the forces of the Holy Name Society (laymen) and the Catholic Women’s League to lobby parliamentarians for State financial aid to Catholic schools. He urged the laity to publicise the issue widely.  Recognising the difficulty for some rural families to send children to Catholic schools, Joyce endorsed the “catechetical correspondence course” offered by nuns. More than 1200 primary children were enrolled in the course, which involved monthly mailings of lessons and questions. Many of the children also attended an annual “Catechism Week” in Christchurch during school holidays, with daily Mass and Benediction and nuns and brothers providing classroom instruction.

Bishop Joyce regarded Catholic newspapers Tablet and Zealandia as essential to the religious education of adults. In several circulars he encouraged subscriptions to one or both papers, so readers could get the true stories about developments in the Church. A retreat house to be run by the Redemptorist Fathers at North New Brighton and tertiary student hostels were among facilities he opened to provide religious education.

Social initiatives, some emerging from Bishop Joyce’s attendance at the first two sessions of the Vatican II Council in Rome, included establishment in 1957 of the House of Help, in Central Christchurch. This facility was to provide shelter for refugee families and a home for the St Vincent de Paul Society headquarters. About the same time he tasked Fr Liddy with setting up an inner-city drop-in chapel in Chancery Lane. There Fr Liddy provided mid-day Masses, confessions and spiritual guidance as requested.

Vatican II’s boost to ecumenical efforts suited Bishop Joyce. He and Anglican Bishop Warren had shared experience as Armed Forces Chaplains and were friends. Working jointly they set up inter-denominational chapels in hospitals and at Canterbury University. These and other moves would have seemed unthinkable a decade earlier.  The strain of travel and participation in Vatican II took a toll on Joyce’s already weakening health. His personal letters to Fr Gerry Kane (in the archives) show that he found the council proceedings long, slow and tiring. However, on a break in London in 1963 he watched cricket and enthused about the “hostility” of local fast bowlers.

Soon after his return from the second session, he died suddenly, on January 28, 1964. He was 59. In accordance with his own request, he was buried in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Pope’s Apostolic Delegate to Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, Monsignor Carboni, referred to Edward Joyce as “the most pastoral bishop in Australasia”. But let the man who succeeded him as Bishop of Christchurch pay a final tribute.

Bishop Ashby wrote of Joyce: “A kindly man, as big of heart as he was of stature. He was a man of common touch, identifying with the common man, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. He was also a humble man. But above all he will be remembered as a man of faith who communicated that faith by word as well as by example. Few were his equal in preaching the word. Never were his rosary beads far from his hands.”


Thank you to the author, Michael Crean

Material from the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch Archives – Archives References: 2018.24 Papers of Bishop Joyce; Unaccessioned Photographic collection