One of Australia’s iconic Labour leaders and former Governor General Bill Hayden has been baptized as a Catholic at the age of 85, and after a lifetime as a declared atheist.
“There’s been a gnawing pain in my heart and soul about what is the meaning of life. What’s my role in it?” Hayden said.
Now in declining health, the former federal opposition leader and foreign minister said he hoped his new-found faith might encourage others as the Church passes through difficult times.
“This took too long, and now I am going to be devoted.
“From this day forward I’m going to vouch for God,” Hayden told The Catholic Leader as he prepared to be welcomed into the Church at St Mary’s Church, Ipswich, west of Brisbane, on September 9.
He suffered a stroke in 2014, and as he prepared for the baptism celebrated by Fr Peter Dillon, Hayden was feeling “great pain” from a recent fall in which he broke his shoulder. However he was determined to go ahead. Fr Dillon said he felt a “real closeness” with the former Australian leader as he baptized him.
“It was a big thing for him … an act of submission to the fact that there was no denying for him that God is real and he had come to discover that,” he said.
“I have always felt embraced and loved by her Christian example,” Hayden said, of the 93-year-old, who has been a lifelong inspiration of service to him, and who was among the congregation at the baptism.
“Sister Angela Mary Doyle was for twenty-two years administrator of Mater hospitals in Brisbane – a citadel of health care for the poor of South Brisbane where I grew up towards the end of the Great Depression,” he wrote in a letter to friends before the baptism.
“Dallas (my wife), our daughter Ingrid and I recently visited Sister Angela Mary in the Mater Hospital where she was a patient.
“The next morning I woke with the strong sense that I had been in the presence of a holy woman.
“So after dwelling on these things I found my way back to the core of those beliefs – the Church.” “These characteristics are founded on the teachings of Christ and driven by faith in an external power – the Christian God whose limitations are beyond what humans could attain.
“I can no longer accept that human existence is self-sufficient and isolated.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge also congratulated Hayden.
“I’m delighted for Bill and think it is a gift for not only him and his family but for the entire Church in some sense,” he said.