Becoming fonder of biography

Retired Bishop of Dunedin Len Boyle, who initially resisted approaches to have his biography written. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Retired Bishop of Dunedin Len Boyle, who initially resisted approaches to have his biography written. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Retired Catholic Bishop of Dunedin Len Boyle is growing fonder of his biography, published earlier this year.

A humble man, he had brushed aside calls through the years to write an autobiography and initially resisted when it was suggested a writer work with him on a biography.

"I wasn't too keen on it at first. I thought only grand people had books written about them," he said this week.

Others, such as his friend and neighbour Bill Brown, persisted, insisting he had a story worth sharing.

Soon to turn 82, Bishop Boyle's route to becoming a bishop was somewhat unconventional. He was brought up in a pub in the tiny Southland town of Nightcaps and he was a farmer, shearer and keen rugby player before training as a priest in Christchurch and Mosgiel in the 1950s and early 1960s.

He was the first "local" appointed to head the diocese, and was not trained in Rome as his predecessors had been.

Eventually, Mr Brown introduced him to former Otago Daily Times journalist Claire Ramsay and Bishop Boyle agreed to her piecing together his life in words and photographs.

The project took six years, Ms Ramsay interviewing him regularly at his Mosgiel home in the grounds of the former Holy Cross Seminary.

A natural storyteller, he said he enjoyed being able to relate anecdotes and memories.

"She made it easy for me to share my stories. And I think because she was not a Catholic that made it better, as I had to explain Catholic terminology."

The Good Shepherd, The Life of Bishop Len Boyle, was launched at a Boyle family reunion in May.

One of the photographs shows Bishop Boyle alongside Mother Teresa when both were attending a religious life seminar in Rome in the 1990s.

Bishop Boyle said he did not know what to make of Mother Teresa at first.

"She was an interesting person to meet: single-minded on her work. Photographers would come every day to get photographs of her and she would pose for them.

I thought she was a bit of a limelighter, but towards the end of the week I put my pride in my pocket and had my photograph taken with her. When I got home it appeared in the ODT.

"Two weeks later, I was in Wanaka and a woman mentioned the photograph and said she admired Mother Teresa. When I asked why, she said it was because she made religion relevant. I've never forgotten that. That's what we all should do."

The book also recounts Bishop Boyle's many trips to Rome, where he became friends with Pope John Paul II. One day, he and the Pope chatted for so long they delayed the start of a meal.

"One of the other bishops asked me what we had been talking about. We had been swapping stories about our hip replacements."

Of the 600 copies of the book printed, 90% have already been sold.

Bishop Boyle said he had received many complimentary telephone calls and letters about it.

"The thanks and appreciation mean a lot. If the book helps people in some way, that's good."

- allison.rudd@odt.co.nz

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