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11 November 2022

‘You now have your new shepherd’: Cook Islands Catholic prepares for new bishop

Saturday 17 February 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Church Talk, Features

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‘You now have your new shepherd’: Cook  Islands Catholic prepares for new bishop
Pope Francis has appointed Father Reynaldo Getalado MSP as the coadjutor bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Rarotonga, Cook Islands. SUPPLIED/23121101

Pope Francis has appointed Reverend Father Reynaldo Bunyi Getalado, M.S.P., as the new coadjutor bishop of Cook Islands. Fr. Getalado is a Filipino priest who has served in various locations throughout his career, including Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Tuvalu. Melina Etches reports.

The Catholic diocese of the Cook Islands as well as the Filipino Community Cook Islands are preparing for Father Getalado’s ordination as the new bishop in the coming months.

Grace Scheel, president of the Filipino Community, has welcomed the new bishop.

“As a community, we are one in supporting his pastoral mission,” says Scheel.

“There are many challenges when it comes to our faith, but the people here have always been resilient and are in solidarity in the spirit of Christian love.

“We hope that his presence will mean a deeper relationship between the Catholic Church and the faithful.”

Scheel says she is certain that the new bishop will be able to reach out in terms of spiritual guidance and the broader mission of the church which is justice and love.

“This means helping people who are in need and empowering us so that we can help in the overall mission of the church in our capacity.”

The Filipino Community group is part of the various committees preparing for the ordination.

“As our president, I voluntarily joined the catering committee as I believe this is one of the biggest responsibilities of the event,” says Scheel.

Together with the Club Philippines Rarotonga group, they have pledged to contribute two pork on the spit and Filipino dishes towards the ordination kaikai, and a barbeque with desserts for Father Getalado’s first Sunday mass in the diocese.

“We are in unity and express our gratitude and great appreciation to the Cook Islands people for embracing us in their community.”

In explaining Father Getalado’s appointment as his successor, Bishop Paul Donoghue, the outgoing head of the Catholic Church, says the makeup of the Catholic Church is changing throughout the world.

Looking at the history of the choice of bishops for the Cook Islands, the first three bishops (1894-1971) were from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The first was Msgr Castanie (1894–1939) who established the Catholic Church in the Cook Islands. With the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny in 1894 he opened the first school and built the first cathedral, which was opened on December 25, 1895. Then Msgr Lehman (1939–1958) followed by Msgr de Cocq (1964–1971).

The next five bishops were chosen from New Zealand. Bishop John Rodgers, who built the second Cathedral, Sisters House and Nukutere College from 1971–1977.

Then the diocese was led by Bishop Denis Brown from 1977 until 1983, when he was chosen as Bishop of Auckland. Many New Zealand diocesan priests worked in the diocese at this time, like Mgr Paul Farmer, Fr John Dew, who later became a Cardinal.

Father Glover was renowned for starting recycling on Rarotonga.

Bishop Robin Leamy (1984–1997) helped the diocese build the present Cathedral to mark Catholic Church’s 100 years in the Cook Islands.

Bishop Stuart O’Connell (1998–2011) rebuilt St. Joseph’s Catholic School with the assistance of Brother Raymond.

Since the announcement of the new bishop, Bishop Donoghue has often heard the question – “Why a Filipino priest from Tuvalu?”

“Why not another bishop from New Zealand if we don’t have a priest in the Cook Islands to be a bishop?”
He explains: “The clergy of New Zealand is now made up of many priests from Asia and the Pacific.”

“It must be close to half.  Three quarters of the seminarians are from Asia.

“Recently it took something like three years for the nuncio to find three bishops for New Zealand.”


Bishop Paul Donoghue at the St Joseph’s prefect induction school mass. MELINA ETCHES/24021205

Bishop Donoghue says if a bishop is appointed from New Zealand, it is likely to be one of Asian origin.

And the current situation in the Pacific is that five dioceses are waiting for new bishops, he says.

Some dioceses have been waiting three years; therefore, the Cook Islands has been blessed to have a coadjutor bishop named before the present bishop retires.

Father Getalado was asked what was his dream as he commence ministry in the Diocese of Rarotonga?

The incoming bishop replied that as a young priest he was prepared to work in challenging places that were tough physically. Now that he is in his 60s, he would like to develop the spirituality of the people he is working with.

Father Getalado, born on 5 August 1959 in Muntinlupa, in the archdiocese of Manila, graduated in zoology at the Far Eastern University of Manila.

On 24 September 1987, he joined the Missionary Society of the Philippines (M.S.P.). He was subsequently awarded a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Divine Word Seminary of Tagaytay City in the Philippines. On 4 August 1988, he was ordained a priest.

His first appointment was to Papua New Guinea at the Daru-Kiunga from in the Western Province from 1988-1999. His mission was in the mountains.

The Government there had several projects in the Parish, including two airstrips, two double classrooms and teachers houses.

Father Getalado was involved in the building of these and at the same time doing pastoral work for the Parish and during this time he learned how to use a tractor with bucket and D6 bulldozer.

His next appointment was in New Zealand where he was assigned to Waitaruke and Otara from 2000-2004. The assignment to Waitaruke in Northland would have had Father Getalado working with isolated communities in the far north of New Zealand.

On moving to St John the Evangelist Parish in Otara, Fr Getalado came into contact with Pacific Islanders.

In Otara he would have met his first Cook Islands families including Mrs Moeroa John who remembers him very well working in the Parish of St John’s.

After New Zealand, he returned to the Philippines for a year.

From 2005 to 2014 he was assigned the Diocese of Bougainville. Here he did a lot more Parish work, which involved people in parish activities, and also organised the Parish and Finance Council.

Next, he was assigned as the Superior to the Mission Sui luris of Funafuti in Tuvalu in 2014 until his Cook Islands appointment.  

When the Nuncio informed him of his new post to the Cook Islands, Father Getalado was “speechless”.

Bishop Donoghue says his dream as the retiring bishop is that “you now have your new shepherd”.

“I pray that with your new bishop you can continue to achieve the three themes of the Synod. That you will work together guided by the Holy Spirit to be a people living communion, participation and the mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”