Retired Bishop of Jamaica, The Rt. Rev. Neville Wordsworth deSouza died this afternoon (December 12) following a long illness.
The twelfth Diocesan Bishop, he served for 21 years from February 29, 1979, following the resignation of Bishop Herbert Edmondson, until his retirement on September 30, 2000. This was the longest episcopacy since the death of Archbishop Nuttall in 1916.
Born in 1928, Bishop deSouza studied at St Peter’s College and was ordained a deacon in 1958 and a priest in 1959.He served as Priest-in-Charge, Porus, 1959 – 1962; Rector, Grange Hill, 1962 – 1966 and then as Rector of the May Pen Cure from 1966 to 1973. He was also the Rural Dean of Clarendon from 1967 to 1973.
Bishop deSouza created history in many ways. He was the first Suffragan Bishop of Montego Bay, serving in that position from February 24, 1973 until February 28, 1979. Interestingly, his two successors, Bishops Alfred Reid and Howard Gregory, both went on to become Diocesan Bishops.
Bishop deSouza was also the first Diocesan Bishop to receive the Order of Jamaica (OJ) which was conferred on him in 1991. In that same year, he was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of the West Indies; and he delivered the main address at the 1991 Commencement Exercise at the Mona campus. The Citation expressed the University’s recognition of the Bishop’s contribution to the religious and social life of the region. The Diocesan newspaper, The Jamaica Churchman, commented that the honour was in recognition of the “leadership which he has given in helping to interpret the Church to the world and to assist in the development of a service of identity in a time of change.”
Bishop deSouza’s academic leanings were recognized previously when the Colombia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia invited him to serve as a Visiting Scholar during the 1984 – 1985 academic year.
Bishop deSouza was known for his deep commitment to justice and the betterment of the lives of ordinary Jamaicans. As Bishop, he was never afraid to wade into many controversial issues as he called repeatedly for social justice and the development of a sense of identity. He said in 1993 that “the moral, religious and over-emotional confusion which now characterizes our society are evidenced in the outbursts of cruel and anti-social acts of murder, suicide and carnage on our roads. We have become disoriented as individuals and as people collectively. Until we address the root of our problem, then violence will continue to plague us.” What is the root of the problem? The Bishop said that “until we recognize that we are ONE people and until we address the social, cultural, political, economic and racial issues which insulate us from one another, then we have a problem”
Addressing his last Synod in April 2000, he said that on account of some of his utterances on social issues, he was even called a communist! He said that “It didn’t matter what they called me because I know that justice is a Christian virtue and as long as I’ve seen what you called me, that’s all right”. The Citation presented to him by the Diocese in October 2000 summed up his contribution well when it said that he was “among those who dared to challenge the status quo and worked towards a new world order of justice and equality.”
A highlight of Bishop deSouza’s tenure as Diocesan, was the admission of women to Holy Orders, a step which had his full support and blessing. He was celebrant and preacher at the historic Service on February 6, 1994, when the first three women were admitted to the Order of Deacons; and two years later, in December 1996, the first four women were ordained as priests.
Bishop deSouza is survived by his wife Iona, a son, two daughters, grandchildren and other family members.