Bishop Len Boyle R.I.P. – the farmer who became a Bishop

Emeritus Bishop Len Boyle of Dunedin has died, surrounded by family and his brother priests, after a short period of ill health. He was 85.

He came from a distinguished and well known Winton family known for their involvement with racing, rugby and the hotel trade.

Boyle himself had a love of horses. He often said “I’m away to a course” and on return would say, “I failed and have to repeat the course”.

As well as being a farmer, shearer and freezing worker, he was a keen rugby player before training as a priest in Christchurch and Mosgiel in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Boyle, who had been living in Mosgiel, recently moved into the Sacred Heart Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor, Brockville, Dunedin.

He died peacefully on Wednesday morning.

Bishop Patrick Dunn, President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference, said, “It is with sadness that we pay tribute to our brother bishop, recalling his commitment to the people he served and his ministry as a priest and bishop”.

“He was a proud son of Southland. He would remark about the community spirit in Southland.

“Community was very important to him and his approach to priesthood over more than 50 years.

“In retirement he continued to serve as parish priest in various parishes throughout the Diocese wherever he was needed”.

Len Boyle was ordained a bishop in Dunedin’s Town Hall in 1983 and two years later was installed as Bishop of Dunedin on the death of Bishop John Kavanagh.

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

Boyle was the subject of a biography in 2012, written by former Otago Daily Times journalist, Claire Ramsay.

It was aptly named ‘The Good Shepherd’. The book described his unusual pastoral path to the priesthood.

At the time the book was launched Bishop Boyle joked that it was too flattering as it “included all the good but not the bad”.

Months later he told the Otago Daily Times that he was growing fonder of the book, having resisted the suggestions by others to write an autobiography, and eventually giving in to the persistence of others for the book to be written.

“I wasn’t too keen on it at first. I thought only grand people had books written about them,” he said.

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

Bishop Boyle was born in Nightcaps, Southland, and educated at convent schools in Nightcaps and Winton and then later at St Kevin’s College in Oamaru.

He served as a bishop until his retirement in 2004.

Boyle had five brothers, Jack, Eddie, Frank, Vincent, Cliff, and two sisters Patricia and Margaret (who died in infancy).

He is survived by his brother, Cliff, sister-in-law Eileen Boyle and his 27 nieces and nephews and their families.


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