An ex-Bishop of Auckland who played a pivotal role in integrating Catholic schools into the state system died yesterday, aged 96.

Emeritus Catholic Bishop of Auckland, Bishop John Mackey, died at North Shore Hospital after a short illness following a fall at his home last month.

Bishop of Auckland Patrick Dunn said Bishop Mackey would be remembered for the close relationships he formed with a wide range of people during his priesthood that spanned 72 years.

"He ordained me as a priest in 1976, so I have been a friend of his all those years," he said. "I think he became friends with everyone he met and had a lot of very interesting friendships.


"He was a person of a lot of interests - as a young priest he took up flying, but the archbishop of the time heard about it and told him to stop because he was afraid he'd have an accident."

Born an only child in Ireland, Bishop Mackey came to New Zealand as a 6-year-old with his widowed mother to live with his uncle, the first parish priest of Epsom.

His father died during the Spanish Influenza epidemic when his son was two, said Bishop Dunn.

Bishop Mackey studied for the priesthood at New Zealand's National Seminary, Holy Cross College, Mosgiel, and was ordained a priest in 1941.

In 1974, he was ordained as bishop in Rome and started his tenure as Bishop of Auckland the same year until his retirement in 1983 because of recurring severe migraines.

He was well known for his achievements in the history of education in New Zealand, being one of the key figures in the successful completion of the integration of Catholic schools into the state system in 1975.

"He had a brilliant mind," said Bishop Dunn.

He had been Professor of Church History at Holy Cross College and lecturer in Church History at the University of Otago and gained a doctorate in education and a master's degree in history.

His body will be at the Catholic Cathedral of Saint Patrick and Saint Joseph at the weekend, before his funeral mass on Monday at 11am.