One of Australia’s iconic Labor leaders and former Governor General Bill Hayden has been baptized as a Catholic at the age of 85, and after a lifetime as a declared atheist. Now in declining health, the former federal opposition leader and foreign minister said he hoped his new-found faith might encourage others as the Church passes through difficult times.

As reported by, Hayden remarked that “There’s been a gnawing pain in my heart and soul about what is the meaning of life. What’s my role in it?” This took too long, and now I am going to be devoted. From this day forward I’m going to vouch for God.” Hayden told as he prepared to be welcomed into the Church at St Mary’s Church, Ipswich, west of Brisbane, on September 9.

He suffered a stroke in 2014, and as he prepared for the baptism celebrated by Fr Peter Dillon, Hayden was feeling “great pain” from a recent fall in which he broke his shoulder. However he was determined to go ahead. Hayden attributed his conversion to the influence of his own mother, who was Catholic, and of the Ursuline Sisters, who taught him at primary school in inner-city Brisbane, and who stressed the principles of humanity, social commitment and service to others. In a Hawke government, Hayden served as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1983 to 1988 (Trade was added to his portfolio from 1987), and was then appointed governor-general for seven years. Hayden said he’d been wrestling with the idea of becoming a Catholic for a long time.