Yesterday, the Diocese of St. Petersburg which it has been my privilege to be a part of for twenty-one years received a true gift from the Lord in the person of my successor, Bishop Gregory L. Parkes until now the bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee. On January 4, 2017 he will be installed as our fifth bishop in a liturgy of welcome at the Cathedral of St. Jude in St. Petersburg. I have marked my calendar and will be there.
It has been quite a challenging few weeks for me. I left the area on November 4th to witness a marriage of dear friends in St. Louis with the opening salvo of what I knew was likely to be a developing cold. Following the wedding, I flew from St. Louis to Anchorage, Alaska on Monday, November 7th, to be present for the installation of my dearest friend, Archbishop Paul D. Etienne as that church’s new archbishop on the 9th. Anchorage was slightly chillier than St. Petersburg and even St. Louis and it did not help my growing cold.
Scheduled to leave Anchorage late at night on the 10th for Baltimore and the annual fall assembly of U.S. bishops, I woke up that morning with serious problems indicative of something worse than the common cold. Archbishop Etienne took me first to a doctor who immediately recognized serious implications and who walked me himself to the Emergency Room of Providence Hospital in Anchorage. Admitted quickly, things became something of a blur but cutting to the quick I was diagnosed with “haemophilus influenza meningitis”. I spent twelve days with the wonderful doctors and nurses of Providence Hospital before being allowed to come home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to continue my recovery.
My form of meningitis is accompanied by mental confusion and it was in the midst of this that I learned from Archbishop Cristophe Pierre, the Holy Father’s representative to the US that Bishop Parkes would succeed me. I can barely recall the details of conversations with either the Nuncio or Bishop Parkes. However, it was decided that the announcement of my retirement and the new bishop’s appointment would be yesterday and so it was, accompanied by television cameras, microphones and the like.
Bishop Parkes is destined to be a great bishop of this diocese bringing personal gifts that I could not even dream of. And that is part of the genius of ministry in our Catholic church. The Church renews itself constantly at every level when there are changes. Take the renewal we are currently experiencing with Pope Francis, for example. When a pastor changes, after a while a community is invited to examine not its core beliefs but how it lives out those beliefs and what its priorities are. The same is true of bishops and their leadership of dioceses. We are all different and if and when called to serve as shepherds, we bring different gifts to the task. I see great gifts in Bishop Parkes that I do not have and I am genuinely excited for the future, hoping that the Lord will grant me days of good (better?) health to enjoy and assist him in whatever way he chooses.
I suspect we both went to bed last night, he in Tallahassee and I in St. Petersburg, praising God for yesterday’s blessings and gifts.
My first year of retirement will be spent giving time to some rest and recreation. I have three priests retreats and three convocations of diocesan priests that I so far have been invited to lead, Notre Dame University has extended an offer to me to reside on campus next Fall and do some neat things. I will also give the annual retreat to the Congregation of the Holy Cross members who reside and work on the campus. If I can give a few more productive years to adding to the joy and ministry of priests, I will be happy doing so. And in a year, I will return and do anything my new bishop asks of me, including staying out of his way.
There will be two more of these blogs before January 4th and then the enterprise will be shut down. I firmly believe that there should be only one voice commenting on the events and challenges of the time in the Church and that should belong to the bishop, not the “has-been.” I will have had my day in the Lord’s vineyard and I have loved it!