Yesterday the Diocese of Gaylord celebrated its fortieth anniversary of establishment on the exact day, July 20th. St. Mary’s Cathedral in Gaylord was jammed with families and many people who were present on that special day forty years ago. Bishop Bernard Hebda invited me to join in the celebration and I am happy that I did. He had invited his three predecessors as bishops back for the occasion and all came. The first bishop of the diocese was/is Cardinal Edmund Szoka who was also celebrating the fortieth anniversary of his episcopal ordination since it occurred within the context of the erection of the Diocese he was to lead for a decade. From here he went to Detroit as Archbishop and then Pope John Paul II called him to Rome where he served with great distinction in helping the Holy See straighten out its finances and live within an annual budget. Bishop Robert Rose was the second bishop for about eight years before returning as bishop of his own home diocese, Grand Rapids. He is now living in retirement and is one of those bishops whom I found it a wonderful privilege to serve in the episcopal conference. It was wonderful to see him again as he does not come to the bishops’ meetings any longer. For slightly over twenty years Bishop Patrick Cooney served as the third bishop of the diocese and he is someone whom I have known since first going to Washington as a layman and working at the episcopal conference in 1972. Bishop Cooney and my housemate at the time, Monsignor Robert Monticello, were great friends and the former would come to DC occasionally to visit at our house. Bishop Hebda will complete two years as bishop late this Fall.
Bishop Hebda acknowledged almost everyone in the Cathedral in a very clever way, asking priests ordained by each of his three predecessors to stand as he spoke about their ordaining prelate, asking religious to stand, and members of the diocesan staff throughout the years. At the conclusion of a very lovely liturgy that any bishop would be proud of there was a picnic on the grounds of the Cathedral with a band imported from Detroit. Sloppy Joes were the “bill of fare” which is something I really enjoy and on what was probably to be the warmest and most humid day of the year, the picnic people enjoyed a cool breeze blowing through the huge tent. You could tell that it was a celebration for the people. The bishop is alleged to have wanted some measure of restraint in the occasion as it was the fortieth and not the fiftieth which might be an occasion for ratcheting up the celebration but I bet everyone there, certainly myself, would say, it was just perfect! Let’s do it again in ten.
I love my diocese and I am beginning to get that “itch” that precedes the end of vacation and my return to my usual duties. But I also have to say that serving as “parochial vicar” of the local parish in Petoskey has brought me a great appreciation of the faith in what is here referred to as the “upper part of the lower peninsula.” The people who live here year round are rugged as they must be because the winters are cold and the lake effect snows heavy. But they love their faith and they get to Church. They know the difference between sin and virtue and for the former they are sorry and for the latter they are grateful. Compared to our diocese, this is mission territory but like ourselves, they have done a lot in forty years and have much to be proud of. So Happy Anniversary to my diocese when I am away from my diocese (parce that one, if you will) and congratulations to all who made yesterday just perfectly lovely.