Many of you may not be all that aware of Simeon and Anna in the New Testament. Simeon was an official at the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s birth. When Mary and Joseph brought the infant child Jesus to the Temple for the Presentation, Simeon exclaimed with great personal joy, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. You can dismiss your servant (meaning himself) in peace (meaning Simeon was ready to go to his death), your word has been fulfilled.”
That’s is somewhat how I felt last night as word began to spread that this morning Pope Francis would be announcing that a wonderful friend of mine of many years and a great bishop was being named to the great Archdiocese of Chicago. That person is Bishop Blase Cupich about whom I have written previously in this space.
He worked at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington while I was working at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and shortly after I came to St. Petersburg as bishop, he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City in South Dakota. More recently he was transferred to Spokane, Washington where he has spent the last four years.
He has addressed the priests of the St. Petersburg diocese twice at my invitation, first as Spiritual Director for our annual October convocation and then at the time of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. He is 65 years old but with the energy of a much younger person. He will need it in Chicago which has had a succession in recent decades of very fine archbishops (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and Francis Cardinal George). The former preached at my episcopal ordination in 1996 at St. Jude Cathedral and the latter has been in the diocese on several occasions, including more recently, four years ago as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when they held their Spring Assembly in our fair city.
Cardinal George reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 two years ago and is currently quite publicly dealing with an aggressive form of cancer. Through it all, gallantly like his predecessor Cardinal Bernardin, he has witnessed beautiful Christian faith and hope as one experimental cancer drug after another has been tried out on him. Let us pray for Cardinal George, that the Lord’s will be done for him and that he be spared every suffering possible. Tonight, I suspect, that Canticle of Simeon which I quoted above will be recited with added meaning by Cardinal George.
Bishop Cupich has shown wonderful leadership skills in so many areas but his appointment to Chicago will be quite a test. It is a large and culturally and linguistically diverse city consisting of just two counties and two million Catholics. The last two Archbishops of Chicago have also been tapped for national leadership positions as well as international congregational and council assignments within the purview of the Holy See.
It is much like New York, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan has either been called to national leadership (President of the USCCB) or chosen to accept a time-consuming outside the Archdiocese of New York responsibility (Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services) or papal appointments which require his presence in Rome on a regular basis. These duties often lead the local churches they serve to complain that their archbishop is always away which is one way of looking at it but I prefer that the particular talent of the Archbishop is a gift to be shared with the larger church. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be full-time responsibilities for any human, but the burdens of these places are larger.
I mentioned Cardinal Dolan above and one interesting fact which I can share with you which I have not seen elsewhere is that Cardinal Dolan, Archbishops Cupich, Schnurr (of Cincinnati) and Bishop Cote (of Norwich, CT) were all staff to the late Cardinal Pio Laghi at the Washington nunciature, mostly at the same time. Only one US member of that staff from that time period has not made it to the hierarchy of this country and all of the aforementioned colleagues of his, as well as myself, would say that he would have made a great bishop. Monsignor Bernard Yarrish, a priest of the Scranton diocese, who from his room in a Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm Assisted Care facility in Wilkes Barre, PA must be smiling at the latest news of one of his friends. Monsignor Yarrish whom I think the world of has been dealing with a debilitating disease for some time, but he especially was a jewel of this quintet. Cardinal Laghi and Cardinal Bernardin must have had some reunion last night and today in heaven.
So why am I so excited about this news? I think it is but one more, albeit very important, sign of the seriousness with which Pope Francis takes his mandate to recapture the spirit, vision and direction of the Second Vatican Council. Though I have never asked him this directly, I know the new Archbishop of Chicago would say that he admires deeply the ecclesiology and vision Archbishops John Raphael Quinn (ex of San Francisco), Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza (ex of Galveston-Houston), Cardinal William Keeler (ex of Baltimore), Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (ec of Cincinnati), Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Bishop Anthony Pilla (ex of Cleveland), and Bishop William Skylstad (who on November 18th when Archbishop Cupich is installed in Chicago will share with the new Archbishop the moniker of “ex of Spokane”).
There is a plethora of things to be read and watched about today’s happenings and as always I recommend to you the mother of all ecclesial blogs, Whispers in the Loggia as well as a piece of reflection which I think is spot on written by Michael Sean Winters for the National Catholic Reporter and if you go to the websites of The Chicago Tribune or The Chicago Sun Times you can find almost everything you want to know about this new “breeze” blowing now in the Windy City and soon to visit the places where you live and pray and play. For myself today, the Master has indeed kept his word.