It has been quite a week for this bishop. First, I spent three days with a majority of our priests in our annual convocation which was held at our Bethany Center. We had three superb presenters, we prayed well, and we recreated well. In all likelihood, this will be my final convocation with these priests for some time. As regular readers know, I intend to absent myself from the diocese for one year beginning on the evening of my successor’s installation. After that, late Spring, Summer, and most of October will be spent in Northern Michigan and traditionally the convocation is held the first week of October – a week or two before God’s manifestation of change and beauty, aka. “Fall foliage.” So there was some hidden, I hope, emotion surrounding my presence at convocation this week.
Yesterday (Saturday), we celebrated Hispanic heritage day with a joyous celebration at the Cathedral honoring this year Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of Brazil.
The Hispanic and Portuguese communities filled that worship space and prayed and sang their hearts out. You can watch the live streamed video of the Mass here. More photos will be posted on the diocesan website soon.
However, the larger Church I serve and love has been quite active in my life and not in the manner most of you who regularly read this would expect. First came the announcement last Tuesday that Pope Francis will transfer my dear friend, Paul D. Etienne, from serving as bishop of Cheyenne (all of Wyoming and all of Yellowstone National Park which lies within the state of Montana) to serve the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska as its fourth Archbishop. Archbishop-elect Etienne, 57, once worked with me, as a lay man at the time, on the 1987 visit of Saint John Paul II’s second visit to the United States. During that time we became very close, as collaborators and friends. I came to know his parents well, his hometown of Tell City, Indiana well (that didn’t take too long), his siblings Rick and Angela who are married, Nicolette who is a member of the Benedictine Community at Beech Grove, Indiana, Bernie and Zack who are priests of the Evansville diocese. The new archbishop extended to me the privilege of preaching at both his first Mass as a priest and at his episcopal ordination/installation seven years ago. He has been the spiritual moderator for one of our convocations for priests and they fell in love with him. I suspect that there might have been some local disappointment here, among the clergy, when Pope Francis announced “Anchorage”.
He has been a marvelous shepherd in a huge diocese and from all I have heard, there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth” there at the moment. For a lover of the outdoors, an avid hunter and fisherman, the new archbishop gets to change his prey to bears and moose and caribou and from trout and bass to salmon. Previously, driving for hours to be present in the Wyoming peripheries, he now will have to use float planes in a few instances and Alaska Airlines in others to reach his people. But, and this is important, this balanced and deeply spiritual priest/bishop as an archbishop will have a role to play in further shaping the Francis vision of Church which the new archbishop enthusiastically supports.
This morning (Sunday) Pope Francis named three of my brother bishops to the College of Cardinals: Bishop Kevin J. Farrell, previously Bishop of Dallas, Texas, who the Holy Father asked to come to Rome to administer the new super congregation for life, laity and the pursuit of
happiness; Archbishop Blasé J. Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago who has been in this diocese on numerous occasions, like Archbishop Etienne as spiritual moderator at one of our priest convocations and delivering talks on the new missal, new translation, and new vision for the Church. He also has on occasion found our locale useful for rest, reflection and writing;
finally, Archbishop Joseph Tobin, CSsR, Archbishop of Indianapolis, who one year ago almost to the day celebrated Mass and preached at our Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle as we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of “Perfectae Caritatis”, the Second Vatican Council’s document on religious life. After two terms as head of the worldwide Redemptorist order, Archbishop Tobin became Secretary at the Congregation for Religious at the Vatican. He is also a great choice. Today was a “red letter day” for myself and for the Church.
Now, what is all this business about the “Lord and the rings?” When I was announced as bishop of St. Petersburg a number of dear friends “showered” me with regalia. I am grateful for them all. The first was a gift from the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus with whom I worked closely in the first visit of St. John Paul II to the US in 1979. He gave me a beautiful ring designed and struck by the Italian artist Scorzelli depicting Easter and the Resurrection of the Lord from the tomb. It was one of two prototypes which the artist had prepared in two sizes as gifts to Pope Paul VI. The Holy Father found the rings too large, too heavy for his personal use so he gave them to Archbishop Marcinkus who gave one to the late Archbishop John L. May of St. Louis (a Chicago seminary classmate of Marcinkus who sat immediately in front of his next in the alphabet friend for their entire seminary experience). That ring was subsequently given by Archbishop May to Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City, Missouri who wears it today. I wore it for my ordination day and on major occasions but gave mine which I cherished to Bishop Etienne within days of his announcement to Cheyenne.
The second ring I received was the night prior to my episcopal ordination and was given to me by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin who came to preach the homily at my ordination the next day. It was a simple but beautiful episcopal ring, struck by a Chicago jeweler. All of his auxiliaries were given similar rings. I wore it from the day after my ordination on January 26, 1996 to the third week in October in the same year when I spent the night at his Chicago residence with the Cardinal only days before his death to cancer.
On that occasion Cardinal Bernardin lamented the changes which had taken place in the national episcopal Conference over the two and a half decades since he himself emerged as General Secretary and later its president. With me those special moments that night were Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, OP of Louisville and Monsignor Daniel Hoye my predecessors in office. The Cardinal showed us some painful letters received from several of his cardinal colleagues, a supportive letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, and recounted a phone call from the Holy Father expressing gratitude for his service to Chicago and the Church universal. That night he felt that the vision of the Council which he had devoted so much of his ministry to was on the wane. He died two weeks later and I removed his ring from my finger promising that I would wear it again when and if the pendulum would begin to swing again to the Council’s and my mentor’s, the Cardinal’s, vision for the Church.
Six months after my episcopal ordination I received what is called a “Council ring” gifted to me by Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ, Archbishop Emil Paul Tscherrig, and Dr. Alberto Gaspari, the “dream team” for planning papal visits. The ring is a simple gold band with the Apostles Peter and Paul standing at either side of Christ. I have worn it with the hope that the vision of the Council fathers, Blessed Pope Paul VI and the bishops it was my privilege to serve would begin to take root once again. I think it did today and the Bernardin ring is back on my finger till the Lord comes for me.
With deep gratitude to Pope Francis.