Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New Blood at the Basilica

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien's first major personnel move in the Premier See brings a changing of the guard to American Catholicism's most historic sanctuary.

After a half-century of ministry and 15 years at the helm of the nation's first cathedral -- during which he helped oversee its two-year, $34 million restoration -- the beloved Msgr James Hobbs is retiring as rector of Baltimore's Basilica of the Assumption.
Hobbs plans to move into the Thurmont house he was born in 76 years ago and assist pastors in the area parishes, like Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Thurmont, and Shrine of St. Anthony, Emmitsburg.

“I’m looking forward to going back to my roots,” he said. “I’m looking forward to retirement after 51 years, but I’m also looking forward to helping out in the parishes where there is a great shortage of clergy.”

A special farewell Mass for Monsignor Hobbs will be celebrated Jan. 27 at 10:45 a.m. at the basilica to give parishioners an opportunity to celebrate their rector’s tenure.

When the 50th anniversary of his ordination arrived last year, parishioners of the basilica insisted on having a celebration honoring him, even though he initially resisted any kind of fuss being made on behalf of the occasion.

“He’s a very gentle man, and he doesn’t ever see the need to be in the spotlight,” Michael J. Ruck Sr., a longtime parishioner of the downtown Baltimore church, said in an interview with The Catholic Review last spring. “But, we told him that wasn’t acceptable. We wanted this celebration.”...

Though he said he would miss the basilica and living in the cardinal’s residence on Charles Street, Monsignor Hobbs said the prospect of a more rural setting was appealing as he prepares for retirement.

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of my ministry,” he said. “I believe I’ll also enjoy this new chapter of my life.”

The rectorship isn't just changing hands, but generations: 44 year-old Fr Jeffrey Dauses takes the reins on 1 February.
[The rector-designate] confesses to being a bit intimidated by his new assignment, but said he’s also excited because it dovetails with his interests.
“I love history and architecture,” he said. “Architecture has always been an avocation of mine. I always thought if I hadn’t become a priest I would have become an architect.”

He toured the dome of the basilica as it was being readied for renovations and found that experience fascinating.

Father Dauses said he is aware that he is a custodian of the church’s history and meaning – and that he’s following a beloved rector.

“It’s intimidating because so many people visit,” he said. “I’m very humbled by it and aware I have some big shoes to fill."
Its cornerstone laid in 1806, the then-cathedral was opened in 1821. Designed to highlight the faith's comfortable fusion with the principles of the new nation, it ranks with the US Capitol as the signal works of their architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

As the seat of the US hierarchy's "first among equals," the basilica played host to every national gathering of the American bishops until the 1920s, when the National Catholic Welfare Conference -- the forerunner to today's USCCB -- began its custom of meeting in the capital. Though the "New Cathedral" of Mary Our Queen became the formal seat of its archbishops in 1959, the Assumption remains a co-cathedral of the nation's first diocese.

Since reopening in November 2006, the basilica has welcomed over 150,000 visitors.