Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Rodi for Mobile

Another day... another appointment....

Exciting times, eh?

As these pages first reported last week, this morning Pope Benedict named Bishop Thomas Rodi of Biloxi as archbishop of Mobile. Rodi, who turned 59 on March 27, succeeds Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb, the nation's longest-serving metropolitan, who reached the retirement age of 75 in October 2006.

A native of New Orleans and Georgetown alum with degrees in canon and civil law, the archbishop-elect was named to Mississippi's Gulf Coast diocese in 2001. On a technological note, Rodi (pronounced "Road-EE") was among the first US bishops to experiment with the web in a blogabout way, sending daily columns into cyberspace during his 2004 ad limina visit to Rome. In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the diocese considerably harder than much of the community, according to the locals, Rodi scored high marks for leading the 70,000-member church's rebuilding there.

A year after the storm, the archbishop-elect said in an interview that he'd “seen a tremendous growth in faith” among the shattered community.

"It’s impossible to go through something like this and [not] reflect on who God is to me," he added.

"God is here."

Described in Biloxi as "well-liked" and "effective" and in his home-state as "a prince of a guy" and "quite pastoral" despite the legal background, the archbishop-elect -- until now, the senior suffragan of the Mobile province -- is said to have already submitted a consultation on his succession there with the hope of a shorter vacancy than usual. Last month, Rodi led the diocesan response to a lawsuit alleging that his predecessor, founding Biloxi Bishop Joseph Howze, had sexually assaulted a local man.

Home to 65,000 Catholics in Alabama's southern half, Mobile is the seventh US archdiocese to receive a new head in the course of B16's pontificate. Native son Lipscomb -- the last Stateside priest directly elevated to metropolitan rank -- became its first archbishop in 1980. One of the great historians among the bishops and long a key leader of what's now the USCCB, Lipscomb's largely kept a low profile at home since the national clergy sex-abuse crisis bore down on the Mobile church.

Aside from his responsibilities along the Gulf, the archbishop -- a former chair of the USCCB's liturgy arm -- has been a significant player in the Vatican's oversight of the revision of English-language liturgical texts, serving as vice-chair of the Vox Clara Committee of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. A late 2010 implementation date is currently eyed for the new English renderings of the current Missale Romanum.

With Lipscomb's retirement, the nation's longest-tenured archbishop now becomes Cincinnati's Daniel Pilarczyk, who was named to the post in November 1982. Now 73 and effectively alone at the helm of Ohio's 500,000-member archdiocese, several reports have noted the likelihood of a coadjutor heading to Pilarczyk's side sometime in the months ahead.

Rodi's installation in Mobile has been set for 6 June; until his successor in Biloxi is named, the archbishop-elect announced this morning that, by Vatican appointment, he'll do double-duty and serve as apostolic administrator of the Mississippi diocese. At June's end, for the first time, an Alabama archbishop will receive his pallium in Rome -- alongside the world's other newly-named metropolitans, Rodi is expected to join Archbishops Edwin O'Brien of Baltimore and John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis (and any others appointed over the next ten weeks) for the annual Ss. Peter and Paul Mass at the Vatican at which Pope Benedict confers the traditional woolen band symbolizing the "fullness of the episcopal office."

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As a result of the move, Biloxi now becomes the nation's ninth vacant diocese, joining (in order of length) Little Rock, St Thomas, Des Moines, New Ulm, Knoxville, Green Bay, Charleston and Juneau.

In addition, ordinaries serving past the retirement age still await successors in (again, by order) Detroit, New York, Omaha, Kalamazoo, Syracuse, Fort Wayne-South Bend, New Orleans, Wilmington, Pueblo and Allentown. The senior of the group, the Motor City's Cardinal Adam Maida, turned 78 in mid-March, and Gotham's Cardinal Edward Egan marks his 76th birthday today.

In what's been described as the "surest sign" that, after countless rounds of false alarms, a Detroit transition is finally close at hand -- likely on the heels of the Pope's 20 April departure from New York -- earlier this week Maida announced that his longtime right-hand in the administration of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese, Msgr John Zenz, would take a pastorate effective 1 June. In a letter to his central staff dated Monday, the cardinal said that Auxiliary Bishop Francis Reiss would assume the duties of vicar-general and moderator of the curia on a "pro-tem" basis "for the next few months," ostensibly pending the arrival of a new archbishop.

As previously noted, more Stateside appointments are expected in the run-up to Pope Benedict's arrival in Washington... now just 13 days away.

SVILUPPO: Per usual -- albeit earlier than usual -- the statements....
Rodi: "I am both honored and humbled by our Holy Father's appointment to serve as Archbishop of Mobile. Mindful of my own limitations, and relying upon the help of God, I look forward to serving the people of the Archdiocese. I pray that the Good Shepherd will guide me in my ministry among you.....

"The Archdiocese of Mobile is an extraordinary community of faith. Although I have not lived in Alabama, I feel a bond with the State and her people. Having been born and raised in Louisiana, and having served as a bishop in Mississippi, I am familiar with the wonderful people and culture of the South. Alabama has a proud and rich heritage. Part of that heritage is the ability to offer a gracious welcome. I have already felt very welcomed and look forward to meeting the people of the Archdiocese of Mobile.

"At the same time, I wish to offer a word to the people of the Diocese of Biloxi. For almost seven years I have had the privilege of serving as bishop for the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Pine Belt. Together, we have faced many challenges but always, with the help of God, we have gone forward....

"The Diocese of Biloxi is vibrant. This is a testimony to the character, love, and faith of the laity, religious and clergy. I thank you for your kindness to me and for your witness as members of the Church and followers of the Lord Jesus. I am sad that I will soon be leaving Mississippi once a new bishop is appointed. However, I am confident that, with God's help, the Diocese of Biloxi will have a bright future."

Lipscomb: "Archbishop Rodi comes to us as no stranger.... He comes to us with a wide range of pastoral experience and dedicated special service....

"I have known him well for some seven years as a suffragan bishop of the Province of Mobile and recognize his wisdom, skill and commitment now available as the new archbishop. We are grateful to Archbishop Rodi for accepting this new charge and challenge, to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI who has appointed him, and to all who have thus far fostered his ministry in New Orleans and Biloxi. I speak for myself, priests, deacons, religious and all of our family of faith in welcoming Archbishop Rodi as chief shepherd among us with thanksgiving to God and pledging our prayerful support and earnest collaboration."
After a 10am press conference, both archbishops will concelebrate today's 12.10pm Mass in Mobile's Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

PHOTOS: Diocese of Biloxi(1); Joe Raedle/Getty Images(2)