Friday, June 06, 2008

Little Rock, New Era

Before a crowd of 3,000 -- including a relative who'd flown in from Guam -- Bishop Tony Taylor was ordained and installed as the seventh head of Arkansas' statewide diocese yesterday at Little Rock's convention center.

Noting the doubling of the diocese's Catholic population in recent years -- and, just as crucially, its source -- the state's paper of record reports:
In his first remarks as shepherd of the Diocese of Little Rock, Taylor thanked all those who had made the day possible.

“Today, the main thing I feel is gratitude,” he said at the end of the ceremony. “I feel touched by the confidence in me of all those who have had a secret voice in recommending me to the pope. ... I feel humbled.”

Taylor repeated his remarks in Spanish, a language he speaks fluently along with German, Italian and French. He also can read Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

Taylor now oversees a 116,600-member diocese that is at least half Hispanic. It includes 126 parishes and missions, 140 priests, 31 schools, and more than 7,700 students. The diocese also has 211 nuns and 32 brothers.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced Taylor’s appointment in April, the diocese had been without a bishop for nearly two years. He replaces [Bishop J. Peter] Sartain, who was installed in June 2006 as bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., which covers the western suburbs of Chicago.

Monsignor J. Gaston Hebert has served as the diocesan administrator in the interim.

“The people of the Diocese of Little Rock have eagerly awaited you like a dry, weary land without water,” Hebert said when introducing Taylor at the ceremony, “and no one has been more thirsty than I. ... Bishop Taylor is the answer to our prayers.”Taylor’s former bishop - Archbishop Eusebius J. Beltran of Oklahoma City - also welcomed him to his new role. Beltran presented Taylor with the symbols of his new office: a miter, a ring and a shepherd’s staff....

Taylor, 54, is a native of Fort Worth but grew up mainly in Ponca City, Okla. He has studied at St. Meinrad Seminary College in Indiana and the North American College in Rome. He was ordained a priest in 1980 and later earned a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in New York City.

Since 2003, Taylor had led Sacred Heart Church, which he oversaw in its transition into a mostly Hispanic parish. With more than 7,500 members, Sacred Heart is one of the largest congregations in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. Seven of its nine Masses are in Spanish, one is bilingual, and one is in English.

More than 300 people traveled by bus for more than five hours from Oklahoma to attend Taylor’s big day. That included about 100 parishioners from St. Monica Catholic Church, a parish he founded in Edmond in 1993.

“He is a wonderful pastor,” said Jeanne Manaugh, one of the first members of St. Monica. “He’s so humble. You can always count on him.”

She added that Taylor would always greet his parishioners by name when he gave them Communion.

Imelda Esparza, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Rogers, took her three children to the event. She was among those who had to carpool after the bus St. Vincent de Paul was using broke down shortly after departing.

Esparza, one of about 60 from her parish who attended, said she wouldn’t have missed this.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Esparza. “We're very excited to have a [Spanishspeaking] bishop. That’s going to make a big change in our diocese - just to have a bishop who speaks the language and understands our Hispanic culture.”
Having put off his planned retirement to serve as administrator through the diocese's 24-month vacancy, Hebert now finally gets his release to Hot Springs and his long-awaited life of cooking, gardening and bridge-playing.

Before leaving, however, the longtime pastor offered some words of wisdom to his presbyterate:
“Fathers, I now have nothing to lose: one week, six days and four hours and it’s all over. So I’m going to tell you exactly what I think.”

Though that comment was received by laughter, the church fell silent as his tone turned serious and emotional. He spoke about how as human beings, priests fall into sinfulness and get distracted by the world, which can cause them to sometimes “lose the fervor of our first love.”

“My brothers in Christ. I am very proud to be a priest. ... It’s all I’ll ever wish to be and I am proud to be your brother as a priest,” he said.

“We must support one another. We must love one another on the journey because we have something to do that is more important than anything in the whole world, which has been entrusted to us. Human as we, frail as we are, we are the priesthood of God.”
As previously noted, the 18-day spring circuit of installations ends later today with Archbishop Thomas Rodi's chair-taking in Mobile. More on that in a bit.