Monday, June 02, 2008

Mile High "Global Warming"

At a Thanksgiving Mass yesterday, the weekend-long celebrations for the ordination of new Denver auxiliary Bishop James Conley wrapped... as an international convergence of friends and fans gathered to cheer on the 53 year-old Kansas native, a convert and former Vatican official.

From the local Rocky:
Sunday's Mass processional was about to launch. At the back of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a cluster of clergy - including Denver's brand-new auxiliary bishop - waited for a cue, looking solemn and prayerful.

Next came a disembodied voice announcing that the Mass was being celebrated by "His Excellency, Bishop James Conley."

At that, a wry grin swept the 53-year- old Conley's face, and he turned to whisper something which, from a few pews away, looked an awful lot like, "Well, that's gonna take some getting used to."

Excellency, teacher of the faith, regular guy - all fit the profile of the archdiocese's newest personality, ordained this weekend. He's the new "No. 2" to Archbishop Charles Chaput, who's gone solo since Bishop Jose Gomez left in 2005 to become San Antonio's archbishop.

OK, get your scorecard. Or travel book. Conley is a Presbyterian convert from Kansas who once lived in Arvada, was based in Rome and has friends from everywhere.

On Saturday night he helped shut down a LoDo tavern with a crowd of 20-somethings he came to know as their Rome-based university chaplain.

"We were just hanging out last night," said Colleen Tierney, who with husband Gene, graduated from the University of Dallas, a Texas-based Catholic university that sends students to Rome for study.

"The kids love him madly," said Kathy Fisher, a Denver mom. "They all pitched in and bought him a ticket from Rome to their (Texas) graduation - that's how much they love him."

The Rev. Aloysius Felder, Conley's spiritual director from Austria, filled in more: "He is able - how do you say it in English? - to be informal without being . . . "

A backslapper? That's it, Felder said. He's a friend, but never loses his dignity. At Sunday's reception, Conley could joke about his golf game ("I have to tell the truth?" he deadpanned, when asked his handicap. "Say 18 - no, better make it 20.") The next second he was blessing a family that dropped to their knees before him.

His sermon was serious, based on Sunday's scripture passage that "not all who say 'Lord,' Lord" are always following God.

In a seething political year, Conley took brief but unmistakable aim at high-profile Catholics who say "Lord" but dissent from church teachings, "It's troubling when public figures in any field take positions contrary to the Catholic faith," Conley said, "when so many honest Catholics are sincerely trying to live up to their faith."

The reception reflected so many deep friendships from so many places, it gave new meaning to the words "global warming."

"He's a great example of a strong Catholic who can also enjoy being around people," said Brian Burch, a pal from Phoenix. "There's a simplicity about him that's attractive."
PHOTO: Javier Manzano/Rocky Mountain News