Tuesday, December 15, 2009

O, Wensboro: For West Kentucky, an Advent Medley

Putting yet another longest-standing US vacancy to rest, this morning Pope Benedict named Fr Bill Medley, a veteran Louisville pastor, as bishop of Owensboro.

At the helm of the rural, tight-knit Western Kentucky diocese -- its 58% Sunday turnout 2.5 times the national average, and long the country's highest -- the 57 year-old appointee succeeds the beloved Bishop John McRaith, whose resignation for "general health reasons" was accepted last 5 January, a year ahead of his 75th birthday. Head of the 52,000-member church since 1982, McRaith's earthy spirit has defined the diocese for over a generation -- having sold his predecessor's deluxe digs, the episcopal "mansion" remains half a humble duplex off the see-city's beaten path, and on his 20th anniversary in office, the diocese gave the quiet, pipe-smoking prelate a John Deere tractor.

Along these lines, his successor comes well-equipped. A onetime social worker who, after studies at St Meinrad and his 1982 ordination, went on to become an "effective, excellent pastor," Medley's priesthood has seen him called on frequently to establish, merge or reinvigorate parishes in locales ranging from Louisville's African-American quarter to the archdiocese's venerable founding seat of Bardstown, whose Proto-Cathedral of St Joseph was made a basilica, air-conditioned and its sanctuary renovated during the bishop-elect's 12-year rectorship.

Along the way, the appointee served under now-retired Archbishop Thomas Kelly OP as director of clergy personnel, preparing him for another defining aspect of Owensboro Catholicism: the diocese's longstanding practice of importing foreign clergy, which saw it profiled late last year in a New York Times series on overseas priests recruited to stanch the Stateside shortage.

A lifer in the nation's first inland diocese, Medley is the first Derbytown product called to the high-hat since 1984, when Fr J. Kendrick Williams was named auxiliary bishop of Covington; subsequently the first head of central Kentucky's Lexington diocese, Williams resigned in 2002 after three men raised allegations of sexual abuse by the prelate.

Having chosen "Holy Is God's Name" as his motto, the bishop-elect will be ordained and installed on 10 February in Owensboro's sports arena. As the day progresses, livestreams, photos statements and more will be had on the diocesan site.

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On a wider chessboard note, this morning's appointment represents a signal accomplishment for the "Super-Nuncio" and his staff: for the first time in nearly a decade, the Owensboro nod sees Stateside Catholicism's senior opening filled in under a year.

Known from his prior postings as "quick, effective and thorough" on terna-work, Archbishop Pietro Sambi arrived at the DC nunciature in early 2006 with a docket backlog that extended beyond two years.

Again, as of today, the wait's been cut in less than half.

Of course, the catch-up operation took no small degree of cooperation from the bench, whose members submit the names from which the talent-pool is drawn... and who were once reportedly advised by Sambi that their successors would look rather different from themselves. Yet still, after a banner year of appointments -- now 28 in all -- 2009 has seen the colorful Italian's favored type come into clearer focus: young, off-the-radar clerics steeped less in chancery duties and pontifical degrees than extensive pastoral experience; men moderate in tone, energetic in temperament, open in approach, and especially invested in the morale and welfare of their priests (a reflection of the abuse crisis' widespread toll on the bishop-priest relationship)... and all vetted by a process that's seen a significant broadening in consultation on Sambi's watch, with more interrogatory letters going around than even longtime observers could ever recall.

In a nutshell, the reworked mold seen in these recent choices has begun to make for a "quiet revolution" in the ranks of the American episcopate. And with the new breed mostly in their early 50s and just starting out in smaller posts, it's a shift whose impact will only become fully evident in the long run.

The Nunciature Team might be tempted to pop a cork or two today, but their work continues on -- the longest Stateside vacancy now passes to Ogdensburg, in the North Country of New York state, which fell open on Bishop Robert Cunningham's April transfer to Syracuse. Five other US dioceses remain leaderless as of this writing, with another six led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75.

Still, it wasn't long ago when the combined figure was close to twice that.

SVILUPPO: Described among his own as "an incredibly loyal friend" with "never a bad word to say about anybody," Medley's statement is on the wires in advance of today's noontime Central (1pm Eastern) presser:
On the day of my Baptism, I was commissioned by God to go and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and to build up the Kingdom of God. From that font of grace and the grace bestowed upon me at my ordination to priesthood, I commit myself anew to minister to the needs of the Church of Owensboro in collaboration with my brother priests. I look forward to meeting all the priests and those who minister to the faithful of the diocese and to love and serve them.

As a native Kentuckian, my own faith has been shaped by the practice of Catholicism in this commonwealth since pioneer days. It is now a privilege to be the shepherd and servant of others molded in this holy and rich tradition. May the Lord Jesus give me the grace to proclaim the Good News with vigor, to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, most especially the Holy Eucharist, with reverence, devotion and joy, and to provide pastoral leadership in truth and with pastoral charity.

I am thankful to Bishop John McRaith who has served the holy people of western Kentucky from 1982 until this year. He has expressed to me his warmest welcome and promised to teach and guide me as a bishop. His holiness, goodness and kindness will be the measure of my ministry....

I am thankful to Fr. Michael Clark who was chosen last January to serve this church as Diocesan Administrator. It is evident that he has served nobly and generously and his words of welcome and encouragement have been an immense support to me....

I am who I am because of the love and support of my family and my debt to them can never be paid in full. It is a great joy to me that my mother, Dorothy Medley, is still with me to support me and pray for me. I thank God for her and for the wonderful Christian father that I had. My brothers and sisters and my large extended family have always been and will be a source of great faith and strength.

I wish to acknowledge the faith of the people I have been privileged to serve as pastor, the people of Saint Martin de Porres, the Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto- Cathedral in Bardstown, and Saint Bernadette. If I have been a good pastor, it is because these faithful ones have taught me what that means....

During this season of Advent, I reflect upon the young Virgin Mary when the Angel Gabriel announced to her that she had been chosen to be the Mother of God. Her response was simple, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done according to your word.” Later, in encountering her cousin Elizabeth, she proclaimed, “God who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

My episcopal motto shall be, “Holy is God’s name.” With Mary, our Mother, may we all follow her humble way and bear Christ Jesus into the world.
With Louisville awash in "glee" over its first homegrown appointment in a quarter-century, both Kelly and his successor, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, traveled to Owensboro this morning to take part in today's rollout there.

Kurtz will host a priests' reception for Medley on Thursday. A full sendoff Mass for the bishop-elect is in the works for January at the Cathedral of the Assumption.

Minutes after its close, on-demand presser video is already up and streaming.... Great job, O'boro.