Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Holy Goalie: A Two-Pole Tuesday

And well, gang, time to rev 'em up....

To make things official, this morning Pope Benedict named:
  • Bishop Thomas Wenski, 59 (above), ordinary of Orlando since 2004, as metropolitan archbishop of Miami;
Indeed, two picks of Polish descent... far more significantly, though, two of the sharpest, savviest, most-respected workhorses among the 300-member Stateside bench.

* * *
So the story goes, as the Florida prelate arrived to vest before January's funeral of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot of Port-au-Prince -- the most prominent victim of Haiti's devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake -- a lead figure in the makeshift tent-sacristy was said to have declared, "Wenski's here, now we can begin."

And in the 59 year-old prelate's hometown, this day's sentiment might well be strikingly similar.

In a historic move for the burgeoning church in the nation's fourth-largest state, the native son's been returned to Miami as the fourth archbishop, succeeding Archbishop John Favalora, whose resignation was accepted eight months before he reached the retirement age of 75.

According to an early report, the installation has been scheduled for Tuesday, 1 June, its venue still to emerge. (In 1997, Wenski, then 46, was ordained a bishop in the now-defunct Miami Arena, capacity 17,000.) This morning's traditional Appointment Day press conference has been called for 10am.

Now home to some 900,000 Catholics -- the Southeast's second-largest diocese, after Atlanta -- the Harley-riding archbishop-elect becomes the first homegrown cleric to take up the Sunshine State's top ecclesial post; as of last count, Florida's now home to some 2.3 million American Catholics.

Conversant in Polish, Spanish, Creole, public policy and the ways of the media -- and well-known and regarded in Washington, Havana and Port-au-Prince alike -- Wenski (shown above during a briefing in Cuba last summer) returns well-equipped to handle a complex local situation that'll put his motto ("Omnia omnibus" -- "All things to everyone") to the test. Above all, though, the Miami nominee brings a mix of wonkishness, muscle and grit to St Mary's Cathedral that, in contrast to his genteel Louisiana-born mentor, promise to take his pulpit's visibility and voice far beyond South Florida to a degree heretofore unseen.

As a 50 year-old junior auxiliary, Wenski was elected chair of the US bishops' Migration Committee before being quickly entrusted with another of the "majors": the bench's International Policy arm, which the prodigal Miamian led from 2004-08. Along the way, he held a Mass of Reparation for President Obama's commencement appearance at Notre Dame, earned a Master's in Sociology from Fordham, gave an invocation at a Republican National Convention, spearheaded the delivery of 75 tons of food to Cuba in the wake of a hurricane, served on government commissions dealing with homelessness, and made his own path to Haiti in the days following January's quake, upstaging the Stateside church's lead delegation by virtue of his longstanding bonds with the island and its diaspora at home. (He returned during Easter Week.)

Ordained a priest of Miami in 1976, Wenski was thrust into the archdiocese's wildly diverse cultural scene from early on, serving first in a Hispanic parish before spending almost two decades at the helm of a Haitian apostolate he essentially built from scratch, only leaving it -- at least, formally -- on his appointment as auxiliary bishop.

As noted earlier, the returning Miamian leaves the Orlando fold in the early stages of both a $150 million capital campaign and an extensive renovation of St James Cathedral.

In a word, that just goes to underscore the degree to which that the native son was deemed not just the right man for the job, but the only one.

* * *
While the Southeastern promotion of another Polish Thomas understandably takes today's top line, it's no less notable that, in his pick for the capital of the Land of Lincoln, B16 has, at long last, given one of the bench's more distinctive lights a diocese of his own.

At the helm of the 160,000-member Springfield church -- but a fraction of the 800,000-member Chitown vicariate he now oversees -- Paprocki succeeds now-Archbishop George Lucas, who was promoted to Omaha last June.

He might be celebrated on the legal listservs for his skills with books and folks alike, but among a far bigger crowd at home in Chicagoland, the prelate dubbed "Papo" has racked up a following as the polyglot, marathon-running hockey devotee who occasionally tends practice goal for the Blackhawks, keeps his car littered with Nickelback and Linkin Park CDs to discern his next round of Confirmation homilies... and above all, is known for a particular devotion to Coldplay. (...hence the earlier clip... that said, those who interpreted the video as "pop rock" and reached the conclusion that way were pretty clever.)

A rare breed of spirit, style and substance -- and, along the same lines, a favored son of Joseph Bernardin and Francis George both -- despite his junior status, Paprocki famously bested Archbishop Raymond Burke for the chair of the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs at the 2007 November Plenary, outscoring the now-"chief justice" by a margin of 3-to-2 (138-95). Lest anyone presumes a deviance from Burke-style orthodoxy, however, the bench's lead jurist dropped some jaws at the bishops' 2008 meeting by raising the specter of shuttering Catholic hospitals nationwide were the incendiary Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) -- then a top-shelf fear of the bishops in the wake of President Obama's election -- to become law. At last year's Fall Classic, the canonical chair made another memorable turn, reading from Code in pitch-perfect Latin -- the most extensive exposure the mother-tongue's had on the Floor in memory.

Ordained for the Windy City in 1978, Paprocki earned a civil law degree while serving in his first parish assignment, going on to Rome and the JCD a decade later; on his return to Chicago, Bernardin named him Chancellor just shy of his 40th birthday. Like Wenski, however, the heavy administrative cred belies a significant record in the trenches -- in 1986, the young priest founded a largely pro bono legal clinic to provide advocacy services for the poor and disadvantaged, remaining at its helm into the present.

The "Holy Goalie" will take possession of the capital diocese -- and with it, the Illinois church's lead on statewide matters of government and policy -- at a Mass on 22 June (conspicuously the feast of St Thomas More, patron of politicians). Springfield's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception was rededicated last December following a lengthy $11 million restoration.

In the meanwhile, the bishop's in for at least one only-in-Chitown sendoff as, in early May, Paprocki celebrates Confirmation at St Sabina's on the South Side, home of the ever-controversial Fr Michael Pfleger -- the longtime Obama ally whose mid-preach call last week for "women priests... married priests... women bishops and women cardinals" subsequently landed the famed activist pastor in but his latest round of hot water.

PHOTOS: Valeta Orlando/Florida Catholic(1); AP(2); CNS File(3)