Thursday, July 29, 2010

Inveni David: O'Connell Eve in Trenton

Sure, every episcopal ordination has something of a lead-in... as they go, though, you'd be hard pressed to top this:

Each new bishop might come to the high-hat with exceptional qualities and high accolades to his name... only now, though, "CNN analyst" has a place among 'em. And accordingly, five cardinals and some 50 bishops are set to converge on Trenton for tomorrow's ordination of Bishop-elect David O'Connell CM as coadjutor of Central Jersey's 850,000-member local church.

Placed in succession to the beloved Bishop Mort Smith -- like his heir apparent, a figure widely regarded as "an event" -- early word tips the handover for early 2011; the Mort reached the retirement age of 75 last month, two years after he requested an apprentice to facilitate a smooth transition.

Given the incoming prelate's transformative 12-year stint as president of the Catholic University of America in Washington (whose arms set the template for his own), the nationally-televised, globally-streamed liturgy will be the most high-profile elevation the church's American leadership has seen in almost a decade; the last time a US priest entered the episcopacy with a similar degree of prominence came in 2001, when one Timothy Michael Dolan was ordained an auxiliary bishop of St Louis in a raucous liturgy that saw the congregation swell the balconies and jam the narthex of Redbird Nation's 2,700-seat "New Cathedral."

Of course, you'll recall where he is now... and alongside the chief occupant of 452 Madison and over 300 priests, the thousand-strong, Mom-led invite list is rounded out by Gov. Chris Christie, hosts of Knights, parishioners, profs and, all told, as much of the wide-ranging O'Connell orbit as the downtown cathedral could cram in.

Even if it's "in-waiting," tomorrow sees the arrival of the Garden State's first diocesan bishop appointed by Benedict XVI. More to the point, though, the 2pm rite seals a marriage made in hierarchical heaven, joining an energetic, culture-friendly, media-savvy figure to a growing, well-run jewel amid a challenge-ridden Northeast... and above all, making a strategic placement right at the midpoint of the Amtrak/I-95 corridor that links the region's (and, still to a great degree, the nation's) ecclesial centers of learning, leadership and public presence.

If all that wasn't enough, the timing -- but a fortnight before the 20th anniversary of Ex corde ecclesiae -- plays squarely into the appointee's strong-suit: the Catholic academy and the identity thereof.

In a nutshell, it was never a question that O'Connell's legacy at Catholic would see its 14th president quickly brought onto the bench for which he worked. Still, if Rome was looking to throw water on the Vincentian's A-list circulation in the wider mix (and, from a higher pulpit, his ability to amplify it even further), suffice it to say, he would've landed seemingly anywhere but here.

As a result, these days in Trenton set the stage for a national-grade storyline as the journey of the largest faith on these shores goes -- at least, the shape and voice of its leadership. Of course, the specifics of where the tale will wend remain to be seen. As starts go, though, few (if any) have been more stratospheric than this.

Good thing the hiatus went as long as it did... your narrator's gonna need another one after it all wraps up.

Above all, though, greetings from Mort Country... and, indeed, it's party time.