Thursday, March 08, 2012

In Oregon, Cary-d Home: Pope Names Native Son as Baker Bishop

After a thirteen-month vacancy, the Stateside church's longest diocesan opening is finally settled -- at Roman Noon today, the Pope named Fr Liam Cary, 64, until now a priest of Portland in Oregon and pastor of St Mary's in Eugene, as bishop of Baker, covering the state's eastern, largely rural two-thirds.

In the post overseeing 40,000 Catholics, the bishop-elect succeeds Bishop Robert Vasa -- a favorite of church conservatives who was tapped to lead Northern California's Santa Rosa diocese last year. In the interim, Rome unusually tapped another bishop to serve as Apostolic Administrator: the former USCCB president Bishop William Skylstad, who had retired as head of Washington state's Spokane church months before being pressed back into duty on Vasa's transfer.

While Cary would become a priest of Portland, he was actually born in the Baker diocese and entered high-school seminary to study for the priesthood there. After college, however, he left formation to work among migrants and the poor in Chicago, California and Oregon, according to the official bio.

He re-entered seminary in 1987 and after studies at Rome's Pontifical North American College, was ordained a priest in 1992, just after his 45th birthday.

In the latter aspect, Cary is far from unique among Pope Benedict's American appointees, several of whom were likewise "late vocations" ordained in their late 30s or 40s after working secular careers. Also like many among the B16 generation of bishops, today's nominee served as a vocation director, holding the post in Portland from 1994-98.

The appointee's background notably fits several key needs for the Baker church: for one, Cary's fluent Spanish and migrant work matches up with an increase of its Hispanic migrant population over recent years, and the bishop-elect's experience in vocations work speaks to a pressing need for homegrown seminarians. The diocese has one of the US church's highest concentrations of "import clergy," mostly drawn from Africa, as recruiting future priests from the local population has proven a difficult task.

Having dabbled heavily in YouTube at a former assignment, the appointee is expected to meet his new charge again at a press conference this morning at the chancery, which is located in the larger city of Bend. In accord with the norms of the canons, Cary must be ordained and installed within four months.

Before today, a priest of Portland -- the West Coast's second oldest local church -- hadn't been appointed as a diocesan bishop since 1950, when local cleric Francis Peter Leipzig was likewise named to the Baker post, where he served for 21 years.

With the seat now filled again, seven US Latin dioceses -- including, for the first time in two decades, a trio of archdioceses -- remain vacant, with another nine led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age of 75. The most recent prelate to join the second group is the metropolitan who'll ordain Cary: Portland's Archbishop John Vlazny, who marked his milestone birthday on 22 February.