Friday, June 27, 2014

In Michigan, A Spartan Shift – Lansing Chancellor Raica to Gaylord

As the Curia's "end of school" desk-clearing reaches its close, the US' longest-standing vacancy has been settled.

At Roman Noon this Friday, the Pope tapped Msgr Steven Raica, 61 – chancellor of Lansing and, from 1999-2005, head of the Casa Santa Maria (the Roman residence for American priests in advanced studies) – as fifth bishop of Gaylord, the 65,000-member church comprising the northern 21 counties of Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

Born on the Upper Peninsula and rumored for its opening in Marquette earlier this year, in the slightly warmer rural post Raica succeeds another prominent figure from the Rome scene: now-Archbishop Bernard Hebda, the Harvard and Columbia-trained canon and civil lawyer who wept on being made to leave for the roiled, 1.4 million-member archdiocese of Newark as its coadjutor last fall.

A product of Michigan State, where he earned a bachelor's in mathematics before a JCD from the Gregorian, the "gentle and industrious" bishop-elect is believed to be the first US prelate who's fluent in sign language; for the first decade of his priesthood, Raica served as Lansing's diocesan director for deaf ministry alongside parish work. Beyond his assignments, the bishop-elect has been chaplain to the local Legatus as well as immersing himself in Communion and Liberation, the Milan-based movement which rose to even greater prominence in the last pontificate as B16's favorite.

As for what lies ahead, meanwhile, what Hebda referred to as "the needs of the church in Gaylord" would seem to mesh well with the profile of his successor: on his transfer to Newark after four years, Bishop Bernie just beginning to focus the diocese on planning its mid-range future, a challenge that's been particularly acute across Michigan given demographic shifts as harsh as the state's infamous winters. Alongside the structural realities, priestly vocations have proven another hurdle upstate, while Lansing has long bucked the trend, ordaining five in this year's batch, including identical twins who were profiled in The New York Times. (Gaylord will ordain one tomorrow, with His Grace-in-Waiting returning to perform the rite.)

In a statement released this morning, the bishop-elect mused on the confluence of his appointment and today's solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a figure whose "love and mercy" has repeatedly been part of his life and ministry.

Raica's ordination is scheduled for 28 August, the feast of St Augustine.

With today's move, the number of Stateside Latin-church vacancies falls to four – a group with Toledo now topping the pile – with another five led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75. Earlier this month, it emerged that for the most prominent of the docket – of course, the heavily anticipated Chicago appointment – Cardinal Francis George had submitted his report on the state of the 2.3 million-member archdiocese, featuring his shortlist of preferred successors.

As the process can't reach Rome until the major investigation by the Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, is completed, it bears repeating that no movement is expected until the Congregation for Bishops reconvenes in September. Ergo, things will feel like this for a while....

That said, it's not yet safe to call the end of appointments for the summer – anything decided in the last lap before the recess can drop until July 15th, give or take.

Speaking of Michigan and archbishops, Sunday's feast of Saints Peter and Paul will see Pope Francis confer the pallium on just one American, the Detroit-born Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, among 24 new metropolitans named over the last year around the globe.

Even so, folks, the most important thing for now is far simpler: it's a summer weekend – enjoy it.

SVILUPPO: Describing himself as "thrilled" at the news, a Lansing op sends this portrait of the bishop-elect....

This may sound a bit cliché, but he is truly one of the most kind, gentle, intelligent and faithful people I know.... He is very deliberate and thoughtful, has a great sense of humor and yet is very attentive. He is big on using technology and communications for evangelization....

If this is the sort of bishop Pope Francis is naming, I'm thrilled. He is solid but not an ideologue. He has chancery, Rome and parish experience. Though he loves pasta, travel and culture, he lives very simply. He's an excellent cook. His desk is very messy! He is bright, faithful and yet has no ax to grind.

I have never witnessed him to have an appetite for the sort of rhetoric we see from others in the U.S. hierarchy on the hot button issues. Like Pope Francis, I don't see +Raica watering anything down but I think his emphasis will be in line with this pope - on the positive aspects of our faith. I hope this is a sign of more good appointments to come. I think +Raica really reflects what we are hearing that Pope Francis wants – shepherds who are gentle, approachable, smell like the sheep and are open to bringing everyone closer to the Lord.