Monday, August 22, 2005

Attack of the Clones

For those of us who keep an eye on ecclesiastical heraldry, a noteworthy feature of observation has always been the extent to which new bishops include some element or another of the coat of arms of the pope who named them in their own crests. Just as many American bishops either had a gold "M" or something of the kind as a tribute to John Paul, the cycle has begun anew in the blazon of Miami's new auxiliary bishop, John Noonan, who will be ordained on Wednesday.

As with the shield of B16, and as a tribute to Papa Ratzi, Noonan's arms are "tierced per pale" -- that's heraldese for "split three ways." It's quite nice -- let's see how many others follow suit in the coming rounds.

All the reports I've received on Noonan have been noteworthy for the complete admiration and love with which he's held at home. His appointment was greeted with glee down in Miami, and his spirit of informality and fun really seem to shine through, even in the pages of the secular press.

The Herald compiled a glowing package for its Sunday edition, complete with audio excerpts on their website and a list of "Four to Watch" (including the famous Tomas) for the next opening in the Favalora fiefdom. Kudos to Alexandra Alter for some damn good enterprise.

Monsignor John Gerard Noonan -- prankster priest, seminary rector and the next auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Miami -- seems more like your favorite uncle than a No. 2 man at the Archdiocese.

He cleans up the cafeteria alongside his students at St. John Vianney College Seminary, brings coffee to his secretary and often stashes his white plastic priest's collar in his shirt pocket, complaining it's too stuffy....

Born in Limerick, Ireland, Noonan, 54, has a soft, lilting accent and a searing wit. After studying biology at Florida Atlantic University in the 1970s, Noonan decided to fulfill a childhood dream of entering the priesthood. As a seminarian at St. John Vianney in Westchester, and later at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, he developed a reputation as one who hid friends' books and wrapped cars in toilet paper.

His colleagues say he has kept that sense of humor in 22 years of the priesthood -- all in South Florida, except for when he earned a master's degree in education at Boston College. Since 1996, he has been president-rector at St. John Vianney. ''Like any good Irishman, he loves a party,'' said the Rev. Robert Vallee, a philosophy professor at St. John Vianney.

Randy McGrorty, the head of Catholic Charities Legal Services, who has worked with Noonan to obtain visas for the seminary's international students, said Noonan's good-natured charm will help him tackle a more public role: ``Of all the priests in the Archdiocese of Miami that I have gotten to know, . . . John Noonan has always been the model priest personality.''

Model priests make model bishops. (And I'm not talking about the ones who want to preen for Vanity Fair.) If the testaments are any indication -- and they've been legion -- it seems that we'll be seeing a model episcopate on the Florida coast. And that's very exciting news.

Still prepping for the Klieg lights and cameras....



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