Monday, October 30, 2006

Oh, Danny Boy... The Tongues, The Tongues, Are Wagging

A bit of "historical moments in US Catholicism" trivia for you -- for the time being, the oldest and youngest active bishops in the church in America both belong to the archdiocese of Detroit.

Cardinal Adam Maida introduced his new auxiliary, Bishop-elect Daniel Flores, to a rapt crowd Saturday afternoon at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where the appointee addressed the gathered media and faithful in both English and Spanish.

Noting Flores' die-hard affinity for the New York Yankees, the Free-Press declared that, fresh from the AL champion Tigers' playoff run -- which included a first-round trouncing of said Yankees -- the new auxiliary's "a candidate for conversion."
"He's a real down-to-earth guy," Michael Mantz, a deacon at Corpus Christi Cathedral in Texas, where Flores most recently served as rector, said Saturday. "I would say that Msgr. Flores is probably one of the most well-liked and respected priests in this diocese."
From the reaction of the inbox, it's a sentiment widely shared; one former student of the cleric seemingly known to one and all as "Monsignor Danny" said that he "can't speak highly enough" of the 45 year-old with a knack for multitasking who told his hometown paper of "two sleepless nights" after getting the news of his appointment two weeks ago.

He's "a genius and at home in the Patristics," I'm told, blessed with the rare knack of being able to "compare and contrast something Augustine said in his Confessions to Star Wars or Lord of the Rings," apparently with the wish of being able to eventually teach a class on the Catholic theology of the Tolkien trilogy.

"He is a man who is accessible and available, but very humble... [who] always spoke words of compassion." He's been described by others as "down-to-earth" and "blue-collar" -- qualities sure to win the hearts of shot-and-a-beer Detroiters. And, just in case you were curious, Flores is an alum of the Latin course of the legendary Fr Reginald Foster (who, as many of you know, was unceremoniously dismissed from the faculty of the Pontifical Gregorian University earlier this month after 30 years of service there).

While the confluence of circumstances -- a very young designee sent from near-Mexico to near-Canada to assist an ordinary widely thought to be near-Retirement (and all on a Saturday, no less) -- have markedly upped this appointment's buzz quotient, it's important to note that the trends at work here are not at all unusual... that is, when considered individually.

Of the 13 priests elevated to the episcopacy on these shores over the last year, almost a third are fortysomethings, a distinction Flores shares with Bishop Alex Sample of Marquette (who turns 46 next week) and Auxiliary Bishops Frank Caggiano of Brooklyn and Daniel Thomas of Philadelphia, both 47.

As for the drastic change of address, remember, too, that auxiliary bishops from ethnic minorities are customarily not named from the local churches in which they serve, but from a national list of suitable candidates comprising both secular and religious clergy. (Latinos may comprise almost 40% of the membership of the US church, but only 6% of its priests.) Bishop Carmody hinted yesterday that the Hispanic list of episcopabili numbers about 100 clerics.

Other Hispanic auxiliaries drawn from the outside their dioceses of appointment include current Auxiliary Bishops Gustavo Garcia-Siller, M.Sp.S. of Chicago, Emilio Allue, SDB of Boston and, from the past, Jose Gomez in Denver (now archbishop of San Antonio) and Roberto Gonzalez, OFM in Boston.

Elevated at the tender age of 38, Gonzalez was named to Corpus Christi as coadjutor in 1995 and, after two years as diocesan bishop, was promoted to the archdiocese of San Juan in 1999. The better-known African-American list has yielded such "journeyman" auxiliaries as Terry Steib, SVD and Edward Braxton (Chicago) to St Louis, Jesuits George Murry in Chicago and Gordon Bennett in Baltimore, Josephite John Ricard in Baltimore, and Leonard Olivier, SVD and Martin Holley (Pensacola-Tallahassee) in Washington, among others... with more to come.

It's also quite true that the Holy See isn't normally given to granting auxiliary bishops to prelates nearing or past their 75th birthdays and, thus, on the retirement docket. In recent years, however, Rome has shown an increasingly positive disposition to such benefices -- always for the good of the fold, of course, but just sometimes with a political consideration or two looming slightly beyond the limelight.

Never lacking for episcopal assistance in his archdiocese, with Flores' appointment Maida has received five auxiliaries in the last four years alone. And while the new bishop's English remarks were fairly stock and staid, with a nod to the "many friends with whom [he] studied in Rome" who serve on the seminary staff, the more resonant ones -- y non solamente por razones de su voz -- were offered in Spanish.

Maida asked Benedict XVI for "a helper," Flores said in his ancestral tongue, "someone who could lend his arms and shoulders to the task of stretching the networks on the boat of the Lord, principally among the Hispanic community."

Speaking eloquently of his family's roots in Mexico, then Texas in a time when "a national border didn't exist" along the Rio Grande, the new bishop confessed that he felt himself "little prepared for this mission.

"I feel my soul tremble before so great a challenge."

The challenge begins with his ordination, but 30 days away.

Ankur Dholakia / The Detroit News