Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bishops Past and Future

So Friday's piece on the re-entombment of Thomas Hendricken, the founding bishop of Providence, and the simultaneous death in obscurity of its onetime auxiliary, Bernard Kelly, got an unexpected bit of reactions.... Further proof that you never know what'll touch a chord.

Anyways, in light of the queries for more on Kelly, thanks to a friend for tracking down and sending along his obit, run last week in West Virginia's Keyser Mineral Daily News-Tribune. And hard-core history buffs might enjoy a local cable program on Hendricken and his reinterrment which, in a sign of the times, was YouTubed by the diocese.

Elsewhere in New England, the line continues on today as, after a long wait, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston celebrates the ordination of his two new auxiliaries, Bishops-elect John Dooher and Robert Hennessey. The Eminent Blog features shots and words of the new bishops, and some insights from the first-time principal consecrator, who called his 1984 appointment as coadjutor of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands "quite a shock!"
In those days, members of religious communities weren’t named bishops. Although I was being ordained in a diocese which could be considered a missionary diocese, and that’s where most religious do end up being bishops, it was quite a surprise to me. I had never worked in the West Indies. On the island where I was appointed, I was 30 years junior to the next youngest priest. They were all Redemptorists and Columban fathers in those days. We had only one diocesan priest on St. Croix.

Here in the United States, the formal way you address a bishop is “Your Excellency,” but “bishop” is quite sufficient. In the West Indies it was “Your Lordship.” That was as hard to get used to as driving on the left side of the road…lol.....

Suddenly in the West Indies I was catapulted into another culture. For the first time, I was saying Mass in English because in Washington I had Mass in Spanish, Portuguese and French every Sunday. To go away on the weekend was very difficult. There was no one to take my place. I said Mass whether I was sick or whatever.

So the West Indies was an entirely different culture. Also, I had the responsibility of forming the structure of the diocese because I was just the second bishop. It was a new diocese and, though the parishes had been established, I established a newspaper, a television station, shelters for the homeless and insurance programs for our retirement. These things were not yet in place because the diocese was so new and so small. When I arrived there, the diocesan budget was $30,000!

I was very happy in my assignment there as well as my assignment in Washington. It’s always very hard to change, particularly when you’re in a place for a long time. I’d been 20 years in Washington, and that was home for me. Then I was 10 years in the West Indies, and went through a lot with its people. We lived through a lot of changes, a lot of growth and a terrible hurricane. We had to rebuild the whole diocese, and through those experiences we really bonded.