Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vann Johnston, Van Nuys and Vatican Nuncios -- March (Ordination) Madness Grips US Church

Suffice it to say, folks, when it rains... it pours.

After more than three months without episcopal ordinations on these shores, we're in the midst of a hat-trick -- Four Days. Three ceremonies. Coast-to-coast.

(On top of a Houston cathedral. And, of course, The Main Event.)

Two have already taken place, the first of which came on "Bright Thursday," when Bishop Gerald Dino was ordained to lead California's Ruthenian eparchy of Van Nuys. Due to the small size of the 3,000-member fold's churches and its immense territorial boundaries, the rite took place not at Dino's SoCal cathedral, but a Latin-rite parish in Glendale, Arizona.

Previously protosyncellos -- the Eastern-church equivalent of vicar-general -- in his native eparchy of Passaic, the New York-born Dino, 68, was appointed in December to succeed Bishop William Skurla, who was transferred to lead the Jersey see. Also a parish priest back home at the time of his promotion, both Latin and Eastern-church delegations of Dino's Garden State crew went West to join in the festivities.

With its US headquarters in Pittsburgh, the Ruthenian church -- a Byzantine rite with roots in present-day Slovakia -- counts about 100,000 members in the States spread across four dioceses. Established in 1981, the Van Nuys eparchy encompasses 19 parishes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

* * *

As previously mentioned, the second of the trio took place this morning at Birmingham's St Paul Cathedral, as Archbishop Joseph Marino's big day gave Alabama the first bishop-making it had seen in exactly two decades; the last was Bishop Raymond Boland's ordination and installation in the same sanctuary on 25 March 1988.

According to local reports, an overflow crowd of 1,000-plus "crammed into every corner" of the "EWTN diocese's" mother church to cheer on the native-son, a veteran papal diplomat named nuncio to Bangladesh in January, the first Southerner to become a bishop in the service of the Holy See.

Led by principal consecrator Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, eight high-hats were in attendance, including Archbishops Timothy Broglio of the Military Services (lately nuncio to the Dominican Republic), Vatican observer to the UN Celestino Migliore, and B'ham's last three ordinaries: Boland, David Foley and current Bishop Robert "No More Whispers" Baker.

Explaining his decision to be ordained among his own as opposed to the customary venue of St Peter's, the new archbishop said that the Magic City "is my home" and that he "wanted to be with my friends and family."

"I'm overwhelmed," Marino told reporters at the close of the two-hour liturgy.

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On Monday -- this year's transferred Annunciation Day -- the final leg of the circuit will take place when Bishop-elect Vann Johnston takes the reins of the rural Missouri diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.

The first-ever Knoxvillean to get a ring and staff, Johnston, 48, was named in January to succeed Bishop John Leibrecht, whose retirement was accepted 30 months after reaching the mandatory age of 75. Head of the 65,000-member diocese since 1984, Leibrecht is the first SoMo bishop to retire from the post; each of his predecessors had been transferred elsewhere, including two who eventually became cardinals: William Wakefield Baum and Bernard Francis Law.

A veteran hiker, the local talk is that the incoming bishop's favored pastime will come in handy... as he's got to hit the ground running:

Quiet time will be a rare commodity for the new bishop. He will be taking over Leibrecht's calendar, which is "pretty full," said Monsignor Tom Reidy, chancellor of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese....

The first Sunday as bishop, he will be in Nixa for the weekend to celebrate several Masses and confirm new members to St. Francis of Assisi parish.

"They will be among the first people to get to know him," said Mark Boyer, pastor of the Nixa church. "They're excited."

Getting to know the people in a diocese that covers more than 25,000 square miles and stretches from Joplin in the west and Cape Girardeau to the east will take time and plenty of travel. There are two cathedrals, in Springfield and Cape Girardeau, separated by 250 miles.

Johnston sees a lot of similarity between the Knoxville and Springfield-Cape Girardeau dioceses. "The church seems to be sort of cut from the same type of cloth," he said. "I know there are characteristics of each ... but I find the similarities attractive."

If Johnston follows in Leibrecht's footsteps, he will be traveling a lot, visiting the diocese's 66 parishes, 18 missions, 23 elementary schools and three high schools.

The outgoing ordinary will be a principal co-consecrator alongside Johnston's mentor and former boss, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, with the local metropolitan, Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis, serving as ordaining prelate.

Scheduled to begin at 2.30pm local time (1930 UTC) in Springfield's convention center, Monday's rites will be streamed live via the diocesan site.

PHOTOS: Beverly Taylor/
Birmingham News(1-3); Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau(4)