Sunday, July 06, 2008

Herbie Gets High-Hat; River City Erupts

So the initial game-plan was to hold the news ‘til Zero Hour… but as the buzz back in Pharaohtown’s already broken the Richter scale, let's just get to it.

(As soon as) tomorrow morning, the Pope is expected to name Philadelphia's Msgr Herbert Bevard – currently episcopal vicar for the city’s northern half and pastor of St Athanasius parish in its northwestern West Oak Lane neighborhood – as bishop of St Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

Fluent in French, from Southern roots and known to the universe as “Herbie,” the 62 year-old cleric would succeed the South Jersey-born Bishop George Murry SJ, who was transferred to northeast Ohio’s diocese of Youngstown in late January 2007. Home to 30,000 Catholics served by 15 priests in eight parishes on St Thomas, St John and St Croix, the island diocese has been the longest-standing vacancy on the US church’s episcopal docket since April's appointment to Little Rock ended the Arkansas church's 24-month wait for a new head.

Pastoral in style yet traditional in taste, the born Presbyterian admired around town as a gracious gentleman, "ardent" advocate of the faith, a faithful brother to his priests and shepherd to his people would be the third adult convert named to the Stateside bench in the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the second this year alone. Ordained in 1972 (and showered with Purple Rain in 2003), the monsignor's mix of a priesthood spent in parish ministry with a modicum of responsibility at the diocesan level correlates with the mould of appointee pursued by the process' key player on these shores, the Vatican nuncio to the US Archbishop Pietro Sambi; prior to serving this last year as first troubleshooter for the 66 parishes of his "Philadelphia-North" vicariate, Bevard chaired his archdiocese's Interparochial Cooperation Commission (IPCC), the local fund-sharing organ for struggling parishes.

Long the alter ego of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville -- a seminary classmate with whom he shares a vacation home along the shores of the diocese of Wilmington -- the presumptive bishop-elect would be the second member of the Allentown-born rainmaker's inner circle raised to the episcopacy in 2008; in January, the Bluegrass primate's top lieutenant in his former diocese of Knoxville, Vann Johnston, was sent to downstate Missouri as bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau. On another chessboard note, the placement of a Philadelphian in the lone suffragan seat of the nation's capital comes almost exactly a year after Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl won the hard-fought battle to secure the homecoming of his chosen successor to the bishopric of Pittsburgh, the senior suffragan church of the City of Brotherly Love. And though the foreseen appointment would bring an end to the tradition of African-American bishops of St Thomas begun after the 1992 transfer of then-Bishop Sean O'Malley OFM Cap. to Fall River, much of Bevard's ministry has been devoted to the service of heavily Black parishes.

His name said to have been a presence on ternae for the next batch of hometown auxiliaries, the anticipated nod would instead shatter decades of tradition. Not since Dennis Dougherty ruled the universe and God's favorite fold encompassed ten counties has a Philly priest serving in the archdiocese been named a diocesan bishop without a stint as a Vice-Pharaoh; in 1937, local pastor Eugene McGuinness was named bishop of Raleigh, going on to head the diocese of Oklahoma City before his death in 1957.

(Well, the hard-core historians might argue that the last one actually came in 1956, when the cathedral rector Hubert Cartwright was named coadjutor of Wilmington. Cartwright, however, died suddenly 16 months later, without a day on the cathedra.

(Either way, it's been a really long time, OK?)

With word on the street noting Bevard to be off-radar over recent days -- ostensibly laying low in the nation's first frontier diocese, where Kurtz presided at bicentennial celebrations last weekend -- the presumed nominee would expectedly resurface at the traditional Appointment Day press conference in his new charge, his old friend said to be joining him for the journey.

Per the provision of the canons, once an appointment is formally made through its publication in the Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office, a bishop-elect must be ordained and take canonical possession of his diocese within four months.

As earlier noted, also expected in short order is the promotion of Auxiliary Bishop Fran Malooly of Baltimore to the top post of the 260,000-member Wilmington church.

PHOTO: AP/Joseph Kaczmarek(1); Catholic Islander(2)