Saturday, January 24, 2009

First, Google; Now, Guglielmone -- LI Scout Becomes SC Shepherd

For the second time in 12 days, the nation's longest diocesan vacancy has come to a close.

This morning, Benedict XVI appointed Msgr Robert Guglielmone, rector of St Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, as the 13th bishop of Charleston, one of the nation's eight oldest dioceses. In the post shepherding the Palmetto State's 185,000 Catholics, the 63 year-old pick succeeds Bishop Robert Baker, who was transferred to the diocese of Birmingham in August 2007.

An alum of St John's University in Queens, where he earned a bachelor's in education, the bishop-elect spent five years as a high school teacher before entering Immaculate Conception Seminary in Huntington. Following his ordination in 1978, he served in parish assignments until returning to the seminary as director of pastoral formation and dean of seminarians in 1986, receiving his first pastorate in 1993.

A decade later, as a grand jury report on the diocese's handling of sex-abuse cases raised a public outcry and shook the nation's eighth-largest local church, Bishop William Murphy called the pastor into his top staff, naming him director of priest personnel. Four years later, Guglielmone was named rector of St Agnes, the Norman Gothic gem that serves as the 1.4 million-member diocese's seat. The cathedral parish is made up of 5,200 families.

Still known widely as "Fr Bob" despite having received the honorary prelature in 1996, the "kind and gentle" bishop-elect known for his commitment to his people has kept a unique side ministry throughout his priesthood. Guglielmone recently completed an eight-year term as chaplain of the International Catholic Conference on Scouting and the Holy See's global liaison to scouting programs, serving previously as national chaplain. A keen walker and nature-lover, the new arrival will likely bring company to the historic Bishop's Residence; South Carolinians can likely expect getting to know Mickey, Guglielmone's mixed Shepherd.

In a 2007 interview with the Long Island Catholic -- Rockville Centre's diocesan newspaper -- the newly-named rector termed parish ministry "the heart of priesthood" and said it was something he was "anxious" to get back to after four years in the Chancery post. The experience of being a clergy personnel director in one of the nation's ten largest local churches, however, has prepared the appointee well to tackle the oft-cited top concerns in the Charleston see: a rapidly growing diocese in need of a stronger administrator, better cohesion for a presbyterate oft separated by great distances, and more priests to serve the booming population.

While the state's registered Catholic population more than doubled since 1990 on an influx from the colder confines of the "Rust Belt," a mass Hispanic immigration, much of it undocumented, has swelled the numbers even further. On the vocations side, said to have inspired several young men in his assignments to follow him into the priesthood, expectations are already running high that Guglielmone will continue to build on his predecessor's success at recruiting priests; just before departing for Alabama, Baker ordained seven for the diocese, its largest class since 1956.

During the long interregnum, the Charleston church made global news after one of its pastors wrote after the presidential election that parishioners who voted for a pro-choice candidate had "place[d] themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s church and under the judgment of divine law" and "should not receive Holy Communion" until they had repented in sacramental confession. After Fr Jay Scott Newman's comments circulated widely over the internet within hours of their appearance in his parish bulletin, the pastor's warning was repudiated by the diocesan administrator, Msgr Martin Laughlin.

Now 82, Laughlin returned from retirement to lead the diocese between bishops, and spent much of the 17-month period simultaneously running a parish, to boot.

Arrived in his charge-to-be yesterday, the 12th successor of John England will be formally introduced at a 10.30 press conference in the center adjacent to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

Guglielmone's ordination has reportedly been set for 25 March, the Solemnity of the Annunciation; as of press time, its venue remained undecided.

With this morning's appointment -- already the fourth of the year for these shores -- the number of Stateside sees without a bishop has fallen to eight, a group now led by Mississippi's Katrina-hit diocese of Biloxi, anticipating its next head since last April, when then-Bishop Thomas Rodi was promoted to the archbishopric of Mobile.

In other words, the last three weeks have seen the vacancy docket's longest wait slashed in half, from 18 months to nine.

No mean accomplishment, that.