Wednesday, May 27, 2009

History in the Lehigh Valley: A Non-Philadelphian to Allentown

Just last week, Bishop Fran Malooly of Wilmington named the diocese's longtime Chancellor, Msgr John Barres, to his first pastorate....

This morning, however, Pope Benedict named the 48 year-old cleric as the fourth bishop of Allentown.

While Holy Child on Naamans Road loses out on the deal, the Lehigh Valley church of 275,000 gets its locals' oft-stated wish leading up to today's move: for the first time in its 48 year history, its ordinary will hail from somewhere other than the archdiocese of Philadelphia, from which the five upstate counties were spun off in 1961.

No shortage of Allentowners might've hailed the end of River City domination this morning, but indeed, it's still all in the family -- they've got Channel 6 in the First State, too, you know... even if its ecclesial culture is markedly different.

Baptized by Fulton Sheen, the New York native -- a son of Protestant converts and product of both the famed WASP bastion Andover Academy and Princeton University -- becomes the first Wilmington priest to leave as a bishop since 1900, when local boy Benjamin Keiley was sent to lead the diocese of Savannah, which then encompassed all of Georgia and Florida.

Ordained in 1989, Barres (pronounced "BARR-is") succeeds Bishop Edward Cullen, who reached the retirement age of 75 in March 2008. A social worker with a Harvard MBA, Cullen took care of some tough calls over recent years that leave the diocese in better shape for his successor, most notably overseeing a parish consolidation effort that, with heavy lay input, slimmed its church-count by nearly a third, from 151 to 104.

A veteran of the Wilmington chancery with additional degrees from Washington's Theological College at Catholic University, an NYU MBA in management and Opus Dei's Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, the bishop-elect was named vice-chancellor of the Diamond State diocese in 1999 and its chancellor the following year. The Ivy alum is likewise fluent in Italian, French and Spanish; with the Allentown church's Hispanic contingent having exploded over the last decade, the latter is of particular import.

The home-diocese of two rising stars of the Stateside bench -- Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville and Bishop Ronald Gainer of Lexington -- for the first time Allentown receives a bishop who isn't already a bishop. In that light, the Cathedral of St Catherine of Siena will host its first-ever episcopal ordination along with Barres' installation rites on 30 July.

On a related note, last week Cullen named a new rector for the diocesan seat: Msgr Andrew Baker, who's returning home from a decade of service at the Congregation for Bishops, where he became the head of the mitre-making dicastery's English desk.

The customary Appointment Day presser has been called for 11am at the Allentown cathedral.

Likewise this morning, the Pope named Msgr Lee Piché, vicar-general of the archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis, as the lone auxiliary for the Twin Cities' church of 850,000.

Named Archbishop John Nienstedt's top assistant last year, the bishop-elect, 51, marked his silver jubilee as a priest yesterday. A Columbia grad in philosophy and former professor of it at St Thomas Seminary, Piché's served as a pastor in three parishes, including one alongside the vicar-general's post.

The bishop-elect will be ordained on 29 June, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul.

SVILUPPO: From Wilmington, a "very proud" Malooly sends off Allentown's bishop-elect with high praise:
In Bishop-elect Barres, the Church of Allentown will receive a shepherd who is deeply spiritual, exceptional in his theology and dedicated to his ministry.

In my first year in the Diocese of Wilmington he has shepherded and guided me around the diocese. In that time I have seen his pastoral concern, much like The Curé of Ars. When we would enter a church before a Saturday or Sunday Mass and he would see people standing in line for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he would immediately go into one of the other confessionals to help minister that sacrament.

You receive a bishop with a missionary spirit not unlike Saint Paul. He is always looking to see how he can invite others to experience the Lord in their lives. You will quickly discover why, for twenty years of priesthood, he has been one of the most loved and respected priests of our diocese.
PHOTO: Diocese of Allentown