Wednesday, May 20, 2009

River City Meets Bay City: Philly's Cistone to Saginaw

For all the places Pharaohtown's own have ended up over the years, never has one gone to Michigan....

That is, until today.

Taking less than a month to fill the vacancy left by Archbishop-elect Robert Carlson's transfer to St Louis, this morning the Pope named Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Cistone of Philadelphia to lead the diocese of Saginaw.

The top administrator of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese since 1998, Cistone, who turned 60 on Monday, will be installed at the helm of the 120,000-member Mid-Michigan church on 28 July -- the fifth anniversary of his episcopal ordination -- with a cathedral farewell in his hometown a week prior.

A son of the city's working-class Northeast quarter ordained a priest in 1975, Cistone proved an earthy, popular curate in his first assignments before taking up formation duties at St Charles Borromeo Seminary, Overbrook, in 1993.

Within two years, the rising star landed in the chancery's #2 post as top aide to the then vicar-general, Bishop Edward Cullen, before taking the reins outright on Cullen's transfer to Allentown in 1998. Named auxiliary bishop in June 2004 and ordained six weeks later in a raucous liturgy thanks to the cheers of his many friends, the following year's release of a municipal grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in the archdiocese put Cistone's handling of allegations in the public view.

Since becoming a bishop, the Michigan-bound prelate's taken on an even fuller plate, returning to the trenches as pastoral overseer of the city's southern half and part of suburban Delaware County while remaining manager-in-chief at 222 N. 17th Street. With today's move, then, a gaping void opens as the vaunted Philly machine loses its longtime guiding force less than a year before Cardinal Justin Rigali reaches the retirement age of 75.

The second local to depart for a new diocese within a year, Cistone's transfer now makes both of Pennsylvania's chancery chiefs dispatched to the relative calm of Michigan sees just in the last month -- Pittsburgh's curial wizard Bishop Paul Bradley was named to Kalamazoo in early April, to be installed there on 5 June. Yet while a River City cleric is sure to take Cistone's place, Steel City Bishop David Zubik entrusted Bradley's portfolio to a layman.

And already, the appointee's statement has dropped:

You can imagine the plethora of thoughts and feelings I am experiencing at this moment. It is both humbling and exciting to be given the opportunity to serve God’s people as a diocesan bishop. It even occurred to me that I will no longer have a titular see, but that my personal coat of arms will be joined to that of the Diocese of Saginaw, expressing our oneness in faith and mission. Having been in administration of a large archdiocese for 16 years, I fully appreciate the responsibilities and challenges which await me here in Saginaw. At the same time, I have also experienced the tremendous gift of God’s providence and love which the bishop is blessed to share with his people. I am respectful of this new relationship with the good people of the Diocese of Saginaw and, with the grace of God, will do my best to lead and serve this flock as the Lord intends.

It is an honor and joy to become the new Bishop of Saginaw, yet, at the same time, I know it will be difficult to leave my beloved home archdiocese of Philadelphia. My parents, both of whom are 86 years old and anxious to see my new home, raised me and my two brothers in the same neighborhood and parish in which they grew up. My Catholic faith and priestly vocation were nurtured in Philadelphia. I have served as a priest of Philadelphia for 34 years, five of those years as an auxiliary bishop. So, it will be an adjustment to move away from my parents, my family, relatives and friends, and, in particular, my brother priests. I ask your patience with me during this time of transition....

Today, I commit myself to you, the faithful of the Diocese of Saginaw, to shepherd you in faith and love. I fully trust in the providence of God and I know it is the hand of God which has placed me in your midst to lead and serve. I look forward to being here with you and am anxious to get to know meet my new brother priests, deacons, our treasured seminarians, the men and women religious who serve here and, most certainly, the faithful men and women, young people, and boys and girls who make up the Church in Saginaw. I must admit that I do not know a great deal about the Diocese of Saginaw, so it would be presumptuous of me to speak today about priorities and plans. I was happy to learn that the Diocese has arranged a full schedule for me today to visit a few parishes, spend time with the school children, and bring greetings to some of the diocesan institutions. What I do know, however, is this: Jesus Christ must be at the center of all we do: all our prayers...all our thoughts...all our actions. Pope John Paul II, in his great encyclical on the Eucharist, reminded us that "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." And so, what I can tell you is that I will do everything possible to foster ever greater devotion to our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, whether it be by encouraging greater attendance at Mass, more worthy reception of the Eucharist, or prayerful adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

As I did five years ago at the announcement of my appointment as an auxiliary bishop, I again call upon Mary, our Mother, Saint John Neumann and Saint Katharine Drexel to intercede for me to Jesus Christ our Lord that I may be a good and holy bishop, generous and kind to those in my care, faithful to the Word of God and the Magisterium, and always open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In my daily prayer of intercession to God through Saint John Neumann, I pray: "Direct my first thoughts to the service of You and of others. Make my prayer ‘Your will be done,’ knowing that in your mercy and love, Your will for me is my sanctification."
A full day awaits Mid-Michigan's sixth ordinary, beginning with the customary press conference, called for 9am at Saginaw's Center for Ministry.

In Eagles Country, however, he'll be missed.

This morning's move drops the number of Stateside sees currently without a bishop to five. Another eleven US dioceses are led by a prelate serving past the retirement age.

Daniel Good