Monday, June 13, 2011

Chicago Past, Chicago Future: For Windy City, Double Auxes

Within the last year, Cardinal Francis George lost his chief lieutenants for Chicago's influential Polish diaspora and burgeoning Hispanic community.

Perhaps it's unsurprising, then, that at Roman Noon today, the 2.4 million-member Windy City church received new auxiliary bishops specifically tasked with serving... its influential Polish diaspora and burgeoning Hispanic community.

However, there is an added thread this time: with the immediate past president of the US bishops now seven months shy of the retirement age of 75 -- and set to become the first Chicago chief ever to reach the milestone -- this morning's move can be read as an indicator to not expect any transition too quickly (much as, even now, the chattering circles seem to be quite enthused about it).

The latest addition to recent months' bumper-crop of auxiliaries named on these shores, the appointments of Bishops-elect Peter Wypych, 56, and Alberto Rojas, 46, respectively fill the slots opened when the bench's current Legal Guru (and longtime "Holy Goalie") Bishop Thomas Paprocki received the diocese of Springfield in April 2010, and then-Bishop Gustavo GarcĂ­a-Siller MSpS was launched to the archbishopric of San Antonio last October, becoming (at 53) the nation's youngest metropolitan.

While, in keeping with Chitown tradition, both will take the helm of one of the archdiocese's six regional vicariates, the nods duly highlight both the traditional and evolving realities of the nation's third-largest local church. Long home to the largest Polish community outside the Motherland, much like the wider national fold, Chicago Catholicism's next era has rapidly become one of Hispanic dominance; as of 2009 chancery figures, Catholics of "Latino origin" formed fully half of its pewfolk, and with an annual turnout approaching a quarter-million, the 11-12 December Guadalupe festival on the grounds of an archdiocesan shrine just over the city line has become, by far, the Stateside church's largest annual gathering of all.

Where the threads unite past and future, however, is just as significant: like the diasporae they'll oversee, both bishops-elect are immigrants, albeit taking different paths to ministry in Chicagoland. Born in the Krakow archdiocese, Wypych emigrated to the Midwest a half-decade after his 1979 ordination for the home-church of Blessed John Paul II. A lifelong pastor, his first administrative post came in 2009, when he was named a dean in tandem with leading the parish he's had for a decade.

For his part, after beginning seminary in his native Aguascalientes, in central Mexico, Rojas came to the States to complete his formation at Chicago's Mundelein Seminary, from which he was ordained in 1997, in the first priesthood class ordained by Francis George two weeks after the now-cardinal's installation as archbishop. Five years later, the bishop-elect was named to the seminary faculty as director of Hispanic ministry, spending seven years there until receiving his first pastorate last year.

The appointments return Chicago's active crop of auxiliaries to its standard full complement of six. Their ordination date, however, remains unclear, with the chancery's morning release merely indicating the rites for "later this summer."

In the meanwhile, having been appointed to the rank, the bishops-elect are able to sit and vote at this week's June Meeting of the USCCB, which begins Wednesday outside Seattle.