Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Revving the "Motor," Again -- Detroit Rector Named Steubenville Bishop

Putting the Stateside church's longest-standing vacancy to rest as he heads to Castel Gandolfo for his summer break, at Roman Noon today the Pope named Msgr Jeffrey Monforton, 49 -- pastor of Metro Detroit's largest parish who, until weeks ago, served as rector of the Motor City's Sacred Heart Major Seminary from 2006 -- as bishop of Steubenville.

At the helm of the 40,000-member Southeast Ohio diocese -- best known in the wider church for its celebrated Franciscan University -- the appointee succeeds Bishop Daniel Conlon, who was transferred to Chicagoland's 650,000-member Joliet church in May 2011.

Ordained in 1994, the bishop-elect received a doctorate in spiritual theology from the Gregorian before serving as priest-secretary to Cardinal Adam Maida from 1998-2005, then heading to the seminary as rector a year after being named to his first pastorate. At the close of his six-year term in May of this year, Monforton was named to lead St Andrew's in Rochester -- with almost 5,000 families, the largest community in the 1.4 million-member Detroit church. At the time, the Michigan see said that its seminary had its largest number of candidates in nearly four decades.

Today's appointee is but the latest addition to a long line of Detroit-bred bishops who rose under the city's last three archbishops -- a stable led by the city's current shepherd, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, the first native son ever to hold the post, and Archbishop John Nienstedt of St Paul and Minneapolis, who were ordained auxiliaries to Maida together in 1996. Among active prelates, the group likewise includes Bishops Dale Melczek of Gary, Leonard Blair of Toledo, Earl Boyea of Lansing, Walter Hurley of Grand Rapids and John Quinn of Winona; several other exported proteges of Maida and his predecessor, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, have since retired or died. The youngest American bishop -- the Mexican-born, Texas-bred Arturo Cepeda, now 43 -- was named an auxiliary of Detroit last year.

The nod is likewise an added sign of Vatican esteem for the Detroit seminary, the country's lone formation house able to boast two of its lay faculty as papally-appointed advisers to offices of the Roman Curia: the canonist Edward Peters is a referendarius at the Apostolic Signatura, and the theologian Ralph Martin was named a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization late last year.

As time-frame goes, the 13-month process indicates that the flow of episcopal appointments in the US church has kept up far better in the first months of Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ²'s tenure as Nuncio to Washington than the docket did under his predecessor, the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, whose first 18 months in office saw some diocesan openings extend beyond the two-year mark.

With today's move, the number of domestic vacancies falls to six, while another ten Stateside dioceses remain led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75 until their successors are chosen and installed. The latter group receives its next member at mid-month as Bishop Matthew Clark -- head of New York's Rochester diocese since 1979 -- marks the milestone birthday.

In keeping with the norms of the canons, Monforton must be ordained and take possession of his new charge within four months. In addition, as previously noted, any further appointments decided by the Pope in the days leading up to the Vatican's summer recess would still be announced over the coming days; the last of the 11th hour moves usually emerge on or by July 15th.

PHOTO: Sacred Heart Major Seminary