Sunday, September 30, 2012

On DC's Red Sunday, A Call "To Look For the Good"

In the 60th edition of a classic rite of Washington autumn, this morning saw six of the nine Justices of the US Supreme Court fill the front pew of St Matthew's Cathedral for the capital's annual Red Mass, held as ever on the Sunday before the first Monday of October, when the Supremes' new term begins.

Led by Chief Justice John Roberts – the third Catholic ever to hold the post – what's believed to be a record-sized high court delegation was rounded out by Associate Justices Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

Today's assembled included four members of the Court's historic six-justice Catholic supermajority; the bloc's Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor were absent. Rounding out the nine, Breyer and Kagan are Jewish, as is the remaining justice not in attendance, the Clinton appointee Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A Red Mass attendee early in her two-decade tenure, Ginsburg vowed that she would "never go again" after judging that one year's "sermon was outrageously anti-abortion."

Organized by the District's venerable John Carroll Society of Catholic lawyers – named for the founding bishop of these States – and always celebrated by the city's archbishop, given the crowd (and, indeed, the tensions Ginsburg cited), the DC Red's guest preacher could well be considered American Catholicism's most prestigious, and arguably daunting, annual speaking gig.

Along those lines, following in the recent footsteps of Tim Dolan, Gus DiNoia, Dan DiNardo, Peter Sartain, Seán O'Malley and the Venerable Ted, this year's pulpit honors have fallen to the capital-based Archbishop of the Military Services, the Cleveland-born Timothy Broglio, a career Vatican diplomat now charged with the spiritual welfare of some 1.5 million American Catholics either in uniform or on government service abroad, a flock far younger than practically any other in the Stateside church.

In the midst of a heated election season and an epic church-state showdown over the parameters of religious freedom on these shores, here below is the full text of Broglio's homily, as prepared for delivery.

* * *
The author A.J. Cronin told the story of a district nurse he knew during the time he practiced medicine.  She covered a ten-mile district by herself, was extremely capable and generous with her time.  She was patient and cheerful.  Her salary was insignificant and late one night after a particularly strenuous day, Dr. Cronin suggested that she demand a higher salary.  “God knows you are worth it”, he added.  Her reply was classic, “if God knows I’m worth it, that is all that matters to me”.

Indeed if we live and work with the confidence that we are inserted into the Lord’s plan, then that is all that matters.  Is that not what the word of God tells us this morning at the 60th annual Red Mass as the readings invite us to be open to the Spirit of God, beg His blessing on a new judicial year, and strive to be instruments of a new evangelization.

The passage from the Book of Numbers is fascinating.  The Lord has guided the Chosen People out of Egypt and through the desert, but there is a structure and a system to govern them.  Seventy elders are chosen to help Moses with the task of judging, but Eldad and Medad miss the installation.  Still they receive the gift and the mission.

To Joshua’s concern about a possible challenge to Moses’ leadership, he explains that the divine gift is not limited by place, but attached to the person, wherever he or she might be found. The sovereign liberty of God determines how He will act and that obliges the believer of all times to question the temptation to close God within the narrow spaces of a justice which assigns itself the task of protecting the presumed rights of God while trampling upon those of his or her brothers and sisters.

Of course, you and I live in a world of forms, ID’s, procedures, and verification.  One commentator on this passage suggested that in the near future in order to die you will have to fill out the appropriate form, and perhaps a diligent clerk will tell you to save the receipt to present to St. Peter at the Gates of Paradise. Moses’ wish is the better course: “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!” 

His invitation is to look for the evidence of the good, of truth, and of the beautiful in another.  There is not a monopoly of the Spirit, but rather an abundance of gifts to be used to build up the Body of Christ.  

How appropriate it is to speak about that abundance on September 30th when we would normally celebrate St. Jerome, a learned doctor of the Church who was first charged to translate the Bible from its original languages to the vernacular Latin.  His talents were used to make the Word of God accessible to the ordinary folk.

We remember him and remain inspired by his quest for learning as we gather as a community of faith to beg an abundance of blessings upon the women and men of our judiciary and the legal profession.   It is a moment to pause and pray for those who serve our Country and foster justice for all.  We know that a believing community engages in prayer for the needs of all, but especially for those who face arduous tasks.

Indeed “Justice is radically intolerant of injustice; justice seeks out injustice to destroy it.  To emphasize security at the expense of eradicating injustice creates a fool’s paradise.”  The Romans put it more succinctly: “Justitia non novit patrem nec matrem; solum veritatem spectat justitia.” Justice knows neither father nor mother; justice looks to the truth alone.

For that reason we are here primarily to pray with you and for you as you execute the daunting task assigned to you at various levels.  We beg a blessing for all of you and for all of those who assist you in this important ministry.  We invoke the only Just One so that He might inspire all that you do.  We recognize “that those who involve themselves with human law are doing God’s work.  You are called to be involved with the same matters with which the Lord God is involved in relationship with His creation.”

We have heard the question posed by the Apostles just before the Lord Jesus ascended into heaven.  Their vision was of a political reality alone: the end of Roman rule and the independence of the Chosen People.  It was a vision firmly anchored in this world alone.  They would need the gift of the Holy Spirit so as to purify their goals, understand their mission correctly and be able to accomplish it.

So we pray for all of those gathered here that they might welcome the strength of the Holy Spirit and the interior dynamism with which He fills our hearts. We do so just before the beginning of the Year of Faith given to us by the Holy Father, because there is a “need to rediscover the journey of faith so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy and renewed enthusiasm of the encounter with Christ.”

The mission is always audacious, but it is possible with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are instruments in the hands of the Lord and so we pray to be ever open to His presence. The message is filled with hope: not only for eternal life, but also for the graces necessary so that our lives are truly noble, worthy of God, and of the vocation He has given us.

We speak so often of the new evangelization, because we recognize that we must be its instruments in all that we do. The faith we hold in our hearts must motivate the decisions, the words, and the commitment of our everyday existence.  That existence is extraordinary, because it is infused with divine grace.  St. Thomas More said that he died the good servant of the King, but the faithful servant of God first.  We, too, are faithful citizens only when we embrace the fullness of the principles of our faith and allow them to enliven and fortify our contributions to the life of the Nation. Or to draw on the eloquence of the Archbishop of Baltimore in a paraphrase: we must be loyal Americans by being a bold and courageous men and women of faith and conviction regarding the ethical norms that guide society and its choices.

There is so much that we bring to the discourse of our society.  Our faith expresses itself in worship, but also in witness.  From the beginning the Church has been active in society to make a contribution, especially to the care of the poor, but also to education.  The first universities grew out of the monasteries.  We cannot separate who we are from how we live.  To quote Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit condemned to death by the Nazis, “Futility or ineffectiveness do not dispense one from speaking the truth, declaring what is right and just…Woe if the prophets are mute out of fear that their word might not be heeded.”

I am reminded of my first year as a seminarian in Rome.  An important 19th Century Justice Department building was closed because it was unsafe.  It seemed to be sinking into the ground.  Yet the Colosseum, Pantheon, and the ruins of the Roman Forum were all still standing and could be visited.  It was a good reminder that not everything contemporary is good and that stable foundations are essential.  Our society must also rest on stable, clear foundations.  Otherwise, we run the risk of sinking into the mire of one popular sound byte after another!

Last January the Holy Father recalled for the Bishops of this region that consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good and the conditions for human flourishing are at the heart of every culture.  “In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God.”

Cronin’s nurse knew that, as well.  She recognized that the ultimate value was the eternal judgment rendered by Almighty God.  “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”


Saturday, September 29, 2012

"Here We Go Again" – For Tyler's Bishop, A "Family" Affair

More than practically any other Appointment Day – or anything else you'll ever see on this beat – church, the following is what joy sounds like...

...not to mention – at long last – relief!

For purposes of contrast, the above might just be the most precise opposite yet of the pale-faced Funeral Brigade which received this scribe's own hometown nominee with ramrod, near-apocalyptic fright some 14 months and ten days back.

When one's lived to see moments of that sort, you appreciate welcomes like these all the more. Then again, this is Joe Strickland's Appointment Day: to know the guy and not be completely elated is to lack a soul worth its salt.

As the veterans among this crowd will know, heavy doses of both today's sentiments in Tyler extend fully back to this desk. Indeed, it's been a long almost five years since some of us stumbled unforgivably over some little rock... yet with this Saturday's news as fittingly unusual as the caliber of its choice, a brutal weight is lifted – and, as only Providence can bring to pass, in the most brilliant of ways.

More in the backstory in due course. In the meanwhile, here – before a packed "sedem" – the bishop-elect's opening remarks to his home-crowd...

...and, as expected, an exuberant – and, for a Pick Day presser, unusually detailed – question period:

The whole shebang's available in five partie – er, parts.

*    *    *
While the direct appointment of an American priest to lead his native diocese is indeed exceedingly rare, thanks to one of our statisticians for correcting a piece of the morning's first word.

For the record, this morning's move in Tyler brings the eighth such domestic nod since 2003. In chronological order, for the curious, the others are Bishops George Coleman of Fall River and Peter Jugis of Chaarlotte (2003), Kevin Rhoades to Harrisburg (2004), Alex Sample of Marquette and David Choby of Nashville (both 2005), Terry LaValley of Ogdensburg and Joe Bambera of Scranton (2010).

With the exception of Rhoades – transferred to Fort Wayne-South Bend in late 2009 – the others remain at the helm of their home-churches. Among the current bench, other native sons who returned to lead their native sees after serving elsewhere include no less than five Stateside metropolitans – Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago, and Archbishops Allen Vigneron of Detroit, Thomas Wenski of Miami, Gregory Aymond of New Orleans and Samuel Aquila of Denver – as well as Bishops Robert Muench of Baton Rouge and David Zubik of Pittsburgh.

On a perhaps even more exceptional note, with Strickland's appointment, a bishop has been tapped from the Tyler presbyterate – all told, a group of 86 – for the second time in two years. The first was the now auxiliary of Phoenix, 58 year-old Bishop Eduardo Nevares, named in 2010, who incardinated into the diocese after several years as a religious.

We'll need to check with the number crunchers, but it's seemingly impossible to think of another US locale where a similar ratio of the local clergy have gone on to the high-hat – not just within such a short space of time, but at all.

Then again – as some of us have come to learn quite well over the years – that's East Texas Catholicism for you... and with the new guy in charge, you can bet the house that the best is yet to come.

At the hand of the first cardinal of the American South, Strickland will be ordained and installed as Tyler's fourth bishop on 28 November in what he called the "biggest place we could find" – the see-city's 1,800-seat Caldwell Auditorium – a venue nearly five times the capacity of the cathedral he pastored for 16 years.


Tyler, Rejoice – “Father Joe” Named Hometown Bishop

Before all else, four words: How. Sweet. It. Is.

In a rare Saturday nod for the Stateside church, at Roman Noon the Pope named Msgr Joseph Strickland, 53 – the beloved vicar-general, longtime former Cathedral rector, judicial vicar and “running priest” of Tyler – as the fourth bishop of his home-church, East Texas’ 80,000-member “little diocese that could.”

Born on Halloween and ordained for Dallas in 1985, then remaining with its rural offshoot upon Tyler’s establishment two years later, the bishop-elect – mostly known as “Fr Joe” – succeeds the Jesuit Alvaro Corrada del Rio, who was transferred to his native Puerto Rico in July 2011 as bishop of Mayaguez. As the prior ordinary has remained Tyler’s apostolic administrator during the vacancy, Strickland – who was elected the diocese’s interim head prior to Corrada’s arrival in 2000 – has been acting as the bishop’s delegate, thus already overseeing the day-to-day operations of the 33 county, 23,000 square-mile turf he now permanently inherits. (The bishop-elect and his now-predecessor are shown above with Benedict XVI during the Texas ad limina visit last spring.)

While the logistics will make for an unusually seamless transition, news of the appointment promises to spark an exuberant reaction among the close-knit Tylerites, for whom, on multiple levels, the choice is likely to resonate as something of a dream come true, not to mention quite the gift from Rome on the diocese’s 25th anniversary. Yet even as it’s exceedingly rare for a priest to be directly named to shepherd his home-fold – an event the American bench has only seen four other times in the last decade – it’s even more unique that the nod falls to a figure whose qualities, talents, depth of prayer and goodness of spirit are so widely known, cherished and praised.

In a nutshell, you won’t hear a bad word anywhere about Joe Strickland. If anything, quite the opposite.

A product of Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving – and protege of his rector there, the future Archbishop Michael Sheehan on Santa Fe – today’s nominee earned a JCL from the Catholic University of America, returning home to take up double-duty in chancery and parish work. Until being named vicar-general in early 2010 (doubling up again as chaplain of the see-city's Catholic high school), Strickland had spent a decade and a half as rector of Tyler’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral, becoming a popular figure beyond the town’s Catholic minority thanks to his affinity for running in the streets. 

To help raise funds for the building of a mission chapel across town to supplement the booming parish, the appointee started a blog – Run, Father, Run – to chronicle a month of runs he dedicated to seeking pledges for the project. Larger than the cathedral itself, the chapel was dedicated last 8 December, and Strickland’s latest post shows the new windows that were installed earlier this week. (SVILUPPO: In a fresh piece posted shortly after the Vatican announcement, Strickland chronicled the journey of the 15 days from the phone call informing him of his appointment through this morning.)

With the nod, the bishop-elect becomes the second blogging priest to be elevated on these shores, joining the celebrated Bishop Chris Coyne, who recently marked a year as apostolic administrator of Indianapolis following the early retirement of Archbishop Daniel Buechlein OSB.

Likewise fluent in Spanish – as with all of Texas’ 15 dioceses, the Tyler church has a considerable Latino population, estimated in the 40 percent range – Strickland’s breadth of skills and regard have seen his name floated for the episcopacy for quite some time. Yet after years of speculation linking him to any number of dioceses or as a potential auxiliary in Dallas, Houston or San Antonio, so it would be that he’d end up in what’s likely the happiest assignment of all – home, where the heavy cross of the mitre would seem somewhat lighter amid the love and support of his own.

For Rome’s part, Benedict’s decision for a continuity choice signals a firm vote of confidence in the state and direction of the Tyler church. Its population having tripled since its founding, the intimate yet vibrant "Deep East" diocese encompassing Texarkana, Paris and Nacogdoches – where parishes can be a 30 to 50 mile trip for many of their people – has consistently produced a staggering number of priestly vocations given its size, ordaining six just this year.

In an advisory circulated yesterday, the Tyler Chancery announced an “ad sedem” press conference for 10am Central today to introduce the nominee, even if he needs no introduction.

With the appointment, the first of three current diocesan openings in Texas has been resolved. Beyond the ongoing vacancies in El Paso and, now, Fort Worth following Bishop Kevin Vann’s transfer to Orange last week, the west-state’s San Angelo diocese is likely to transition within the next year after its longtime head, Bishop Michael Pfeifer, reached the retirement age of 75 last May. An Oblate of Mary Immaculate, Pfeifer’s led the 90,000-member, 38,000 square-mile fold since 1985.

Meanwhile, with Strickland’s selection, it’s worth noting that the current pontiff has reached a small but significant milestone. Seven years after his election, Benedict has now named a majority of the ordinaries of the Lone Star State, where Catholics eclipsed Evangelicals midway through the last decade to become Texas’ largest religious group.

Developing -- more to come.


Friday, September 28, 2012

"Yes, America...."

As I go, I take with me vivid memories of a dynamic nation, a warm and welcoming people, a Church abundantly blessed with a rich blend of cultural traditions. 
I depart with admiration for the ecumenical spirit that breathes strongly throughout this land, for the genuine enthusiasm of your young people, and for the hopeful aspirations of your most recent immigrants. I take with me an unforgettable memory of a country that God has richly blessed from the beginning until now. 
America the beautiful! So you sing in one of your national songs. Yes, America, you are beautiful indeed, and blessed in so many ways: 
– in your majestic mountains and fertile plains;
– in the goodness and sacrifice hidden in your teeming cities and expanding suburbs;
– in your genius for invention and for splendid progress;
– in the power that you use for service and in the wealth that you share with others;
– in what you give to your own, and in what you do for others beyond your borders;
– in how you serve, and in how you keep alive the flame of hope in many hearts;
– in your quest for excellence and in your desire to right all wrongs.
Yes, America, all this belongs to you. But your greatest beauty and your richest blessing is found in the human person: in each man, woman and child, in every immigrant, in every native-born son and daughter. 
For this reason, America, your deepest identity and truest character as a nation is revealed in the position you take towards the human person. The ultimate test of your greatness in the way you treat every human being, but especially the weakest and most defenseless ones. 
The best traditions of your land presume respect for those who cannot defend themselves. If you want equal justice for all, and true freedom and lasting peace, then, America, defend life! All the great causes that are yours today will have meaning only to the extent that you guarantee the right to life and protect the human person: 
– feeding the poor and welcoming refugees;
– reinforcing the social fabric of this nation;
– promoting the true advancement of women;
– securing the rights of minorities;
– pursuing disarmament, while guaranteeing legitimate defence; all this will succeed only if respect for life and its protection by the law is granted to every human being from conception until natural death.
Every human person – no matter how vulnerable or helpless, no matter how young or how old, no matter how healthy, handicapped or sick, no matter how useful or productive for society – is a being of inestimable worth created in the image and likeness of God. 
This is the dignity of America, the reason she exists, the condition for her survival – yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenceless ones, those as yet unborn. 
With these sentiments of love and hope for America, I now say goodbye in words that I spoke once before: "Today, therefore, my final prayer is this: that God will bless America, so that she may increasingly become - and truly be - and long remain one Nation, under God, indivisible. With liberty and justice for all." 
May God bless you all.
God bless America!
–Blessed Pope John Paul II
Farewell Ceremony from the United States
Detroit Metro Airport
19 September 1987
*    *    *
Much as it seems the milestone's been forgotten in today's American Catholic conversation – a scene whose attention span is, admittedly, nothing to write home about – this month has marked the silver anniversary of what's likely to be the most extensive journey Peter will ever take on these shores: a ten-day trek which wended its way from Miami to Texas, the Carolinas to California, Mother New Orleans to the Motor City.

Father, forgive them – all they care about these days is the election. Yet as one leading Stateside prelate recently mused in a public (albeit unscripted) aside, when it comes to this church's future in our midst, the coming Year of Faith "is even more important."

Either way, having been too young at the time to experience those days, it's all too easy to be envious of those who did. Thanks to the magic of "Hollywood," though, at least the lot of us can revisit one priceless piece of them....

Wujek, módl się za nami... and, church, suffice it to say, know your history.

PHOTO: San Francisco Chronicle/File(1); New Orleans Times-Picayune/File(2)


Thursday, September 27, 2012

"Bureaucratization" vs. Evangelization

Solving the pastoral problems that present themselves in your dioceses must never limit itself to organizational questions, however important these may be. This [approach] risks placing an emphasis on seeking efficiency through a sort of 'bureaucratization of pastoral care,' focused on structures, organizations and programs, ones which can become 'self-referential,' at the exclusive use of the members of those structures. These would have scarce impact on the life of Christians who are distanced from regular practice [of the faith]. Instead, evangelization requires starting from the encounter with the Lord, within a dialogue rooted in prayer, which then concentrates on the witness of giving itself toward the end of helping the people of our time to recognize and discover anew the signs of the presence of God.
–Pope Benedict XVI
Ad Limina Address to the Bishops of Western France
Castel Gandolfo
21 September 2012

*    *    *
With a packed October slate featuring several major papal initiatives focused far more on dynamic matters than institutional ones – the launch of a 13-month Year of Faith, a Synod of Bishops on the signature priority of Joseph Ratzinger's pontificate, the unprecedented joint canonization of two missionary daughters of the Americas and declaration of an earlier age's searing star as the fourth female Doctor of the Church – something seems to say the above offers a sneak preview into a line of thought likely to loom large over the coming weeks.

At least, that's where the ecclesial "action" lies. Yet with these days merely the calm before it begins in earnest, what's almost certain to be the more prominent mainstream Vatican story of the fall will, ironically enough, be set instead in a courtroom.

Saturday morning brings the start of the trial of Paolo Gabriele, the Pope's now-removed butler, who was arrested in May on charges of leaking documents published in a controversial Italian book that painted an embarrassing portrait of a Curia in disarray.

The case having drawn immense attention over recent months, potential developments at the proceedings cited in Italian reports include appearances in the witness stand by Benedict's private secretary, Msgr Georg Gänswein, and/or the four laywomen who manage the papal apartment as well as living there with the pontiff and his two priest-aides.

Given the level of media interest – and the Vatican's ban on cameras in the courtroom – coverage of the trial will be provided by a rotating press pool.


Monday, September 24, 2012

"There Is A Way – And It's The Truth": In England, A Call for "Conversions"

While today brings the feast of the English Madonna, Our Lady of Walsingham, with this year's edition came an event that's been anticipated rather feverishly in UK church-circles: the ordination of Msgr Philip Egan as bishop of Portsmouth.

Until now vicar-general to the "star" prelate of Brit Catholicism's traditional crowd – 52 year-old Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury (ordained in 2010) – the appointment of Egan, 56, has been heralded across the Pond as perhaps the most potent sign yet of a significant B16-induced shift in the philosophical makeup of the English episcopate. (Possibly corroborating a genuine Roman intent behind said theory, the Pope's selection was conspicuously announced on 11 July, St Benedict's Day.)

Long a formator at St Mary's, Oscott – the Birmingham seminary – the Rome-trained theologian has already made a reputation as a forthright author and speaker on the UK circuit; in its brief on Egan's appointment, the traditional journal of record of the English church apparently found it remarkable that the nominee "has publicly defended" Humanae vitae, "describing it as infallible teaching." (For the record, the 2009 talk which spurred that assessment was not as categorical on the point; according to transcripts, Egan said that “It seems to me that there is a persuasive case for believing that the doctrine of Humanae Vitae... has been, and is being taught infallibly, that is, irreversibly and without error, by the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium.”)

Among his duties in Shrewsbury, Egan was notably tasked with overseeing the diocese's efforts toward the New Evangelization. The Portsmouth diocese numbers some 150,000 Catholics in south-central England and on the Isle of Wight.

Back to today's rites, while Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster pointedly gave a homily focused on unity, the new bishop (below center, with Davies) veered elsewhere in his concluding remarks... and apparently to quite the effect.

Judging by the mail and other reactions around, Egan's message has caused enough of a stir to become – at least for the moment – the seeming talk of the English church.

In that light, here's the substance of his inaugural address, its text (in its original strophing) released by the Portsmouth Curia:
Dear fellow pilgrims on life's journey,
    we inhabit a remarkable century, the 21st, 
    which despite the current economic distemper, is witnessing momentous advances
    in every domain of human knowledge and endeavour,
with new discoveries and new applications in science and engineering,
    in computing and cybernetics, in medicine and bio-technology,
    in the social sciences, arts and humanities,
    all of which manifest the limitless self-transcending reach
    of human experience, understanding and judgement
    and the cloud of burgeoning possibilities for human deciding,
    undreamt of by those who've gone before.
Indeed, even as we speak, Curiosity is roving among the sand-dunes of Mars,
    in anticipation of a manned space-voyage to the Red Planet.  
With all these exhilarating developments, the Catholic Tradition must engage,
    the old with the new, in a mutually-enriching critical-conversation.
Yet the ordination of a Bishop,
    as Successor of the Apostles, in communion of mind, will and heart with the Pope,
    as the chief Shepherd, Teacher and High Priest of the diocese entrusted to him,
    who, like the Master, must lay down his life for his flock,
reminds us that human needs ever remain essentially the same:
    the need to love and to be loved,
    the need for a purpose and vocation in life,
    the need to belong to family and community,
    the need for mercy and forgiveness, for peace and justice, for freedom and happiness,
    and most profoundly, the need for immortality and for the Divine.
All these fundamental desires, hard-wired into the human heart:
    theology expresses in the word 'salvation,'
    and we profess that every child, woman and man on this planet can find that salvation. 
There is a Way – and it's the Truth!
    It's the true Way that leads to Life, real life, life to the full, a life that never ends.
There is a Way, and it's not a strategy, a philosophy or a package-deal.
    This Way has a Name, because it's a Person,
    the only Person in human history who really did rise from the dead,
    a Person alive here and now: Jesus of Nazareth, God the Son Incarnate.
He alone can save us.
    He alone can give us the salvation our spirits crave.
    He alone can reveal to us the Truth about God and about life,
    about happiness and humanism, about sexuality and family values,
    about how to bring to the world order, justice, reconciliation and peace.  
This message of Good News, and the civilisation of love it occasions,
   we Catholics must now communicate imaginatively, with confidence and clarity,
    together with our fellow Christians, and all people of faith and good will,
    to the people of England, this wonderful land, Mary's Dowry. 
We must offer this salvific message to a people,
    sorely in need of new hope and direction,
    disenfranchised by the desert of modern British politics,
    wearied by the cycle of work, shopping, entertainment,
    and betrayed by educational, legal, medical and social policy-makers
    who, in the relativistic world they're creating, however well-intentioned,
    are sowing the seeds of a strangling counterculture of death. 
My brothers and sisters, today, the Feast of Our Lady of Ransom, of England's Nazareth,
    let's go forth from this Mass with joyful vigour, resolved in the Holy Spirit,
    to help bring about the conversions needed – intellectual, moral and spiritual – for everyone-we-meet to receive Jesus Christ, the Gospel of Life.... 
Please pray for me to the Lord Jesus,
    whose Heart yearns for us in the Blessed Sacrament,
    that I might be a humble and holy, orthodox, creative and courageous,
    Bishop of Portsmouth, one fashioned after the Lord's own.
PHOTOS: Mazur/,3)


Friday, September 21, 2012

From the OC, The First Word

SVILUPPO (3.15pm ET): Yeah, this pretty much sums up the change in Orange – the incoming bishop in Oakleys and a "Proud to be Catholic" hat given by his (considerably more reserved) predecessor.

Tip to local journo Ruxandra Guidi, who snapped the presser shot.
... and here, some local video:

*    *    *
The Appointment Day press conference in Orange slated to begin at this hour, here's Bishop Kevin Vann's opening statement on his selection to lead the 1.3 million-member California diocese (emphases original):
Dear members of the media present today, and all who are here. I am very grateful for your presence and for your welcome. I especially thank Bishop Brown and [vicar-general] Msgr. [Michael] Heher for their wonderful welcome. Bishop Brown and I have known each other for 31 years. He was a priest on the sabbatical program at the North American College in Rome, and I was a newly ordained priest studying canon law. We were in residence at the Casa Santa Maria of the North American College at the time. And, in the same residence, Msgr. Heher and I were studying together during the same time period. When we were younger (!) priests!! And, [auxiliary] Bishop Dominic [Luong] and I have known each other for several years, and he was my guest in Fort Worth last December when we dedicated the new Church of Vietnamese Martyrs in Arlington, Texas, one of the biggest Vietnamese parishes here in the United States. So it is a blessing for me to be with you all here and see familiar faces. I have learned over the years to try to place each day, every decision in the presence of the Word of God as it starts, to surround me and guide me, and all of us. Today is the feast day of St. Matthew, Apostle and evangelist. The first reading for today’s feast day in the Church’s calendar is from St. Paul to the Ephesians when he says “Brothers and Sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” I cannot think of a better section of Sacred Scripture for me, for all of us today, to describe to what we are called as the Body of Christ. One of the many blessings I have learned from the HIspanic people is that the Church called by them as the “Family of God”. And, that, I believe with all my heart is who we are: this is what I have learned from my years in Fort Worth, and from what I have learned about all of you so far from Bishop Brown. You see, when Bishop or a priest is transferred from one parish to another or one Diocese to another, they leave one family behind and gain another. I have so much to be grateful to God for the people of the Diocese of Fort Worth, and north TExas and beyond. I will miss them very much. But, I promise that as we grow together in this exciting and dynamic time of the Diocese of Orange, I will love you and do my best to serve you, with the Lord’s help. That is one thing I learned in Fort Worth, and what I will live here. We are at an exciting time here in Orange: with the acquiring of what will be Christ Cathedral, we have the opportunity - with the gift of God that this is, as Bishop Brown has said - to continue to preach the Word of God here. We are also at the beginning of the year of Faith, a time and promise of new energy and celebration of Faith as we also celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. I am truly blessed to be here with all of you now as the fourth Bishop of the Diocese, appointed by Pope Benedict. I thank Bishop Brown for his dedication, commitment and shepherding of all here in the Diocese, and promise my support and friendship for him in this new time in his life. This is a time of transition in my own life to be sure, with the death of my mother earlier this summer and now my leaving Fort Worth and coming to you. The Diocese of Fort Worth and Diocese of Orange have many similarities. But your welcome, warmth and vibrant Faith is a blessing and great encouragement to me. Being new, I cannot say that I have any plan or specific idea at this time. But as we live and strengthen the bonds of our Faith and family, I know that God’s purpose and plan will be shown to us each day. The patroness of the Diocese is the Mother of God, Our Lady of Guadalupe. As she leads us to her Son, we listen to her words not to ever be afraid or worried, but walk ahead always to her Son. Two years ago, Pope Benedict made his historic visit to England, for the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman. As we thank the Lord for this moment in time, and for the plans He has in mind for us, I can think of no better words than Newman’s hymn:
Praise to the Holiest in the height and in the depth be praise: in all his words most wonderful, most sure in all His ways!
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According to a post on his blog, Vann will remain in California for several days before returning to Fort Worth, where he's lived in a simple suite in the 19th century rectory at St Patrick's Cathedral. With the Western transfer, the 700,000-member North Texas diocese loses its bishop to another assignment for the first time in its 42-year history. Likewise on the move, three of the Lone Star state's 14 local churches stand vacant – El Paso came open on the December shift of Bishop Armando Ochoa to SoCal's million-member Fresno church, while in its eastern corner, the diocese of Tyler has gone nearly 15 months since the Jesuit Alvaro Corrada del Rio was returned to his native Puerto Rico as bishop of Mayaguez.
Back East, meanwhile, in a statement on his retirement after 33 years at the helm of the Rochester diocese, Bishop Matthew Clark said he was "peaceful; and look[ing] forward with lively curiosity to a new phase of my life and ministry. "I assure the good and faithful people in our 12 counties that the governance of this Diocese is in excellent hands," Clark said, thanking God "for having lived during this incredible time and for the opportunity to shepherd a beautiful, faithful and inspired people." As previously noted, Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse will do double-duty, serving as apostolic administrator of the 300,000-member diocese until the installation of Clark's successor. The duo are shown above (Clark, right) at a morning press conference announcing the move. PHOTOS: Diocese of Fort Worth(1); Tina Yee/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle(2) -30-

For Orange, A Moving Vann – B16 Taps Fort Worth for Crystal Chair

Over recent years, it’s hard to think of a national project on which Bishop Kevin Vann hasn’t been intimately involved.

From serving on the three-member USCCB team that oversaw the Stateside implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus and mediating the bench’s oft-delicate relations with the nation’s Catholic hospitals, to filing suit against the Federal government over the contraceptive mandate of the Obama administration’s sweeping health-care reform, the 61 year-old prelate has cris-crossed considerably more ecclesial turf than the sprawling 28 counties of Northwest Texas he’s overseen since 2005.

Now, however, the latest task comes via Rome... and given its centerpiece, well, it’s worth its weight in Crystal.

This morning, the Pope named the energetic head of the booming Fort Worth church to lead the diocese of Orange, succeeding Bishop Tod Brown at the helm of the 1.3 million-member fold in Los Angeles’ southern suburbs.

Barring an expedited succession in Chicago – the nation's third-largest diocese, where Cardinal Francis George, 75, is undergoing a fresh round of treatment for a recurrence of cancer – the move will be 2012's most significant handover of an American see in terms of size.

On a lighter note, much as the nod's coming alongside the release of this year’s edition of the iPhone is purely coincidental, with Vann’s affinity for technology – the iconic Apple device and his longtime blog inclusive – it’s nonetheless very fitting.

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In addition to the Pacific move, back East the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester (left) – long a hero of the church's progressive wing – who, after a 33-year tenure in the upstate New York diocese, reached the retirement age last July 15th.

As provision for a permanent successor at the helm of the 350,000-member flock remains pending, advance indications tipped that an apostolic administrator was to be named this morning, most likely in the person of the neighboring Bishop Robert Cunningham of Syracuse.

Back to the West, according to early reports, Vann's installation in Orange will take place in early December. Notably, while the main Mass itself is to be held in one of the diocese's larger parish churches, the customary possession-eve Vespers are expected to take place in the local church's soon-to-be seat: the Protestant landmark heretofore known as Crystal Cathedral, bought by the diocese for $57.5 million late last year and designated by Brown last June as Christ Cathedral on its dedication for Catholic worship, a moment tipped to occur by 2015.

The nominee having arrived in the OC last night, the usual Appointment Day presser is slated for 11am local time at the current pastoral center at Marywood, which is slated to be sold once the diocese takes full possession of the Crystal campus and can move its offices there.

* * *
Described long ago by one of his priests as a “social butterfly,” much as the Illinois-born nominee didn’t figure in most speculation for the Orange nod, the Pope’s pick comes to the post unusually prepared to handle several crucial needs for the growing OC church.

For a diocese whose Hispanic population has been estimated at 40 percent – and lacked a Spanish-speaking bishop since the auxiliary Cirilo Flores’ departure for San Diego earlier this year – Vann’s fluency in the language and devotion to Latino ministry stretch back to his days as the community’s vicar in his native Springfield. (Having led one of the nation’s largest Vietnamese Catholic communities in Fort Worth – whose 2,000-seat church he dedicated last year – he’s likewise able to manage a bit in their native tongue.) The Texas church’s success at drawing priestly vocations – six men are expected to be ordained next year – ranks as another key attribute. Yet most of all, after a difficult, 14-year tenure punctuated by a $100 million settlement of abuse cases, and a public disconnect that saw the reserved Brown both demonized in some local media and blisteringly criticized by the diocese’s more conservative elements, his successor’s hyper-extroverted style and gentle fidelity are likely to serve as a healing balm for a wildly diverse flock whose potential is easily equal to its challenges.

Following in the footsteps of his mother – a nurse who died earlier this year at 84 – Kevin Vann studied medical technology, spending three years in the profession before entering formation for Illinois’ capital church in 1976. Ordained for Springfield in 1981, he earned a JCD at the Angelicum – and as a resident at the Roman house for American student-priests, lived alongside a priest of Orange, then-Fr Michael Heher, who’ll now be his vicar-general.

On his return, while the future bishop taught the canons at his alma mater, St Louis’ Kenrick Seminary, and did tribunal work, then as now, his main interest lay far less in administration than the work of the trenches, pastoring five parishes – at one point, three at once – over time, all alongside a five-year stint as a dean, then simultaneously serving as a pastor and diocesan vicar for both clergy and Hispanics.

As one SoCal cleric remarked on learning the backstory, “My God, he’s a worker.” For the Fort Worth crowd, meanwhile, he’s the bishop who’ll travel 600 miles in a weekend for a full slate of Masses and Mexican festivals, returning home only to run out again for a late-night bite with a youth group who sent him a text that they were at a nearby Denny’s.

In other words, with Vann's new charge barely measuring 40 miles across, what he’ll do in such a concentrated space should make for quite an experience just to watch.

More to come.

SVILUPPO: From later in the day, Vann's opening statement at his appointment presser.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Roll Out the Crystal – For Orange, Benedict's "Hour of Power"

Among other things Stateside to be expected for Roman Noon tomorrow, a press advisory from the diocese of Orange announced earlier today that Pope Benedict will accept the retirement of Bishop Tod Brown and name his successor as head of the 1.3 million-member SoCal fold – for purposes of context, a church as large as those of Houston, Philadelphia, Miami and Dallas.

Indeed, it's no small bit; if anything, the move will make for the most consequential transfer of an American diocese this year – at least, by size – not to mention the added profile wrought by the nominee's inheritance of the diocese's $57.5 million seat-to-be: the heretofore Protestant landmark to be known as Christ Cathedral come its dedication for Catholic worship, expected by 2015.

The incumbent having reached the retirement age of 75 last 11 November, Brown's successor will be the fourth leader of the single-county diocese since its 1976 separation from the (now 5 million-member) LA juggernaut.

Small in area yet brimming with energy and challenges alike, the Orange church is said to be nearly 40 percent Hispanic, along with a significant Vietnamese bloc; American Catholicism's first prelate from the community, Bishop Dominic Mai Luong, was named an OC auxiliary in 2003. Alongside other key considerations, both ethnic factors are believed to have played a sizable role in the choice of the new bishop. In addition, the Pope's selection carries a conspicuous link both to the local metropolitan, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, and yet again, the prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, Cardinal Raymond Burke – currently the dominant American among the US' three voting members on the Congregation for Bishops.

The marquee move of two domestic shifts slated for Friday, as ever, more to come. In the meanwhile, for a fitting introit, a flourish from the organ of Orange's Cathedral-to-be – now the second largest pipe-set in the Catholic world...

...and for good measure, an old favorite among friends:

That's it for the night, gang. See you at the appointed hour.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Quote of the Day

“You have a special place in my heart and in the whole Church, because the Church is always young! The Church trusts you. She counts on you! Be young in the Church! Be young with the Church! The Church needs your enthusiasm and your creativity! Youth is the time when we aspire to great ideals, when we study and train for our future work. All this is important and it takes time. Seek beauty and strive for goodness! Bear witness to the grandeur and the dignity of your body which “is for the Lord” (1 Cor 6:13b). Be thoughtful, upright and pure of heart! In the words of Blessed John Paul II, I say to you: “Do not be afraid! Open the doors of your minds and hearts to Christ!” An encounter with Jesus “gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” In Christ you will find the strength and courage to advance along the paths of life, and to overcome difficulties and suffering. In him you will find the source of joy. Christ says to you, "My peace I give to you!" (Jn 14:27). This is the true revolution brought by Christ: that of love....
Bring the love of Christ to everyone! How? By turning unreservedly to God the Father, who is the measure of everything that is right, true and good. Meditate on God’s word! Discover how relevant and real the Gospel can be. Pray! Prayer and the sacraments are the sure and effective means to be a Christian and to live “rooted and built up in Christ, and established in the faith” (Col 2:7). The Year of Faith, which is about to begin, will be a time to rediscover the treasure of the faith which you received at Baptism. You can grow in knowledge and understanding of this treasure by studying the Catechism, so that your faith can be both living and lived. You will then become witnesses to others of the love of Christ. In him, all men and women are our brothers and sisters. The universal brotherhood which he inaugurated on the cross lights up in a resplendent and challenging way the revolution of love. “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:35). This is the legacy of Jesus and the sign of the Christian. This is the true revolution of love!

Christ asks you, then, to do as he did: to be completely open to others, even if they belong to a different cultural, religious or national group. Making space for them, respecting them, being good to them, making them ever more rich in humanity and firm in the peace of the Lord. I know that many among you take part in various activities sponsored by parishes, schools, movements and associations. It is a fine thing to be engaged with and for others. Experiencing together moments of friendship and joy enables us to resist the onset of division, which must always be rejected! Brotherhood is a foretaste of heaven! The vocation of Christ’s disciples is to be “leaven” in the lump, as Saint Paul says: “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal 5:9). Be heralds of the Gospel of life and life’s authentic values. Courageously resist everything opposed to life: abortion, violence, rejection of and contempt for others, injustice and war. In this way you will spread peace all around you. Are not “peacemakers” those whom in the end we admire the most? Is it not a world of peace that, deep down, we want for ourselves and for others? My peace I give to you! (Jn 14:27), Jesus says. He overcame evil not with more evil, but by taking evil upon himself and destroying it completely on the cross through a love lived to the very end. Truly discovering God’s forgiveness and mercy always enables us to begin a new life. It is not easy to forgive. But God’s forgiveness grants the power of conversion, and the joy of being able to forgive in turn. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the paths of peace; they open up a future.

Dear friends, a number of you are surely asking in a more or less conscious way: What is it that God expects of me? What is his plan for me? Wouldn’t I like to proclaim to the world the grandeur of his love in the priesthood, in the consecrated life or in marriage? Might not Christ be calling me to follow him more closely? Think about these questions with confidence and trust. Take time to reflect on them and ask for enlightenment. Respond to his invitation by offering yourselves daily to the Lord, for he calls you to be his friends. Strive to follow Christ wholeheartedly and generously, for out of love he redeemed us and gave his life for each one of us. You will come to know inconceivable joy and fulfillment! To answer Christ’s call to each of us: that is the secret of true peace.
--Pope Benedict XVI
Meeting with Young People
Apostolic Journey to Lebanon
15 September 2012

Lest anybody missed it the first time – or even if not – that call doesn't end in the Middle East... nor with just the young in age.

PHOTO: Reuters


Monday, September 17, 2012

"The Palladium of Our Liberties"

While the Election Season theatrics continue apace, a certain relevant milestone's worth noting: this Monday marks the 225th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of these States at the close of the Convention held... well, You Know Where.

In light of the moment, a quote from the archives – the assessment of an earlier age's lead Catholic voice in the American public square: the statesman-prince of Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons....
“As the years go by I am more than ever convinced that the Constitution of the United States is the greatest instrument of government that ever issued from the hand of man. Drawn up in the infancy of our Republic, and amid the fears and suspicions and opposition of many patriotic men, it has weathered the storm periods of American public life and has proved elastic enough to withstand every strain put upon it by party spirit, Western development, world-wide immigration, wars little and great, far-reaching social and economic changes, inventions and discoveries, the growth of individual wealth and the vagaries of endless reformers.

That within the short space of one hundred years we have grown to be a great nation, so much so that to-day the United States is rightly regarded as the first among the nations of the earth, is due to the Constitution, the palladium of our liberties and the landmark in our march of progress.

When George Washington secured its final adoption, largely out of respect for his judgment and as a tribute of confidence in him, he made all mankind his debtor forever, for the Constitution has proved the bulwark of every right and every fair promise that the American Revolution stood for. With the Constitution came the solidarity and the union which has marked our progress up to now; without it we would have remained thirteen independent colonies, with the passions and prejudices peculiar to each. For all time to come may it remain the instrument safeguarding our national life and insuring us the liberties and freedom which it guarantees.”
And as a bonus, on the Constitution's centenary in 1887, the freshly-elevated Gibbons – at 52, the second American cardinal – was tapped to deliver a civic blessing at the event's national observance.

Using as his springboard the Prayer for the Nation written in 1791 by his first predecessor – himself a cousin of the lone Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence – here, the text of Gibbons' Centennial Prayer....
We pray Thee, O God of might, wisdom and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted and judgment decreed, to assist with Thy holy spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted 'in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides, by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion, by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy, and by restraining vice and immorality.

Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress and shine forth in all their proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge, and may perpetuate to us the blessings of equal liberty.

We pray Thee for all judges, magistrates and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled by Thy powerful protection to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability.

We pray Thee especially for the judges of our Supreme Court, that they may interpret the laws with evenhanded justice. May they ever be the faithful guardians of the temple of the constitution, whose construction and solemn dedication to our country"s liberties we commemorate today. May they stand as watchful and incorruptible sentinels at the portals of this temple, shielding it from profanation and hostile invasion.

May this glorious charter of our civil rights be deeply imprinted on the hearts and memories of our people. May it foster in them a spirit of patriotism; may it weld together and assimilate in national brotherhood the diverse races that come to seek a home amongst us. May the reverence paid to it conduce to the promotion of social stability and order, and may it hold the ffigis of its protection over us and generations yet unborn, so that the temporal blessings which we enjoy may be perpetuated.

Grant, O Lord, that our republic, unexampled in the history of the world in material prosperity and growth of population, may be also, under Thy over-ruling providence, a model to all nations in upholding liberty without license, and in wielding authority without despotism.

Finally, we recommend to Thy unbounded mercy all our brethren and fellow-citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law, that they may be preserved in union and in that peace which the world can not give, and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.

May the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, descend upon our beloved country and upon all her people, and abide with them forever. Amen.
In his letter accepting the invitation to close the civic gathering, Gibbons said that "The Constitution of the United States is worthy of being written in letters of gold. It is a charter by which the liberties of sixty million people are secured, and by which under Providence the temporal happiness of countless millions yet unborn is to be perpetuated."


Friday, September 14, 2012

For Conley, The Camino Leads to Lincoln: Denver Aux. to Chair of Fabian

In the first Stateside appointment of the new "Vatican year," at Roman Noon today the Pope named Bishop James Conley – since 2008, the lone auxiliary of Denver – as bishop of Lincoln.

In the southern Nebraska diocese of 100,000, the 57 year-old prelate – a longtime staffer at the Congregation for Bishops with a notable global cult following – succeeds the oldest active American prelate, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, whose retirement comes a week after his 77th birthday, two years past the canonical age. (The duo are shown above this morning at the local announcement.)

The "godfather" of a cadre of outspoken bishops who've firmly shifted the US hierarchy's center of gravity rightward over the last two decades, the Milwaukee native led the Lincoln church since 1992.

Aided by the departing ordinary's flair for the combative, under Bruskewitz the church in Cornhusker Country has become widely known in the Catholic world as a lodestar of an unabashed theological conservatism whose results have sometimes flown in the face of wider trends. Not only did a sudden bumper crop of priestly vocations prod the diocese to open its own minor seminary early in his tenure, but since 1998, Lincoln has likewise been home to the nation's lone formation house for the traditionalist Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP), whose apostolates make exclusive use of the 1962 ritual books. (According to its website, the diocese currently has 44 seminarians, a figure on a par with several of the nation's largest Catholic outposts.)

Conversely, however, what arguably remains Bruskewitz's emblematic act in the spotlight – a 1996 decree excommunicating those of his faithful who, with "contumacious persistence," belonged to any of 12 groups whose purposes he deemed as running afoul of church teaching, including Planned Parenthood, the Masons, Call to Action and Catholics for a Free Choice – likewise saw the same sanctions levied against local adherents of the Society of St Pius X and another traditionalist chapel.

Years later, the Holy See upheld the controversial move. The Lincoln prelate has likewise taken significant heat for his refusal to fully implement the US bishops' Dallas Norms on clergy sex-abuse cases, which Rome has confirmed as particular law for the American church.

Like his successor, Bruskewitz had served in the Roman Curia, in his case a decade at the Congregation for Catholic Education.

While Conley comes from something of a similar mold as his predecessor in espousing a vigorous, high-profile public approach – and, until today, to an unusual degree for an auxiliary – the ninth head of the Lincoln church can be seen as more of an "evangelical" figure than a magisterial one. Born in Kansas City and raised in Wichita in a Presbyterian family, the incoming prelate became a Catholic as a junior at the University of Kansas (one of his professors serving as his sponsor), then entering seminary four years after graduation. He was ordained a priest of Wichita in 1985 following theological studies at Mount St Mary's in Emmitsburg. As a young cleric, the future bishop – a committed disciple of Blessed John Henry Newman – served as a college chaplain both in the States and during his time as a Vatican official.

After a decade at the dicastery that oversees affairs pertaining to most the Catholic world's 5,000 prelates, in 2006 Conley returned home to Wichita, serving two years in his first pastorate. As it was noted, though, he had "a lot of experience making bishops, but no experience being one." That would change two years later, with his appointment as auxiliary to the then-archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput – a surprising assignment, yet one that, beyond serving as an indication of Rome's regard for Conley, provided a training-ground which would optimally prepare him to meet its high expectations. (With the move, Conley became the second adult convert named a bishop on these shores by Benedict XVI, after Paul Swain – a born Methodist, Vietnam vet and onetime general counsel to the governor of Wisconsin, who was tapped to head South Dakota's Sioux Falls diocese in 2006.)

By all accounts, the new arrival took easily to the mix of the vibrant, sprawling Mile High church and its 550,000 members. Yet in an arrangement that emphasized his ministry's primary mission as pastoral as opposed to administrative, Conley was not given a full-time chancery post, in contrast to his predecessor (now-Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles), who served as vicar-general and moderator of the Denver curia prior to his 2004 transfer to the archbishopric of San Antonio. At the same time, following Chaput's appointment to Philadelphia last year, the auxiliary would take center stage as Rome tapped him to lead the Denver church as apostolic administrator until the arrival of its next permanent shepherd.

By the time of Archbishop Samuel Aquila's installation last July, the assignment would span some ten months, during which the media-friendly cleric further burnished his voice in the public square on issues ranging from the contraceptive mandate of the Federal health-care reform and a Colorado civil unions bill to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's love for chocolate. In the process, after Conley spoke at a Theology on Tap earlier this year on his perception of a domestic shift toward what he's termed "atheocracy" – describing it as "a society that is actively hostile to religious faith and religious believers" – the program's venue had to be changed after the management of the host bar reportedly complained that the talk's content was "too controversial." As for the reaction of the pews, however, when the auxiliary passed the reins to Aquila at an installation eve Vespers service before a suburban church filled to overflowing, the loud, sustained standing ovation given Conley managed to eclipse the applause for the new archbishop, himself a Denver native.

While credible indications of his move to Lincoln have swirled for nearly six months – the appointment ostensibly delayed until his stint as administrator had concluded – today's announcement comes days after the bishop's return from an unusual episcopal getaway: a week-long, 100-mile trek with friends along part of the Camino de Santiago, the celebrated pilgrimage route to the Spanish shrine of St James. Among the five clerics who made the journey (above, en route) were Conley's boyhood best friend and seminary classmate, now Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, and Bishop James Wall of Gallup. Likewise along the path to this morning, the nominee has apparently set up his own Twitter feed, but not posted anything in it to date.

In comments at today's press conference (video), the new appointee said that, having long held the Lincoln church "in high esteem" for being "rich with vocation, Catholic education and family life, I am not going to mess around with that."

Conley's installation will take place on 20 November in Lincoln's Cathedral of the Risen Christ, dedicated in 1965 by then-Bishop James Casey, who would become Denver's second archbishop two years later. In another historical link, the Rockies' third ordinary, J. Henry Tihen – a priest of Wichita – led the Lincoln church from 1911 until his transfer to Denver in 1918.

Both the Denver and Lincoln dioceses mark their 125th anniversaries this year.

While Bruskewitz enters retirement, a trio of his proteges called upward from the Lincoln clergy are set to ensure his legacy's continued resonance on the active bench for years to come: Bishops Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, 65, Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, 61, and Michael Jackels of Wichita, 58, whose years as a staffer at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith overlapped with Conley's time in the Curia. Jackels – who succeeded Olmsted in the Kansas diocese – was a co-consecrator at Conley's episcopal ordination.

With today's move, seven Stateside Latin-church dioceses remain vacant, with another seven led by bishops serving past the retirement age of 75.

The eldest of the latter group – Bishop Ricardo Ramirez CSB of Las Cruces – turned 76 earlier this week.

PHOTOS: Ted Kirk/Lincoln Journal-Star(1); Javier Manzano/Rocky Mountain News(2)