Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wichita Lands A "Lincoln" – Springfield VG to Kansas... and For Miami, An Island Aux.

As Pope Francis' first Consistory revs up, the longest Stateside vacancy has likewise been resolved: at Roman Noon, Papa Bergoglio named Msgr Carl Kemme (left), 53, vicar-general of Springfield in Illinois, as bishop of Wichita.

In the Kansas post leading 125,000 Catholics – home to one of the nation's largest crops of seminarians, a rare tuition-free school system funded through active stewardship and all around, an unusually energized ecclesial hotspot – Kemme succeeds Michael Jackels, who was named archbishop of Dubuque last April in one of Francis' first major US appointments.

Having pastored five parishes in Illinois' capital church, Kemme – a product of St Louis' Kenrick Seminary – was named vicar-general by then-Bishop George Lucas in 2002, while keeping his full-time ministry in the trenches. After serving as diocesan administrator for the year between Lucas' 2009 transfer to Omaha and Bishop Thomas Paprocki's arrival, the "Holy Goalie" kept today's appointee as his top deputy.

On a significant front as context goes, given the enduring misperceptions (or campaigning) in some quarters that Francis seeks to somehow alter or abolish the church's teaching on homosexuality, back in reality, it is telling that for the second time since the flagship LGBT magazine The Advocate named the new pontiff its 2013 "Person of the Year," in picking Kemme, the Pope has named a diocesan chaplain of Courage as a US bishop.

In a tweet announcing the appointment, Paprocki said that Kemme's ordination is set for May 1st.

Alongside the Wichita nod, the Pope named Msgr Peter Baldacchino, 53 – a Malta-born priest of Newark currently overseeing the Turks and Caicos islands, which the Jersey archdiocese holds as a mission territory – as auxiliary bishop of Miami.

The first auxiliary given to South Florida – with 1.3 million Catholics, the Southeast's largest diocese – since the 2010 homecoming of Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the long-awaited pick speaks all three of the local church's three main languages: English, Spanish and of course, Haitian Creole. In addition, he likewise becomes the first Maltese to be named a bishop on these shores.

Since the quick promotions of Bishops John Noonan to Orlando in late 2010 and Felipe Estevez to St Augustine six months later, Miami has lacked an active auxiliary. The place hasn't been completely shorthanded, however – Pueblo's recently-retired Bishop Fernando Isern returned to his hometown after his June release from the Colorado post, and has taken a pastorate alongside helping out with episcopal functions.

The manager of a bottling plant on his native Mediterannean island before entering seminary in the US at 29, the Miami pick's background is likewise notable as Baldacchino wasn't formed at Newark's Immaculate Conception Seminary, but the parallel house at Seton Hall run by the Neocatechumenal Way, whose students are immersed in the charism of the lay-led missionary apostolate and available to its global outposts, while being ordained for and incarnated in the diocese where the Redemptoris Mater seminary is situated. Given that experience, the new auxiliary is believed to also be the first US prelate to be formed by the Way.

In an unusually quick turnaround, Baldacchino will be ordained on 19 March, the feast of St Joseph, patron of the universal church, likewise the first anniversary of Francis' inauguration of his Petrine ministry.

Just like that, meanwhile, with the longest US Latin-church vacancy now settled, the distinction leaps forward some five months to Fairbanks, Alaska's massive mission church (a turf almost as large as Texas and California, combined), which opened in September on Bishop Don Kettler's return to the lower 48 as head of Minnesota's St Cloud diocese. Four others – respectively, Gaylord, Toledo, Burlington and Lexington – likewise remain bishop-less.

As ever, more to come.