Thursday, June 19, 2014

Baltimore Gets the Berkshires: Charm City's Rozanski Tapped for Springfield, Mass.

Just last month, a sixth-grade religion class at a Baltimore parochial school got a surprise guest teacher: Auxiliary Bishop Mitch Rozanski.

What made the visit unusual, however, was how it came about – meeting the 55 year-old prelate after a Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, one of the students simply asked if he'd come.

"I thought he would be busy," the student who issued the invitation said afterward.... And so it seems, the kid was onto more than practically anybody else.

At Roman Noon, Pope Francis appointed the well-regarded Rozanski – named a Charm City auxiliary at all of 45 in 2004 – as bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, the picturesque spread comprising 220,000 Catholics in the state's western third. He succeeds Bishop Timothy McDonnell, who reached the retirement age of 75 in December 2012.

As fits go, there's at least one early providential sign: given the nominee's Polish heritage and ties to the Divine Mercy devotion, the national shrine to St Faustina Kowalska's visions is in the Springfield diocese. Practically speaking, meanwhile, when it comes to the challenges facing the place, "mercy" might be the key quality to have.

In 2003, McDonnell – the Bronx native who famously rescued Covenant House in the 1980s after the fall of its founder, the late Fr Bruce Ritter, in sexual and financial scandal – was parachuted into the post following the sudden resignation of Bishop Thomas Dupre after revelations that he had abused two pre-teen boys in the 1970s. While the scenario made for more than enough of a hurdle to heal, the diocese's way forward was complicated even further by the sting of a parish consolidation process that would see nearly half of its parishes shuttered over the last decade.

Fraught as planning efforts always are, the latter aspect has been unusually bruising in Western Mass., complete with sit-in vigils, Roman appeals that saw some churches reopened on a limited scale as other closings were upheld, and calls for McDonnell's own departure amid the anger the decisions stoked.

With Baltimore having undergone its own difficult waves of pastoral planning in recent years – a road still being traveled there – the incoming bishop is no stranger to the heady mix. Such is the earthiness of the Charm City church, however, that the processes to date have been accomplished with a rare degree of calm and no outbreak of rifts between parishioners and administrators.

Until his appointment as an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler, Rozanski had never held a Chancery assignment, spending the two decades of his priesthood entirely in parishes. In the most recent administrative setup of the Premier See, he's been responsible for roughly half of the archdiocese, overseeing 66 parishes in seven counties. On another front, for those keeping score at home, the appointment indeed bears the trace of the reconstituted Congregation for Bishops – today's nominee would be very familiar to DC's Cardinal Donald Wuerl through their work together in the Maryland Catholic Conference. (Beyond the capital, the Washington archdiocese stretches across five Maryland counties.)

On the brighter side of his new charge, meanwhile, Rozanski's surprise cameo at the religion class was onto another significant aspect of the Springfield church: education. The far end of the Mass. Pike is home to an exceptionally high concentration of prominent secular colleges, led by the main campus of the University of Massachusetts and rounded out by a trio of the nation's premier liberal arts schools, Smith, Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges.

Rozanski will be installed on August 12th. With today's appointment, five Stateside Latin-church sees remain vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age pending the arrival of their successors. Notably too, the appointment is the second of four coming in relatively short order in the Boston province, which comprises the bulk of New England; alongside last December's move of the Sox Nation vicar-general (and CDF veteran) Robert Deeley to Portland and today's nod, Vermont's Burlington diocese remains vacant following November's transfer of Bishop Salvatore Matano to Rochester, while along Cape Cod in Fall River, Bishop George Coleman sent in his letter on his March 1 birthday.

Back to the docket at large, though the latter figure rises to six on 9 July as Michael Sheehan – the venerable archbishop of Santa Fe and one last remaining figures of the conference's "golden age" – turns 75, of course, the group in wait is led by Chicago, the nation's third-largest local church, where Cardinal Francis George's successor is expected to be revealed sometime around October.