Friday, April 24, 2015

In Greensburg, The Rebuilding Begins – Pope Ships Harrisburg JV to Southwest PA

(Ed. Note: Updated 11am ET with bishop-elect's statement.)

6am ET – After the rocky road of Bishop Lawrence Brandt's 14 years at the helm of the diocese of Greensburg, one way of expressing the widespread hope in Southwestern Pennsylvania's coal country was that their next bishop would come bearing power.

Suffice it to say, mission accomplished.

At Roman Noon, the US' longest-pending diocesan handover was resolved as the Pope tapped Fr Edward Malesic, the 54 year-old judicial vicar of Harrisburg and pastor of Holy Infant parish in York Haven, as fifth bishop of the 165,000-member Greensburg church. A onetime Vatican diplomat and chancellor of Erie before his appointment in January 2004, Brandt's retirement was accepted 13 months after reaching the canonical age.

Seen above on the site of his parish's planned new church and religious ed. building, the bishop-elect comes as a surprise choice. That said, given the Greensburg fold's heavy concentration of folks of Eastern European descent, a bishop with Slovenian roots – the first Slav to lead the diocese – will make for a particularly auspicious first impression.

A product of the Josephinum, Malesic earned his licentiate in the canons at the Catholic University of America. Through his priesthood, the appointee served as a campus chaplain at no less than four colleges – another prominent attribute for the Greensburg church in light of its most prominent institution, the Benedictine-run St Vincent's College in Latrobe, whose major seminary is a key hub for priestly formation far beyond diocesan lines.

As previously noted, the "perfect storm" of significant parish and school consolidations over Brandt's tenure coupled with the bishop's austere style has made for an intense outbreak of tension among clergy and laity alike, the scene so roiled that a local petition website was launched to plead for a more "collaborative" next shepherd. Against that backdrop, even as further planning cuts and their bruising fallout are an inevitable part of life for every Northeastern and upper Midwest diocese, in this instance, the need for healing is particularly paramount.

Brandt will introduce his successor at a 10am presser at the diocesan retreat and conference facility named for Greensburg's second bishop, William Connare. Malesic's ordination has already been announced for Monday, 13 July, in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral (above).

Between today's move and yesterday's naming of the Houston vicar for clergy Fr Brendan Cahill, 51, as bishop of Southeast Texas' Victoria diocese – more on that shortly – all of one Stateside prelate remains in office beyond the retirement age: Michael Sheehan, the venerable archbishop of Santa Fe for nearly two decades, who turns 76 in July.

With the twin moves of the last 24 hours, the domestic appointment docket is ever more the thinnest in memory – far from the days of 15 to 20 dioceses undergoing transitions at once, with just two vacancies currently pending, all of three local churches now await their next head. That's not to say the months to come will be completely quiet, however – the lack of a diocesan backlog points to something that's already gotten underway: a flood of long-delayed selections of auxiliary bishops, especially for points South and West.

SVILUPPO (11am) – Delivered at one of the more joke-filled appointment pressers of recent years, here's the Opening Day statement of the bishop-elect:

Last Monday I was running a few errands and in between I was sitting at my desk in the parish. The phone rang and I saw the caller ID. It said, Vatican Embassy. My stress level went up immediately. The light started to blink (‘on hold’). My secretary came in and said that there was a man who sounded Italian asking to speak with me.

They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I had told God my plans – many times before. When I answered the phone that morning I could hear God laughing in the background.

The papal nuncio, archbishop Vigano was simple and direct. He said Pope Francis would like to appoint you as Bishop of Greensburg. Do you accept.? I admit it. I did take a while, but in the end I said that I trust the Lord and I respect our Holy Father and with great trepidation I say yes. I am reminded of a magnet I have on my filing cabinet that says “Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others.”

I am both greatly honored and deeply humbled by the decision of Pope Francis to appoint me as the fifth bishop of the great Diocese of Greensburg. This is an office that I never strove for nor expected – thus my shock.

But now that reality is setting in, I must thank God who has blessed me so much in this life and in the priesthood. It has been quite a journey so far and I suppose there is much more to come – and the people of Greensburg are going to be a huge part of my journey from now on. I am grateful to Pope Francis for placing his confidence in me. I do not feel deserving of it, but I am accepting of it. I love Pope Francis, and the way he has asked us all to examine and deepen our personal relationship with God. I give him my loyalty and devotion.

Thank you, Bishop Brandt, for welcoming me so warmly. When you called me last week you told me that I am inheriting a gem of a diocese. I know that you have worked hard to keep it sparkling during times of change. The Catholic community here owes a debt of gratitude to you. Thank you Bishop Brandt.

When I first found out that I was coming here, I googled Greensburg and I learned that it is one of the top places to retire. So it is good that you will stay close by in your retirement. I know that you will be a source of wisdom and guidance as I learn how to be a bishop – you already have been such a help.

I want to thank Archbishop Vigano, the Apostolic Nuncio, who was so patient with me when he informed me of the pope’s decision several days ago: and I was brought to silence. Archbishop Chaput, our metropolitan archbishop, has also been so kind to me. And, my own Bishop, Ronald Gainer in Harrisburg has been extremely helpful during the early days of this massive transition for me. I have only worked for him for less than a year – but he has been a tremendous mentor for me.

The people of the Diocese of Harrisburg have formed me in my faith from my early childhood and in the priesthood. Every parish and community that I have lived in and served has taught me something more about what it means to be a Christian. I am grateful. I especially want to thank the Tribunal Staff of Harrisburg and the staff and people of Holy Infant Parish, in York Haven, the place where I have served as pastor for the past 11 years. I will need them more than ever over these next few weeks – and I promise to bring back some Pittsburgh Steelers memorabilia. Perhaps even a terrible towel or two.

And finally I thank my parents who gave me life and passed the Catholic Faith on to me even when I gave them a hard time about it as a teenager. Thanks for not giving up.

I come to Greensburg as a stranger. But Greensburg isn’t completely unfamiliar to me – I have spent some time here for a few annual retreats at St. Vincent’s Archabbey and St. Emma’s Monastery. I know that these and other religious communities will be great spiritual assets for me moving forward. I have done a bit of reading about the Diocese in the last several days and I already get the sense that this Church is blessed with great Catholic institutions and great people – hard working priests, deacons, religious men and women, and laity who are generous in every way possible.

You will be my needed collaborators. Together, we will work to build up the Kingdom of God in our Diocese. 
Now, you are most likely wondering, who is this guy from Harrisburg. I am sure that my name has been googled more than once this morning, just like I googled Greensburg.

In short, as Pope Francis said of himself, I too am a fellow sinner. But because I am a fellow believer I have also received the mercy of God – I want to proclaim that. God is good. With God there is mercy and fullness of redemption. I am very much looking forward to celebrating the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, recently announced by Pope Francis.

Plain and simple, I am a disciple of Jesus. I believe that he gives life – and I believe that he gives peace. I believe he founded the Catholic Church I love so much. I believe that he is with us now and in a special way he is sending the Holy Spirit upon us to create us anew. He is the source of my joy.

My episcopal motto which comes from the beginning of Psalm 100 is a reflection of the joy that we should have in the Lord. It will be “Serve the Lord with gladness.”

You are also as unknown to me as I am to you. But I know that people are inherently good, that if you love them they will normally love you back. And if you challenge them, they are often up to the challenge. I believe that there are people with deep faith everywhere and I expect I will find great faith within the four counties that make up the Diocese of Greensburg, just as I have found it over and over again in the Diocese of Harrisburg.

Over time, we will get to know each other better. I believe that we can learn from each other, listen to each other, and have the respect for one another that comes from the dignity that each and every human being has from conception until natural death.

I look forward to working together with all of you and to continue the ongoing work of the New Evangelization. With God’s help we will do good things together to build up God’s Kingdom in this part of His earth and to serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us, especially the poor and the poor in spirit.

Please be patient with me as I find my way around and as I discover more of the strengths and challenges of this local church. You will soon begin to learn my strengths and limitations too.

Please pray for me and I promise to pray for you. Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us.