Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Bishop Mitch Goes to “Rome” – Pope Taps Mass. Prelate For St Louis

As the Vatican’s working year wends toward its close at month’s end, a cycle interrupted by a historic outbreak is making up for lost time, and wrapping up with more than one bang.

Accordingly, Roman Noon this Wednesday brings another “end-of-school” treat, as the Pope named 61 year-old Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield (Mass.) as the Tenth Archbishop of St Louis.

The first East Coast figure to inherit the “Rome of the West” since the Brooklyn-born John Joseph Carberry – the last of three (non-baseball) cardinals on Lindell Blvd. – arrived in 1968, the archbishop-elect succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who reached the retirement age of 75 last June after 35 years on the bench.

Now home to some 550,000 Catholics, the 175 year-old archdiocese – the mother church of the American West: a vaunted center of Catholicity dating to its initial settlement by the French – might not have much in common with Rozanski’s most recent assignment in the Berkshires, but indeed bears a stark resemblance to his hometown of Baltimore: similar in size and the inflections of Southern culture, both titanic venues of Catholic history on these shores, with the enduring legacy of a massive institutional presence to prove it. And the similarities don’t end at the church’s walls, either – with Ferguson just over St Louis’ western line, six years since Michael Brown was murdered by a police officer there, the current national moment merely underscores the cities’ shared thread of high-profile racial injustice, the brutality and tensions of which have extended into our own time.

In that light, it’s especially notable that Francis has sent a prelate with a warm and fuzzy pastoral style, an empathetic listener with a premium on conciliation – traits already well-affirmed by the bench, which chose Rozanski to helm its ecumenical and interfaith efforts over the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. Yet earthy as he is, Mitch – a "lifer" in the trenches before becoming an auxiliary to Cardinal William Keeler at 45 – won’t so much sweep onto the Mississippi's western bank with a flourish as much as he’ll be overawed by it.

Indeed, in the thinking of some, Rozanski’s healing traits had marked him out over recent months as a contender for the roiled, bankrupt diocese of Buffalo – an idea bolstered by his Polish heritage given the community’s prominence in Western New York. That he’s instead been sent to a far more prominent and happier charge (and the pallium that comes with it) isn’t simply a vote of confidence in his talents, but likewise a reflection of St Louis’ ongoing need for bridge-building of a different sort.

A solid moderate in the tradition of his hometown mentors – Keeler and his Baltimore predecessor, Archbishop William Borders – the notion of Mitch Rozanski as successor to now-Cardinal Raymond Burke (who led the St Louis church for four tumultuous years, 2004-08) is enough to make one’s head spin. Not that the archbishop-elect is some sort of raving leftist – far from it – but simply that the excoriating style with which Burke polarized the archdiocese to the point of instability, outrage (and, in the case of one parish, a formal schism) would be antithetical to Rozanski’s low-key, dialogue-heavy approach. On this front, as the remnants of Burke’s high-octane, Francis-skeptic ecclesiology endure in influential pockets of St Louis Catholicism, reinforcing the cohesion in diversity of the local church remains a formidable challenge.

Much as the destination is a surprise, Rozanski’s name has been floated for several major openings over the last year, including Washington and Philadelphia, yet as recently as three weeks ago, another name was tipped for this appointment.

Even so, St Louis hit “jackpot” with this pick – Cardinal fans, you’re gonna love this guy. He’s coming to you with an open hand and a heart of gold, and this scribe knows you’ll respond in kind, just as Whispers’ STL crew always has for this shop. It’s simply a wonderful match – the only thing missing is a branch of Royal Farms (Baltimore’s home of the World’s Best Fried Chicken)... all told, be good to him, and he will assuredly be good to you.

Having first flown to Baltimore to tell his parents of the move, the archbishop-elect will be in St Louis this morning for the usual 10am press conference (video), which have now resumed after the COVID-induced lockdowns. Per the norms of the canons, Rozanski must be installed within two months of today’s appointment. 

(SVILUPPO: Per the in-house Review, the handover is slated for August 25th, the diocese's patronal day as the feast of St Louis, King of France.)

At said installation in the mammoth, all-mosaic "jewel-box" named for the city's patron, it’s likely that the Tenth Archbishop will likewise be invested with his pallium as head of the church in Missouri – a rare doubling-up of the twin rites.

While the world's newly-named metropolitans are usually expected to join the Pope on the 29th’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul to receive the symbol of their office, the hurdles of international travel mid-pandemic is set to prevent most of this year’s class from being on hand for the moment. Regardless, the US’ contingent of five new archbishops – Paul Etienne of Seattle, Nelson Pérez of Philadelphia, Atlanta’s Gregory Hartmayer OFM Conv., the Vincentian Andrew Bellisario of Alaska’s newly-merged archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau, and now the “Arch-Mitch” – is Francis’ largest to date over his seven years in office.

With today’s move, the reigning pontiff has named 13 of the nation’s 32 Latin-church metropolitans.

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Of course, today’s handoff isn’t this week’s only blockbuster for the Stateside bench – capping years of anticipation among not a few church-folks, yesterday saw Francis give the hat to the longtime top prospect to enter the nation’s episcopal ranks.

All of 49, Msgr David Toups of St Petersburg has established himself as a bona fide rockstar, from a well-regarded stint at the national church’s Clergy office, to pastoring one of the Southeast’s marquee parishes (Tampa’s booming Christ the King), to nearly a decade as rector of the region’s lone major seminary, where he oversaw a rare expansion of a US formation-house in recent times – and raising the eight-figure construction budget to make it happen.

To be sure, the “if” of Toups becoming a bishop was never in question – it was only a matter of “where”… and after years of sparring among the Great Powers, we have our answer: he’s taking his talents to Beaumont, Texas, an extremely comfortable fit given its place on his native Gulf Coast, and a tight-knit, diverse community that’ll make for an ample proving ground for his considerable skill-set, all the more given its not-so-seldom experience of damaging hurricanes, to which he’s already well-accustomed.

In contrast to Rozanski, Bishop David will take Beaumont by storm – and the rest of Churchworld will be watching. Indeed, looking at his path to this point – Roman formation, a critical DC posting that put him on the wider radar, then presiding over marked growth and vitality at an A-list American seminary (and turning his charismatic Rector’s Conferences into a book) –the parallels are almost eerie to the trajectory of his own rector at the NAC: Tim Dolan, who likewise was rocketed onto the bench at the close of his seminary tenure. One significant difference, however, is that Toups is two years younger than was Dolan at his own appointment in 2001 – and unlike the now-cardinal-archbishop of New York, he’s starting out as a diocesan bishop as opposed to an auxiliary.

With public worship already well resumed in Texas, the bishop-elect will be ordained on August 21st. Yesterday’s press conference in the Cathedral-Basilica of St Anthony was notably the first in-person rollout since the COVID lockdowns pushed the events to virtual form: