WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Bishop Patrick R. Cooney of Gaylord, Mich., and named as his successor Msgr. Bernard A. Hebda, 50, a Pittsburgh priest and undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
The appointment was announced in Washington Oct. 7 by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the United States. Details on the installation in Gaylord have not been announced.
Bishop Cooney, a native of Detroit, has headed the Gaylord Diocese since 1989. He is 75 years old, the age at which bishops are required by canon law to submit their resignation to the pope.
Bishop-designate Hebda, a Pittsburgh native, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburgh July 1, 1989.
He said he was “humbled and honored” by the new appointment.
“Never in my wildest dreams have I ever imagined that I would one day be the bishop of Gaylord,” he said in a statement.
The bishop-designate added that he was grateful to Bishop Cooney for his kindness and for reflecting “Christ’s gentle and guiding presence in this local church over the past 20 years.”
“I am honored to be given the opportunity to continue his good work,” he said, adding that he looks forward to getting to know the people of the Gaylord Diocese — “their needs, their strengths, their history, so that we can together strive to continue to make Christ’s presence felt in this portion of his vineyard.”
Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik said the Pittsburgh Diocese “rejoices that one of our own has been called to be a bishop.”
In an Oct. 7 statement, he said the bishop-designate has “qualities that make him a great priest and will make him an extraordinary bishop — his self-effacing nature, his capacity to find the good in everyone he meets, his cheerful helpfulness. We are excited in knowing that the Diocese of Gaylord is blessed to have such an exceptional servant of Christ.”
Bishop-designate Hebda earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and a law degree from Columbia University in New York. He worked for a law firm for one year before entering the seminary. After his ordination, he obtained a doctorate in canon law from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, in Rome.
While in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, he was parochial vicar at Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Ellwood City and master of ceremonies for the bishop’s office. He also served on a ministry team at Prince of Peace Parish in Pittsburgh and was director of campus ministry at Slippery Rock University. He served on the canonical advisory council, the priest council and the priest personnel board.
In 1996, Bishop-designate Hebda was appointed to work in Rome at the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, now called the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, which is responsible for the interpretation of canon law. In 2003, he was named the council’s undersecretary.
While he was in Rome, the bishop-designate served as an adjunct spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College. He also was a confessor for the postulants of the Missionaries of Charity and for the community’s sisters who worked at a home for unwed mothers.
Bishop Cooney, who was ordained a priest of the Detroit Archdiocese in 1959, was named an auxiliary bishop of Detroit in 1982 and became the bishop of Gaylord seven years later.
Nationally, he has served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; as a member of the board of directors of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ overseas relief and development agency; and as co-chairman of the official Catholic-Reformed consultation.
In April of 2004, he was one of 13 U.S. Catholic bishops who attended a three-day institute in California to study Islam, the Quran and Catholic-Muslim relations. In July 2007, Bishop Cooney went to Sudan with Bishop John H. Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., to meet with representatives of the Sudan Catholic Bishops’ Conference as well as CRS staff.
Last year the bishop underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
The Diocese of Gaylord, established in 1971, is one of seven dioceses in the state of Michigan. The total population of the area exceeds 514,000. Of that number, more than 76,000 are Catholics; they are served by 81 parishes, 17 Catholic schools and related institutions.
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