A day that was —
what a day that was!
For all of us, there are certain days that we will remember all our lives. For those of us with the gift of faith, these days are filled with grace, God’s light, in the midst of intense activities. Often, such days are milestones, and that was true of Saturday, Nov. 14.
It was three weeks ago that the call came from the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. The nuncio, as you know, is the ambassador to the American government from the Vatican, but more importantly, the representative of the Holy Father to the Catholic Church in this country, especially to the bishops. The previous day had been full and beautiful with a talk to our priests, and an evening speaking on St. Therese, the Little Flower, at a parish named in her honor.
A full day then, including noontime Mass at a downtown chapel in South Bend, and then a busy afternoon. I was getting ready to leave, and my assistant, Maureen, called from Fort Wayne and said the nuncio called. I hung up, said a Hail Mary, made my Act of Acceptance of God’s will, and called Archbishop Sambi. He told me the name of the bishop whom Pope Benedict XVI had appointed to be my successor, the ninth bishop of this diocese. I was delighted, and gratitude filled my heart, as I drove to the Mishawaka convent, late — for a good reason — to have supper with the sisters.
Elsewhere in this newspaper is my statement about Bishop Rhoades and this extraordinary appointment. Extraordinary, because of the qualities of the incoming bishop, and because it shows the care and concern of the Holy Father in sending us an experienced bishop — a pastor of a diocese larger than this one. And it also shows Bishop Rhoades’ readiness to do God’s will, accepting it immediately in faith and obedience.
But let us look at the day itself. We had celebrated Mass at the newly refurbished MacDougal Chapel, next to our cathedral. This chapel is now under the patronage of St. Mother Theodore Guérin, who actually lived on these grounds and is truly the foundress of our Catholic Schools.
A hearty breakfast in the cathedral with Msgr. Schulte and the cathedral priests. A meeting at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with the priests of the Fort Wayne area. A hymn and a reading, my introduction, and then a beautiful reflection by Bishop Kevin Rhoades from which we learned of his devotion to Our Lady; the priority on seeking vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life; his devotion to the new evangelization; his hero, Pope John Paul II; and his love for priests. He presented to us in clear terms the purpose of Pope Benedict declaring the Year for Priests, hoping and praying for a stronger and more incisive evangelization.
After each priest had a few minutes with the new bishop, we were off to the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center for a press conference with the media, followed by a meeting with our Fort Wayne staff. Joyful and hopeful, and some kind words, also, for the bishop who is retiring.
A kind of westward baptism
Bishop Rhoades and I then drove west and reached St. Matthew’s Co-Cathedral at 1:35 p.m. — a few minutes late. We repeated everything. A meeting with the priests, and then a press conference. Good questions, including one from Diane Freeby of Today’s Catholic, followed by a joyful meeting with our South Bend staff.
Soup and sandwich with Msgr. Mike Heintz in the rectory. Some wonderful discussion on the theology of the priesthood and a course on the writings of Joseph Ratzinger given at Notre Dame by Father Mike and Professor Fred Freddoso. Then in a spur of a moment, we went into St. Matthew’s Co-Cathedral to greet those present at the 4:30 p.m. vigil Mass. Another standing ovation for a new bishop.
This beloved diocese welcomed the new bishop with joy and love, as was our responsibility.
Up to the basilica
I had agreed long ago to celebrate a Mass at the Basilica for the Committee on Ethics and Culture at their annual meeting, which draws young people from all over the country. Bishop Rhoades concelebrated. The second Mass he had celebrated at the basilica. The other was a few years ago, after Notre Dame had beaten Penn State. The bishop follows both these schools in football, but he is first of all a Notre Dame fan. And then a delightful time greeting Notre Dame students, along with others who were there for the conference. Off then to the Sisters of Saint Francis for an evening meal, a visit with the sisters and with a group of young women from all over the country who were there for a discernment retreat; that is, determining whether or not they should enter religious life. Finally, for the third time in this beautiful day, we sang the Salve Regina. This is the Hail, Holy Queen, sung in Latin Gregorian Chant, a hymn we all sing in the seminary. A prayer dear to priests, religious and many laity. I left out something important: after the basilica, we went to the Lourdes Grotto on the Campus of Notre Dame and prayed. I prayed silently for our new bishop and for our diocese; and I am sure that Bishop Rhoades offered himself and his oncoming installation, and the years before him to Our Lady.
By the way, we were honored at Mass that Father Hesburgh — a legendary priest and longtime president of Notre Dame — concelebrated with us and greeted the new bishop with esteem and affection. Also present was Father Jim McDonald, CSC, assistant to Father Jenkins, CSC, whom he represented at the Mass.
Remember, all of this was very last minute, and they were good to come, as was Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, professor of history at Notre Dame and a good friend. I reached the end of this day and put these thoughts together at 11:30 p.m. at night. Tomorrow, I will celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Warsaw for the installation of Father Phil DeVolder as pastor. Then I will be off to Baltimore for our annual meeting of the U.S. bishops. I believe it will be my 35th November meeting of the bishops. I missed one when my dear father was dying, but I made all the others.
A gracious note from the Holy See appointing me as apostolic administrator until Bishop Rhoades takes office. For these two months, the Latin text indicates that this is in effect the same as being bishop here. I will cherish these days. I think I have loved every day that I have been your bishop. I especially look forward to my 25th Christmas as your bishop, and celebrating for the 25th time our patronal feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Cathedral in her honor.
Many other beautiful things ahead, such as installations of pastors in smaller rural parishes, along with being part of a parish-wide mission at St. Matthew’s co-Cathedral Parish. I will cherish always the reaction of various parishes to the naming of their pastor as a monsignor.
The following proves that the Good Lord has a sense of humor … Bishop Kevin Rhoades is a New York Yankee fan!
See you all next week.
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