By Jen Reed
HARRISBURG, Pa. (CNS) — Bishop Ronald W. Gainer, who will become the 11th bishop of Harrisburg when he is installed in March, introduced himself as a shepherd dedicated to the sanctification and ministry of his people.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of diocesan employees and a host of local media gathered in Harrisburg for a Jan. 24 news conference, he said he was eager to connect with the people of the diocese to learn about its strengths and challenges.
Accessibility, he said, has been a hallmark of his episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., where he has been the bishop since 2003. He hopes to maintain that trend in Harrisburg.
“I have a lot to learn about this local church, about all of the people in these 15 counties, about the strengths and the areas of challenge,” said Bishop Gainer.
Referring to his appointment to Harrisburg as a homecoming — he was born in Pottsville and served as a priest of the Allentown Diocese for 29 years — Bishop Gainer said he planned to “hear with the ears and the heart of a hometown boy.”
Bishop Gainer, 66, will be installed March 19, at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Introducing Bishop Gainer during the new conference, Father Robert M. Gillelan Jr., diocesan administrator, noted that his appointment came on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, known as the “gentleman saint.”
“It seems appropriate then that today we officially welcome this Kentucky gentleman back to his native Pennsylvania,” the priest said.
Following a sustained standing ovation as he stepped to the podium, Bishop Gainer expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for appointing him to Harrisburg, and to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, who announced the appointment in Washington.
“It is with great humility and true joy that I accept this as God at work through the authorities of our Catholic Church. I am humble and grateful,” he said.
Bishop Gainer added: “I welcome today this new time in the life of the Diocese of Harrisburg, and in my own life and in my ministry, and I trust, truly, that the bond of faith, the bond of love, the bond of joy that developed in 11 years in my stewardship and shepherding the Diocese of Lexington will take place here and will grow quickly to unite us together in our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
His appointment came nearly nine months after the death of Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died unexpectedly May 2 last year after nearly three years as head of the diocese.
Bishop Gainer in his remarks recalled “with reverence and with deep respect and gratitude” the memory of Bishop McFadden.
“His sudden passing was a sadness to all of us, and this local church continues in its own way to grieve that sudden loss of your shepherd,” he said.
Bishop Gainer said he crossed paths with Bishop McFadden on numerous occasions. The two were members of the U.S. bishops’ education committee, which Bishop McFadden eventually chaired.
He said he has kept the prayer card distributed during his predecessor’s funeral Mass next to his computer since May. “Every time I’ve gone to my computer, I’ve seen the smiling face of your shepherd looking at me and I’ve offered a prayer for his happy repose. … I continue to join with you in praying for Bishop McFadden,” he said.
About the priorities he set for his ministry as Lexington’s bishop, Bishop Gainer pointed to Catholic schools, prison ministry and social justice.
“I know that Catholic schools are strong and numerous here,” he said, noting a Lexington diocesan initiative focusing on the faith formation of Catholic school teachers and administrators.
Regarding prison ministry, he said the territory covered by the Kentucky diocese includes nine state and five federal prisons. He made it a priority to visit inmates there “to let them know that they are not invisible.”
Social justice also has been a priority, because of the poverty and unemployment in the 40 Appalachian counties of the Diocese of Lexington; 74 percent of children there live below the federal poverty line. When there are such needs, he said, “we can’t close our eyes or look the other way.”
“We can name those problems and muster energy to address them,” he added.
“My vision of a diocese is that we are in service to where the rubber meets the road, we are in service to our parish communities,” Bishop Gainer said, “and we need to be able to be a resource, to give guidance where needed, and to help our parishes be the most vibrant communities of Catholic faith in service, worship and in teaching.”
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Reed is managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.
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