By Kevin Cullen
LAFAYETTE, Ind. (CNS) — Malinda Gustafson said she’ll never forget it: entering the historic Cathedral of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception for the first time; being part of a standing-room-only crowd of 700; hearing the music swell, then watching plumed Knights of Columbus, 200 vested priests, 25 mitered bishops and two red-robed cardinals move toward the altar.
Behind the altar, the oaken cathedra, or bishop’s chair, still bore the coat of arms of Bishop William L. Higi, who retired in May after serving as Lafayette’s bishop for a generation.
An era was ending; a new one was about to begin.
People came from across the nation and around the world to be part of the July 15 ordination and installation of Bishop Higi’s successor, Bishop Timothy L. Doherty, 59, sixth bishop of the Diocese of Lafayette. With solemn promises, sacred chrism and ancient symbols — a crosier, a miter and a ring of amethyst — he became a successor to the apostles.
“It was a wonderful experience,” said Gustafson, 26, of St. Cecilia Parish in DeMotte. “My favorite part was when they held the Book of the Gospels over his head. He was crying, and I got goose bumps.”
“I think he’ll do a great job, getting out into the community and meeting people,” she told The Catholic Moment, Lafayette’s diocesan paper. “He’s a huge (Chicago) Cubs fan, so he’s awesome in my book.”
The two-and-a-half-hour celebration filled the senses. The 144-year-old church was transformed by the flicker of candlelight, the smell of incense, songs in English and Latin, and pageantry right out of the Middle Ages.
The principal celebrant was Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein of Indianapolis. Co-consecrators were Bishop Higi; Bishop Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., Bishop Doherty’s home diocese, and three other Indiana bishops: Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger of Evansville, Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Concelebrants included visiting bishops and archbishops, including retired Bishop Arthur J. O’Neill of Rockford, who ordained Bishop Doherty to the priesthood in 1976; Benedictine Archabbot Justin Duval of St. Meinrad School of Theology in southern Indiana; Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York; Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago; Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston; and priests from the Lafayette and Rockford dioceses.
The cathedral, once a parish church, was too small to seat all who wanted to experience the event. Those without a ticket watched a live TV broadcast in a nearby social hall and in the gymnasium at Central Catholic Junior-Senior High School, at home on local television or on the Internet.
Leslie Mimms of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Westfield was among those fortunate enough to get a ticket.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime type experience,” she said. “We’re going into a new destiny for our diocese.”
Bishop Doherty, formerly a pastor and health care ethicist in the Diocese of Rockford, was appointed in May by Pope Benedict XVI to succeed Bishop Higi. Bishop Higi, 76, submitted his resignation letter when he turned 75 in August 2008, as required by Church law.
Mimms said she had long admired Bishop Higi, and she was thrilled to see Bishop Doherty become shepherd to the 24-county diocese, home to 105,000 Catholics.
“I think that any spiritual leader who focuses on prayer is going to shepherd people to holiness,” she said. “He seems to be such a grounded, humble man. It is inspiring to know you can excel to the position of bishop and still value humanity that much. He has a genuine love for the Church, and gratitude for the people who put him there.”
In his homily at the ordination Mass, Archbishop Buechlein said, “Bishops are called to live the simple life of the Gospel in a way that somehow mirrors Jesus, the one who serves. Would you agree that when all is said and done, what our Church needs more than anything from us bishops and priests, is integrity and holiness?
“The Church needs us to be no-nonsense, down-to-earth, holy, spiritual and moral leaders who are who we claim to be,” he said. “With Jesus, in Jesus and for Jesus, that is the ultimate service, the ultimate witness to the unity of faith. God bless you, Bishop Doherty, with many fruitful years of living his call to holiness.”
After the Mass, the new bishop thanked his family, his friends, former colleagues and his brother priests from the Diocese of Rockford. Then he noted that July 15 was the feast day of St. Bonaventure.
“The love of God through Christ should mark the beginning and the end of our days,” he said. “Today we remember St. Bonaventure, not because he was a rare mystic, but because he encouraged us all to live at that wonderful, deeper level.”
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