Our diocese this weekend is celebrating the Mass for the Election of a Bishop, praying for the prompt appointment of our next bishop. So I did a brief homily on what a bishop is and does, followed by a talk about (sigh) money. You get just the first thing here!
As you may know, our diocese has not had a bishop since early December, when Bishop Sartain became the archbishop of Seattle. Since then, Bishop Siegel, our auxiliary bishop, was named the diocesan administrator. He can keep the diocese running, but can’t really make any substantive changes. So at this time, we are waiting for Rome to select a new bishop for us, and today we celebrate a special Mass for the Election of a Bishop, praying that the Holy Spirit would help Pope Benedict find us a man who is holy, and loving to his people and clergy.
Bishops were selected in the Church pretty early on, during the time the original Apostles were dying off. These successors to the Apostles helped to ensure that the faith was handed down to us as the Lord intended it. They administrate the Sacraments and see to it that the diocese and its parishes live and witness to the Gospel message in the present time.
Candidates for the office of Bishop have to be priests. When there is a vacancy in a diocese such as ours, it can be filled by a man who is already a bishop somewhere else, or by a priest of our diocese or even of another diocese. Names for these candidates are submitted to Rome through the Papal Nuncio, who in the United States is Archbishop Pietro Sambi. These candidates are examined very closely, and without their knowing, I might add. If the person selected is already a bishop, he is installed in the diocese within a short period of time. If he is a priest, he is ordained or consecrated as a bishop, which automatically installs him as the bishop of the diocese.
The diocese of Joliet in Illinois was erected in December of 1948, carved out of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the diocese of Rockford, and the diocese of Peoria. Since then we have had four bishops. Bishop Martin McNamara, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, served from the erection of the diocese until his death in 1966. Bishop Romeo Blanchette, a priest and auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Joliet, served from 1966 until 1979. Bishop Joseph Imesch, an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Detroit, served from 1979 until his retirement in 2006. Bishop Peter Sartain, who was bishop of Little Rock, served from 2006 until this past December.
And so we continue to wait for word of who our next bishop will be. We are a rather large diocese, of around 700,000 Catholics spread over seven counties. Popular opinion suggests that that means we won’t have to wait very long. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit would inspire all those involved in the decision so that we have a wonderful bishop who can serve us and help us move our diocese forward in spreading the Gospel to the people of our seven counties.