EUGENE — When Father Liam Cary of St. Mary parish here received the call from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, apostolic nuncio to the United States, asking if he would accept the pope’s decision to name him bishop of Baker, he was in complete shock.
“My life has been focused on the boundaries of my parish,” he said. “I’ve scarcely raised my eyes to the diocesan level, much less the international.” He explained that he had just arrived home for lunch after a busy morning when the phone rang. “It was literally as if Pope Benedict himself were asking. How can you say ‘no?’ So you say ‘yes.’” Adding to the life-changing news was the fact that from Feb. 28, when he got the call, until March 8when the announcement was made public, Bishop-designate Cary was under the stricture of pontifical secret. He couldn’t tell anyone and had to go about his regular duties as if nothing had happened. “It was the strangest week of my life,” he said.
Despite his affirmative response, he was apprehensive. “Clearly this was not my will,” he said, “so it had to be the will of God.” When he would awaken at night, especially during the week of secrecy, Bishop-designate Cary said he found consolation in the Scriptures, in particular Jesus’ words to Peter, “I have chosen you,” “Come, follow me,” “Be not afraid,” and “I will be with you.”
“I would say them over and over in bed,” he said, “They would bring me back to the foundational words of promise.”
While few are named to be bishop, instant, radical change can happen to anyone, he added. “You learn you’ve got cancer and have a year to live. Suddenly your life is turned upside down. Or there is a divorce and life changes. Or you are in the military and you are being sent to Afghanistan. This sort of thing happens to all of us.” The key to getting through those times, Bishop-designate Cary says, is “to try to think thoughts that will be productive and good, as opposed to discouraging. We need to put our focus on our spiritual foundation.”
Bishop-designate Cary’s spiritual foundation began when he was a boy. Although he wasn’t ordained until he was 45, he says his vocation began at age six. Growing up in Prineville, he held the parish priest and family friend in the “highest esteem.”
“He was a central figure in my life as a boy. I thought that if I took his place, I would be doing something worthwhile. It seemed like a worthwhile vocation and I wanted to be like him.” Young Liam attended high school at Oregon's Mount Angel Seminary in the 1960s and went on to St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., in 1969. However, he took an extended hiatus before making his final commitment to the seminary.
He worked as a VISTA volunteer in Chicago, did manual labor and finally, in the early 1980s began working with St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene. It wasn’t that he was struggling with the idea of a vocation as such. “I always thought ‘some day,’ but I liked doing what I was doing. At age 41 it was harder to give up my independence but had I not given it up, I would never have found freedom. This is what God wanted me to do.” After being encouraged by the pastor at St. Mary’s, he resumed studies for ordination in 1987 and attended North American College in Rome from 1988-92, earning a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in 1992 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Following ordination, he worked in parishes in Salem and Medford before returning to St. Mary’s as pastor in 2011.
Being named bishop is just another step in learning to submit to God’s will, Bishop-designate Cary says. For that he draws encouragement from Mary. “When faced with the angel, she first says, ‘How can this be?’ but then quickly adds, ‘Be it done unto me according to your will.’ Then, later at Cana, she says, ‘Do whatever he wills you.’ She is essentially saying what Jesus did, ‘I will be with you.’” Bishop-designate Cary said that as he ponders the will of God for his life, he is comforted by the knowledge that Jesus and Mary will be with him. “What two better companions can I possibly have?”
Doing God’s will isn’t always easy, for Bishop-designate Cary or for anyone, but as he told his parishioners when he made the announcement that he would be leaving them, “What is said to me (by Jesus and Mary) is said to us all in our hour of need. Let us take our companions at their word as we make the journey of faith together.”