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Home : Faith/Spirituality : Archbishop Vlazny's Past Columns
3/28/2012 9:25:00 AM
Oregon's Bishops

Most Rev. John Vlazny
Archbishop Emeritus of Portland

On Feb. 28 I was attending a meeting at the Benedictine Abbey in Lisle, Illinois. I had missed a call on my cell phone and when I finally connected with my voicemail, I learned that the Apostolic Nuncio was trying to reach me by phone. I had sent my letter of resignation from the office of archbishop the previous Wednesday, Feb. 22. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is certainly a quick response to my letter.” As it turned out, the Nuncio was not calling me about my letter, but about the appointment of our own Father Liam Cary as the new Bishop of Baker. As it turns out, Father Cary is the third priest from the Archdiocese of Portland to be named Bishop of Baker.

When I heard the news from the Nuncio, I was quite pleased. Father Cary is one of our excellent priests, a true pastor, a wise teacher and a prayerful disciple of the Lord. He will serve the people of eastern Oregon very well. He was the Vocations Director for the archdiocese when I arrived here as archbishop back in 1997. One year later I asked him to accept the appointment as pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Medford. Without blinking an eye he immediately said, “Yes.” That’s Liam. I’m not surprised that he said “Yes” to the Pope!

It has been one of my fondest hopes that a priest of this archdiocese would become a bishop before I would retire. Our own Auxiliary Bishop, Kenneth Steiner, was the last Portland priest to become a bishop and that was back in 1978. The last Portland priest to become a diocesan bishop was Bishop Francis Leipzig back in 1950. With Bishop Cary’s appointment, I feel like “the mark of Cain” at last has been removed from our presbyterate!

Certainly I am not thrilled with the thought of losing such an excellent presbyter to assist me in serving the people of this archdiocese, but it is time for us to share one of our blessings. Liam Cary has indeed been a blessing for this local church. His parishioners in Medford and Eugene will readily agree.

Prior to Bishop Cary’s appointment, we received word back on Nov. 25 of last year that Bishop Steiner’s resignation had been accepted by our Holy Father. He now serves as Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, possibly even a little busier than before. But he is content and thriving in his new situation. I myself have been awaiting a response from the Holy See to my letter of February 22nd. A number of people have greeted me in recent weeks wishing me well during my retirement. But, not so fast. Even though I am ready and willing, I am still on the job and probably will be so until the new archbishop is appointed. But maybe the Pope will have a surprise for me and quickly make other provisions for leadership for this local church. Whatever will be, will be.

Bishop-elect Cary has chosen Friday, May 18, for the day of his Ordination and Installation as Bishop of Baker. He wanted to make it possible for the Apostolic Nuncio, The Most Rev. Carlo Vigano, to be in attendance. An earlier date that was suggested wasn’t free for him. And so all roads will lead to Bend, Oregon in mid-May. The Cary family will certainly be present and I pray that many of Bishop Liam’s brother priests, relatives and friends will also be there to pray with the church of Baker that the Holy Spirit will empower this excellent priest with the gifts and graces he will need to be a good and faithful shepherd of his flock.

Bishop Cary certainly was surprised by this news. In many ways I wish I were still young enough to be able to serve the people of Oregon in tandem with Bishop Liam. He is intelligent, collaborative, resourceful and a loyal son of the church. Our next archbishop will be very fortunate to have such a fine neighbor along his eastern border. The Diocese of Baker is territorially large and relatively small in population. Much work will be on the bishop’s plate in the coming months as he travels around visiting parishioners, becoming acquainted with the needs and dreams of his people and seeking out coworkers to assist him in teaching, sanctifying and governing the people of God.

The men who are preparing to be ordained priests know that ordination looms on the horizon, possibly three, six, 12 months in advance. A newly appointed bishop has no awareness he’s being considered for the office and is given a very brief time to move from his life as a priest in one local church to the ministry of bishop in another. Bishop Cary will need our prayers and I know that he will welcome whatever tangible and spiritual assistance we can afford him.

Lots of folks wonder how a bishop is chosen. I like to think the Holy Spirit has something to do with it. But obviously lots of people put their oar in the water and, willy-nilly, influence the selection. All of this should take place in secret, but some folks like to talk. Rumors about episcopal appointments are commonplace in the conversation of many who work for the church. This is not surprising because many of these people are consulted about the appointment.

The Apostolic Nuncio is the one who oversees the consultation about the appointment of a new bishop. Ultimately he submits three names of candidates who, in his judgment, after consulting widely with people, will be suitable for the task. These names with dossiers are sent to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. The Congregation reviews the information and ultimately makes a recommendation to the Holy Father. It is the Pope who makes the appointment. There are times when he overrides the Congregation or sends the recommendation back for more fine tuning or revision. The thirteen months in between the time of Bishop Vasa’s departure from office and Bishop Cary’s appointment is not an unusual time frame.

Whenever my own resignation is accepted, there undoubtedly will be a similar process here in the Archdiocese of Portland as the Nuncio prepares to make some recommendations to the Holy See with respect to the future leadership of this local church. It is not too soon to begin praying that all participants in the process will leave room for the Holy Spirit to have his say! When people were asking me a year or two ago about my successor, I would typically respond that I had no great interest in being involved in the selection process. Well, a couple of months ago I realized that maybe I did have some interest in that appointment. After all, the new archbishop will be my bishop and I have not had a bishop for nearly 25 years!

Now that the date of Bishop Liam’s ordination is set for May 18, the people at St. Mary’s Church in Eugene undoubtedly are feeling some concern. He has been their pastor less than a year and now they must welcome another priest as their pastor. The Archdiocesan Personnel Board is working on making some recommendations to me. As for myself, I’m trying to resolve a few matters before the transition takes place in my own office. I need to find a place to live and allow some time for the archbishop’s residence to be made ready for a new tenant. I have been blessed for nearly 14 years with a happy home, a good job and wonderful coworkers. Who could ask for more?

The ordination ritual for a new bishop is truly inspiring. After promising obedience to the Holy Father, Bishop-elect Cary will be asked by the ordaining bishop, “Do you resolve to guide the holy people of God in the way of salvation as a devoted father and sustain them with the help of your fellow ministers, priests and deacons?” Not only will Bishop Cary certainly respond, “I do,” but, also if his life and ministry as a priest in this archdiocese are any gauge of the sincerity of that response, the people of Baker can rest assured that their new bishop will serve them faithfully, fatherly and collaboratively with all his heart and soul. God bless you, Bishop Liam. You are in our prayers. Ad multos annos!

Related Stories:
• Bishop-to-be reflects on God's will

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