Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Baker Bishop Liam Cary and Fr. Rick Fischer, vicar general of the diocese, greet worshipers after the bishop's ordination.
Catholic Sentinel photos by Gerry Lewin
Baker Bishop Liam Cary and Fr. Rick Fischer, vicar general of the diocese, greet worshipers after the bishop's ordination.
BEND — A gentle but zealous man, Liam Cary was ordained the seventh bishop of the Diocese of Baker Friday afternoon.

The bearded former western Oregon pastor knelt silently in St. Francis Church here as bishops from around the region laid hands on his bowed head. The tradition, which goes back to the second century, expresses the unity of dioceses and the episcopacy's link to Jesus' apostles.

There were gasps of delight in the pews when the new bishop was given his miter, a tall headpiece that symbolizes his office as spiritual leader of his diocese and member of the college of bishops.

About 800 worshipers packed the church and hundreds of others watched on screens in other parish rooms. Catholics all over the 67,000-square mile high desert diocese viewed the three-hour rite on the internet.

"In this far-flung diocese, somehow in these hours, we've been united," Bishop Cary said, sounding a theme of church communion over distance. In every Eucharist, he explained, there is always more presence than anyone can see. He also noted the various church leaders present at the ordination and the many People of God they represent.

The new bishop, 64, said he feels like the richest man in the world because of all the kindnesses he has received. He also feels like the poorest, he said, because he knows he can never repay. He thanked a long list of helpers.

Bishop Cary now will lead a sprawling high-desert diocese with 60 churches, many in small towns and rural areas. Catholics here tend to be salt of the earth, from ranches and farms. But Central Oregon cities grew rapidly during the 1990s and 2000s, bringing a new dimension. Bend now has more than 80,000 residents, including many Latinos. In city and country alike, the diocese has an urgent need for more priests and has welcomed missionary clergy from Africa.

Scores of lay people led the procession for the ordination Mass, carrying banners representing their parishes from places like Pendleton, Klamath Falls, Bonanza and La Pine. The representatives wore their Sunday best — business attire for some, clean jeans and pressed western shirts for others.
Held on a bright mild day with the scent of juniper in the air, the ordination came on what would have been the 92nd birthday of Blessed Pope John Paul II. As a seminarian in Rome in the 1980s and 90s, Bishop Cary was inspired by the luminous, world-traveling pontiff.

Portland Archbishop Vlazny, who came to ordain the new bishop, repeated one of Pope John Paul's favorite phrases — originally words of Jesus: "Be not afraid."

"The gospel is indeed demanding, more demanding for those to whom much has been given," the archbishop told. "Yet, in spite of the demands and suffering associated with the cross, John Paul remained convinced that there was every reason for the truth of the cross to be called the Good News."

The archbishop held up Pope John Paul as a model for bishops — welcoming and warm, "one who calls people to experience the love and truth of the message of Jesus Christ."

Bishop Cary is the third priest from the Archdiocese of Portland to serve as Bishop of Baker, and the first to be raised in the region. Bishop Charles O’Reilly, a former Catholic Sentinel editor, was appointed the first Bishop of Baker in 1903; he was not welcomed at first by priests, who preferred their remote supervision-free life. Bishop Francis Leipzig was appointed the fourth Bishop of Baker in 1950. It was Bishop Leipzig who confirmed young Liam Cary in 1959 and, as was the custom then, delivered a memorable slap to the confirmand's face.

On hand for the ordination were Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Archbishop Carlo Viganò, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States. Archbishop Viganò read a letter from Pope Benedict, who thanked Bishop Cary for answering the Lord's call.

"We are confident you will stand in the midst of your people each day as one who serves," the pope wrote. After the letter was finished, the congregation gave the new bishop a standing ovation.

Other visiting prelates were Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, retired Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Bishop Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings, Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Bishop Edward Burns of Juneau, Bishop Joseph Tyson of Yakima, Apostolic Administrator Bishop James Conley of Denver, retired Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Steiner of Portland and Abbot Gregory Duerr of Mount Angel Abbey.

The new bishop's miter was a gift from Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It was then-Archbishop Levada who ordained Liam Cary as a priest in Portland in 1992. The cardinal promised to say a May 18 Mass in Rome for Bishop Cary.

Scores of priests processed in and kissed the altar. They included Baker Diocese clergy as well as confreres of the new bishop from western Oregon. Women Religious were out in force. It was laity filled most of the seats.

Fred Woodard, a member of the Knights of Columbus from Baker City, made the long trip. His hope is for a people-friendly bishop who might ordain more permanent deacons. That could help the clergy shortage, Woodard said.

Readings chosen for the ordination Mass revealed church tradition and teaching about bishops. In a passage from Acts, St. Peter speaks with courage about his master, Jesus. That signifies the teaching authority of the bishop. The reading from the Letter to Timothy reminds the disciple “to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.” That expresses the sanctifying mission, the task of drawing out holiness in the hearts of the People of God. The gospel reading from St. John, in which Jesus describes a path for his followers, speaks to the governing office of bishops.

"The proclamation of the truth in Christ is not an easy task these days," Archbishop Vlazny said during his homily. "The currents of our secular culture and the pressures of life often militate against the bishop’s task to be a promoter of justice and peace and to condemn violence and all those acts that attack the dignity of human life."

The archbishop told Bishop Cary his appointment is "a divine call inviting you to open the doors for Christ."

The archbishop gave the new spiritual leader this advice: "How we live as bishops and as disciples of the Lord speaks much more eloquently than anything we could say."

The new bishop, as well as Archbishop Vlazny, gave greetings and blessings in Spanish as well as English. The thick program included both languages. The Mass included songs in Spanish and English as well as hymns and chants in Latin.

At one point, the book of gospels was held over Bishop Cary's head, sign of the need to be formed by God's word. The ring slipped on his finger is the first he has worn. Several women in the back pews wept as the new bishop used incense to bless the altar, a life-sized crucifix hanging high overhead.

As the rite closed, Bishop Cary wound his way through the church, blessing everyone.

Bishop Robert Vasa, who served as spiritual leader of the Diocese of Baker for a decade, called Bishop Cary "engaging, pastoral and God centered." Bishop Vasa, assigned last year to the northern California Diocese of Santa Rosa, said the new prelate's roots in and love for the high desert will serve him and Catholics well. Bishop Vasa also lauds Bishop Cary's "extensive pastoral experience."

"I pray that God blesses him with great joy in this service and that he becomes the beneficiary of an abundance of love, support and prayer from those whom he is now called to serve," Bishop Vasa said.

It was Bishop Vasa who oversaw construction of a $5 million diocesan retreat center and chapel at Powell Butte, home of much youth ministry, lay ministry training, camps and other diocesan events. The aim of the place was to help Catholics get a spiritual boost and escape the rampaging secular culture.  

After Bishop Vasa's departure, Bishop William Skylstad accepted the caretaker's post. He is the retired Bishop of Spokane and former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A farewell reception for the bishop was planned for the day after the ordination at Powell Butte.

Priests in the diocese have high hopes for their new bishop.  

"If I am ever going to become a saint it will only be through riding the coattails of another saint," says Father Jim Radloff, pastor of St. Francis Parish in Bend and diocesan youth ministry leader. "So I expect nothing less than Bishop Cary being that person whose coattails of sanctity I can grasp as I strive to fulfill my priestly calling in service of God’s people."

Father Rick Fischer, vicar general of the diocese and director of vocations, hopes for unified efforts when it comes to inviting men to consider the calling.  

"I hope that by his kind leadership more men will be drawn to the priesthood, that we gain a stronger sense of diocese, and that his enthusiasm will permeate the diocese," Father Fischer says.

Owen Altstott, former publisher of Oregon Catholic Press, attended high school with Bishop Cary in Mount Angel in the early 1960s.

"He was the smartest guy in our class, got the joke the first time around and was the best shot on our basketball team," Altstott said. "A genuinely nice guy."

Bishop Cary was born in Portland and raised in the Central Oregon town of Prineville. After high school at Mount Angel Seminary, he went on to St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif. in 1969.

He took a hiatus from priestly formation. His work experience between 1970 and 1988 included three years in Chicago as a VISTA volunteer in a legal aid office. He later spent a summer in Mexico studying Spanish and then worked six months at a clinic sponsored by the United Farm Workers in Salinas, Calif. In the early 1980s he began working with St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene. When he moved back to Eugene, he was involved at St. Mary Parish, where his desire to become a priest was rekindled when the pastor asked him about it.

He attended North American College in Rome 1988-1992 and was ordained in 1992 by then-Archbishop of Portland William Levada, who is now a cardinal and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Bishop Cary served at St. Joseph Parish in Salem as parochial vicar and was the Archdiocese of Portland's director of vocations and faith formation 1994-1999. In 1998, he was appointed pastor in Medford, serving there until 2011, when he was appointed to Eugene.

In a 12-year term as pastor in Medford, he came to be seen as a man of principle but also compassion. He supported the opening of a home for needy young mothers as a way to complement pro-life advocacy.

In 2001, he stood up publicly when fringe groups in southern Oregon began posting billboards critical of Pope John Paul and the Catholic Church.

“This lowers the level of civility, which is the basis of social peace,” he told the Catholic Sentinel.  

During his tenure in Medford, the parish began perpetual adoration. He saw adoration, conducted in silence, as one way to bring spiritual unity among English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners.

With him urging support, his parishioners donated thousands of dollars in 2004 to build a clean water system for a region in Tanzania.

Bishop Cary has been steadfast in the pro-life movement. He would hold Masses in memory of children who died by miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion, describing “an invisible death, an invisible loss, with an invisible grief." Former director of the Archdiocese of Portland's pro-life office, he has in the past year been active in opposing construction of a new Planned Parenthood facility in Springfield, near Eugene.

In 2004, the Medford parish gathered signatures to help place a ballot initiative to ban gay marriage in Oregon. The parish later handed out bumper stickers and yard signs in support of the ban, which the state's voters approved. Not content with only political action, then-Father Cary held forums to discuss church teaching on marriage.

The Baker Diocese's cathedral is in Baker City, but most of the Catholic population is in Central Oregon near Bend.
Catholics from Sacred Heart Parish in Medford and St. Mary in Eugene made the trek for the rite in packed buses. They are happy for their old pastor, but are sad for his departure.

"We wouldn't miss this for the world," says Charlotte McManus, a Sacred Heart parishioner who has traveled to Europe with Bishop Cary. She admires his balance of reverence and joy of life.

"When you go to him for advice, he lays it out for you," she says. "He has a loving care for everyone."