As Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we need more days like March 17. It has nothing to do with St. Patrick and the revelry going on outside the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Milwaukee. It had everything to do with the celebration inside the Cathedral.
It was a day for the faithful to fill the aisles of the Church. It was a day for the finest vestments, the sounds of the organ and trumpets and drums, and the heavenly aroma of incense wafting to the rafters.
It was a day to remember our roots. When a bishop is ordained, we are reminded of Jesus Christ appointing Peter as the first shepherd of the faith, and that the line of apostolic succession stretched this day to Frs. James T. Schuerman and Jeffrey R. Haines as they were ordained bishops to serve as auxiliaries for Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
The grand procession included 20 bishops, the honor guard of the Knights of Columbus, the Knights and Dames of Malta, the Knights and Ladies of Peter Claver and the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepluchre. Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre represented the Vatican and Cardinal Blase Joseph Cupich of Chicago processed with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Richard Sklba and Bishop
Donald Hying of Gary (formerly Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop), the assisting ordaining bishops.
Archbishop Listecki drew proper attention to the ordination and its importance.
“There are all sorts of reasons in your mind why you should not have been chosen,” Archbishop Listecki said of Frs. Schuerman and Haines, who were appointed by Pope Francis on Jan. 25. “You think, I am not prepared or ready. Yes, that is true. No one can be ready, just as Peter wasn’t ready when the Lord said, ‘go out and cast your nets.’ You think, I am not worthy, and you are not. No bishop is capable, all the apostles in the stained glass windows in this cathedral were not prepared, they were not eloquent speakers, but they did submit themselves to the Lord, for it is the Holy Spirit that guides you. It is not I that lives in the Lord, but the Lord lives in me. Jesus has called you for the service of his church.”
The Ordination to the Episcopate takes the form of the Mass we attend each Sunday. The majesty happens after the readings and the Gospel.
Frs. Haines and Schuerman were called forward, and the mandates from the Vatican were presented by Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Both men processed through the Cathedral holding their decrees in order for all to witness.
Archbishop Listecki then questioned the men on their willingness to accept the responsibilities of the office of bishop. With the men’s affirmation, they prostrated themselves on the floor of the Cathedral to symbolize their unworthiness for the office to be assumed and their dependence upon God and the prayers of the Christian community to help them in their duties.
Archbishop Listecki then called the men forward and laid his hands on each. In this ritual, the ordaining and the other bishops invoke the Holy Spirit to come down upon the men to be ordained, giving them a sacred character and setting them apart for the ministry.
“It is through the laying on of hands by which the sacrament of holy orders is conferred. You are being handed the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Archbishop Listecki said. It is the same ritual that all bishops have received from Christ. “The tradition is handed down from the beginning through the unbroken succession of bishops and is preserved from generation to generation, and the work of the savior continues on and grows even through all time.
“Through the bishops, it is Christ himself that leads you in this pilgrimage towards eternal life. We, the bishops, now welcome into our college by the laying on of hands. Remember the words Christ spoke to the apostles. Whoever listens to you, listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who has sent me.”
“The title of bishop is one of service, not of honor,” Archbishop Listecki continued. “Therefore, a bishop should strive for benefit of others rather than to hold it over them. The good shepherd knows his sheep, and is known by them and does not hesitate laying down his life for them.”
The archbishop also anointed their heads with chrism, the holy oil used for baptism, confirmation, ordination of priests and bishops and for the anointing of new altars.
The Book of Gospels was held over the heads of Bishops Haines and Schuerman during the prayer of ordination to ensure that the Gospels always present in their lives. Each receives his Episcopal ring, bishop’s mitre and bishop’s crozier.
“May the oil of holy anointing make you fruitful with an abundance of spiritual blessings,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Receive the Gospel and preach the Word of God with all patience and sound teaching. Receive the ring as a sign of fidelity to God and his Holy Church. Receive the mitre so the splendor of God’s holiness shines in you. Receive the crozier as a sign of your pastoral office and to keep watch over your flock.”
Bishops Haines and Schuerman smiled broadly as they were presented to the faithful and greeted with a loud ovation.
The newest bishops processed around the church, and issued their initial blessings to all.
As the liturgical celebration ended, the new bishops addressed the community of believers.
“My motto is Christ our light,” Bishop Schuerman said. “I feel very deeply that in my life the light of Christ has been in me. I thank the many individuals in my life who helped me experience the light and the love of the Lord,” he said including his teachers from grade school through seminary.
“I am looking forward to working with you in this new role of service. All praise and thanks to God for his abundant blessings.” Bishop Schuerman then repeated the remarks in Spanish.
“It is hard to capture the breadth of people that helped to form me in the faith of the Gospel,” Bishop Haines said, noting family, friends and all his teachers through seminary. “Any good I have accomplished in my priesthood, is a compliment to you.
“The awareness of the abiding presence of Jesus Christ and his love is the foundation and strength of my life. I promise that I will give my heart and soul to being an auxiliary bishop to support your mission as shepherd of the flock here in southeastern Wisconsin.”
And on this day, the Church of Southeastern Wisconsin and the Church universal rejoiced.