In 2001, the Synod of Bishops considered “The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World.” Regarding the unity of the bishop, the synod stated: “Since the Bishop is sent in the name of Christ as Pastor of a particular Church, he cares for a portion of the People of God entrusted to him, making it grow as a communion in the Spirit through the Gospel and the Eucharist. In his person, the Bishop is the visible principle and the foundation of the unity of faith, the sacraments and the ecclesiastical governance, as a result of the power he has received.”
As I participated in the installation of Bishop William P. Callahan, our former Milwaukee auxiliary and now the 10th bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse, I couldn’t help but reflect on the day, more than five years ago, when Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, as archbishop of Milwaukee and metropolitan of Wisconsin, installed me in this same cathedral, St. Joseph the Workman. Archbishop Dolan was his gregarious self and I was nervous, to say the least. I wondered if the pope had made a mistake. I questioned whether I had sufficient leadership skills. I knew in the end that I must trust God and his church and do my best to serve the people that now have been entrusted to me.
The words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are a powerful reminder of the role of the bishop: “As Christ’s vicar, each bishop has the pastoral care of the particular Church entrusted to him, but at the same time he bears collegially with all his brothers in the episcopacy the solicitude for all the Churches. Though each bishop is the lawful pastor only of a portion of the flock entrusted to his care, as a legitimate successor of the apostles he is, by divine institution and precept, responsible with the other bishops for the Apostolic mission of the Church” (1560).
At the evening vesper service, Bishop Callahan chose a newly ordained priest, Fr. Paul Hoffman, to preach. He reflected on the feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon and martyr of the early church. St. Lawrence was noted for his courage in the face of persecution. He was reportedly roasted alive. Fr. Hoffman prayed for Bishop Callahan to have courage to lead the Diocese of La Crosse with a pledge that the priests and the faithful would share in his mission. The newly ordained priest even joked, “Bishop how do you brown (an illusion to St. Lawrence’s death)?” With characteristic quickness, Bishop Callahan responded, “I am a friar.”
On Wednesday Aug. 11, archbishops, bishops, monsignors, priests, deacons, religious and the faithful gathered to celebrate the installation of the new bishop of La Crosse. As the metropolitan archbishop, I was the principal celebrant for the installation. Bishop Callahan was welcomed by the diocesan administrator, Msgr. Richard Gilles, and the Apostolic Letter was read by Msgr. Jean-Francois Lantheaume, representing the papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi. The letter was shown to the College of Consultors for authentication. Bishop Callahan was then led by Msgr. Gilles and Msgr. Lantheaume to the foot of the cathedra (the chair).
As the metropolitan archbishop conducting the ceremony, I occupied the cathedra (the bishop’s chair). This was a chair that I possessed for almost five years as the former bishop of La Crosse, and this was the church entrusted to my care. Now I relinquished that chair to a new shepherd with the following words: “Almighty and eternal God, from heaven you sent your Son among us to teach us and guide us; may William, your servant, to whom you have given the fullness of the priesthood, grow in humility as he approaches the chair of his office. Let him come among us as one who serves, and make his heart the throne of your comforting spirit.”
The cathedra (the chair) was indeed a good fit. Then the crosier, the symbol of the office of the Good Shepherd, who watches over and leads with care the flock entrusted to him by the Holy Spirit, (Pontificale Romanum) was given to Bishop Callahan. I spoke the following words: Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen you to be the shepherd of the people of the Church of La Crosse. With prayerful confidence and trust I hand you this pastoral staff as a sign of the shepherd’s office. May the Lord sustain you as you watch over the flock of this diocese, to which the Spirit has assigned you as bishop to serve this Church of God.”
Bishop Callahan then led his new flock in prayer and delivered his homily with a pastor’s heart reflecting on our commitment to Jesus Christ and his church. The recessional was glorious as the new diocesan bishop blessed his congregation. I knew that my young college friend was right; it’s good to have a shepherd.