25 years ago today, Pope Francis was ordained a bishop. 25 years ago today, I was ordained a priest. Not bad company to keep!
This past year I was thinking it would be nice to come back to Italy to celebrate my 25th anniversary. Then, in October, Pope Francis named me Archbishop of Anchorage, which meant that I would indeed return to Rome for a special ceremony with the Holy Father on June 29 to receive the Pallium. God can always put together a better plan than any of us!
As I begin this anniversary day in Rome, I am surrounded by people that have been a significant part of that journey for the past 25 years. My dad and all of my siblings are here – and they indeed are the ones who first formed me in faith and love, thus preparing me for the much larger family that would become mine by means of Holy Orders.
Included in this Pallium Pilgrimage group are also parishioners from my years as a pastor in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, co-workers and friends from my seven years as Bishop of Cheyenne, and the newest members of my ‘episcopal family’ from Alaska.
What a dignity, joy, privilege and responsibility to be called “Father”, “Bishop”, and “Archbishop” by so many.
There was and probably still is a tradition in Italy, that when a man lies prostrate during the ordination rite, there is nothing God can refuse him. Whatever he asks of God will be granted. I recall vividly 25 years ago, sitting at the dining room table of my parent’s home the morning of my ordination, making a list of the many things I would ask of God during that moment of my ordination. It was a very long list – and today I am poignantly aware of the many ways God granted my every request – and then some!
Today, our group will go to St. Peter’s for a tour of the excavations beneath this grand basilica, thus making our way to the very bones of St. Peter, where we will renew our faith in this one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Later today, we will travel to St. Alphonsus Church, which houses the original Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This is significant, because in the old liturgical calendar, today was the Feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Equally important, the longest I have lived anywhere as an adult was as Pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in New Albany, Indiana.
As I prayerfully celebrate this anniversary, my heart is filled with gratitude for the many people who have graced my life through priestly ministry. I recall the words the Lord spoke to St. Ignatius when he learned in a vision that he was to go to Rome to begin the Jesuit (Companions of Jesus) order. The Lord told him: “I will be propitious to you in Rome.” God, indeed has been so very good to me. He whose love is pure and fruitful, and showered me with such grace and goodness, and I can never thank him enough.
Please join me in prayers of gratitude this day, and know of my prayers for each of you who have been a part of this incredible journey, this pilgrimage of faith we call life!