WILMINGTON — Braving extreme heat and crushing humidity, more than 900 people crowded into St. Elizabeth Church on July 13 to witness the ordination and installation of the new shepherd of the Diocese of Wilmington, Bishop William E. Koenig.
The episcopal ordination — the first in the diocese since 1897 — attracted not only the faithful of the diocese to its biggest church, but also a large number of the American church hierarchy. There were some 30 bishops and archbishops on hand, as well as Cardinals Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C., and Timothy Dolan of New York. They were joined by nearly all the priests, permanent deacons and seminarians of the diocese, as well as representatives of the various diocesan ministries and schools.
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore was the principal consecrator and main celebrant for the first part of the Mass. He was joined by Bishops John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, N.Y. and Bishop Malooly as co-consecrators. Bishop Barres, who was ordained for the Diocese of Wilmington in 1989 and served here for 19 years, was Bishop Koenig’s ordinary on Long Island.
At that point, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, took his place at the ambo and presented the papal bull to the ordaining bishops, the diocesan college of consultors and the congregation. He also made a few comments and read the letter from Pope Francis naming Bishop Koenig to the diocese.
“I am truly blessed to join you today in this beautiful church,” Archbishop Pierre said with his heavy French accent.
He thanked Bishop Malooly for his 13 years leading the Diocese of Wilmington, and the church filled with applause that turned into a standing ovation.
“Today a new era begins for this beautiful diocese,” he said.
Addressing Bishop Koenig, Archbishop Pierre thanked him for his years of outstanding service to the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He mentioned the relationship between Bishop Barres and the Diocese of Wilmington. “I’m sure the people of Wilmington and Bishop Barres are filled with joy,” he said.
The hope of the church is that through Bishop Koenig’s leadership, the people of Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland will have a taste of eternity and experience God, the archbishop said. He then read from Pope Francis’ letter on April 30 that made Bishop Koenig’s appointment to Wilmington official.
The letter calls the new bishop to pledge fidelity to the Holy Father, to his office and to the magisterium. Bishop Koenig showed the papal bull to the college of consultors, who were seated in front of the ambo, and to the congregation. He walked around the church holding it up.
Archbishop Lori made sure to thank Bishop Malooly for his 13 years heading up the Diocese of Wilmington. “What a good friend and what a good shepherd. He’s helped you all to rejoice in the Lord always, and that joy we will carry with us forever,” he said.
Archbishop Lori also thanked Bishop Barres for sharing the new bishop with the Diocese of Wilmington.
He reflected on the Scripture readings Bishop Koenig selected for the Mass. Jesus was anointed by the spirit to fulfill the mission his father had chosen for him. A glance of the Gospels shows how Jesus went about healing people and freeing them from slavery, then pouring his life out on the cross “in utter, self-giving love.”
St. Paul showed how Jesus’ words and actions will be incarnate in Bishop Koenig in his work leading the diocese. From his work as a cathedral rector and as vicar for priests, Archbishop Lori said, Bishop Koenig knows “how easy it is to become absorbed in the heavy demands of church administration. But the foundation of your episcopal ministry, as you know, is in evangelizing catechesis.”
That comes from listening to and absorbing the word of God, the archbishop continued, but also listening to the needs and aspirations of the people he serves. That involves engaging them personally in a dialogue of charity, conversion, truth and salvation.
“This dialogue of love embraces, with missionary zeal, the unchurched and the searching, and even those who have hardened their hearts against Christ and against this church,” Archbishop Lori said.
He encouraged Bishop Koenig to recognize the gifts of those around him as evangelizers and teachers. He expressed wishes that the new bishop be surrounded by good coworkers.
The consecration with oil and through the laying of hands enabled Bishop Koenig to say that the spirit of God is upon him. It sends him forth to proclaim the truth that is Christ. It is easy to come to rely on natural gifts and talents, Archbishop Lori said, but it is the gift of the spirit that transforms him.
“And it is his power that will sustain you in good days and bad, in sickness and in health, enabling you to love and cherish the church you serve as a bridegroom loves his bride,” he said.
People are not looking to their bishops “for wizardry or for showmanship,” but rather for constancy and fidelity. They should lead more by example than by decree, he said. Imitate the good shepherd, he continued, and Bishop Koenig will be able to say with St. Paul, “Be imitators of me.”
At the end of the day, always let the voice of the good shepherd resonate in your heart, Archbishop Lori advised. The hearts and prayers of his bishop and priest friends, as well as those of those he will serve, are with him.
“May God bless you and keep you always in his love,” the archbishop concluded.
Bishop Koenig then promised to fulfill the duties of his office, and he lay prostrate as the congregation prayed a lengthy litany of the saints. The bishops then laid their hands on his head. He also received the Book of the Gospels, his ring, miter and crozier. The ring and miter were carried into the church by priest friends from New York, Msgr. Thomas Harold and Father Joe Whelan, respectively.
Dramatic music emanated from the choir loft as Bishop Koenig walked to the presider’s chair, and the congregation rose with applause. The priests of the diocese, along with others from New York, offered the sign of peace, as did members of various diocesan ministries and members of his family. He was anointed with chrism oil.
Bishop Koenig then became the principal celebrant for the balance of the Mass, which lasted more than two and a half hours. The presentation of the gifts included representatives from the Catholic education community and Catholic Youth Ministry.
After Communion, Bishop Koenig and the consecrating bishops walked around St. Elizabeth to bless the congregation. He climbed the steps of the ambo to offer a few comments, many of which were thanks to the many people who helped him on his journey to Wilmington. That included Pope Francis, the consecrating bishops, his fellow priests, friends and family members, many of whom made the trip to Delaware.
“It is always good to know you are only a phone call away,” he told friends from Rockville Centre. “Please don’t change your phone number.”
He mentioned his parents, Alfred and Mary, who are deceased, but “I know that they are looking down on me today with their supportive and prayerful love.”
One way of understanding a diocese is through demographics, Bishop Koenig said. But, he said, there is more to a place than numbers. He said he has come to know that the Diocese of Wilmington is a place of faith, hope and love, and through the stories of why a parish was founded or a missionary order came here.
These and other stories of the Diocese of Wilmington reflect the first letter of Peter that talks about a spiritual house being built with living stones.
“I am humbled by and grateful for the call to join you as we together continue to form this spiritual house,” he said.
He looks forward to what can be done in the Diocese of Wilmington and to working and praying with the priests of the diocese. He asked for patience as he learns his way around the diocese.
Bishop Koenig said he is conscious of the variety of gifts of the people of the diocese and is eager to see what they can do together. They have a common mission: “to be messengers of God’s love for all, to bring the light of Christ to others, to preach the Good News in word and deed, and it is toward this that I most eagerly look.”
Hundreds of people watched the Mass live on YouTube, with the number at one point exceeding 900. Messages of congratulations in the comments section came from around the diocese and the world.
The Mass will be seen on EWTN July 15 at 3 p.m. It is also available on the diocese YouTube channel.