The Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Bishop John O. Barres calls Wilmington’s new bishop a “gift” from Long Island to Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
In a way, Bishop William E. Koenig, a priest of Rockville Centre since 1983, is a gift to the Diocese of Wilmington that Bishop Barres helped wrap.
When Pope Francis named the Long Island priest the 10th Bishop of Wilmington on April 30, it was after consultations with U.S. bishops on a leader for Wilmington after Bishop W. Francis Malooly’s retirement.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio to the United States, sends lists of possible new bishops to the Vatican for consideration. He probably recognized Bishop Barres’s unique perspective on both the Diocese of Wilmington and then-Msgr. Koenig.
That’s because Bishop Barres served as a priest of Wilmington for nearly 20 years.
Wilmington’s seventh bishop, Robert E. Mulvee, who later became bishop of Providence, R.I., ordained Father Barres; he then served as a priest, monsignor and chancellor for Bishop Michael Saltarelli; and also as Bishop Malooly’s chancellor for about nine months before being named Bishop of Allentown, Pa., in 2009. He’s been Rockville Centre’s bishop since 2016.
After he learned from Archbishop Pierre that Msgr. Koenig was about to be named Wilmington’s next bishop, Bishop Barres texted his first pastor, mentor and friend in the First State, Father Charles Dillingham, pastor of St. Mary’s in Hockessin.
“Charlie, we’re sending you a gift from Long Island to Delaware early tomorrow morning,” Bishop Barres wrote.
Father Dillingham found out what the gift was at 6 a.m. the next morning when the Holy See announced that Bishop Koenig would be the next bishop here.
Bishop Barres said recently, “Trust me; the outstanding priests of the Diocese of Wilmington will really treasure this great churchman.
“Bishop Koenig has a deep and grounded humility, a beautiful calm and patience and a peace that radiates from his face.”
Bishop Barres cited Bishop Koenig’s dedicated interior prayer life with giving him a spiritual depth that is “expressed in his preaching and pastoral charity.”
Wilmington’s new bishop has been a “consummate parish priest and pastor,” Bishop Barres said. “He is an experienced, wise and balanced pastor. Things gently turn to gold around Bishop Koenig’s charity and humility.”
Those traits remind Bishop Barres of descriptions of Blessed Michael J. McGivney, the Hartford, Conn., priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.
Such “holiness, humility and charity in any decade of church history can be instruments of great things, including reform and evangelization,” Bishop Barres said.
In this year of St. Joseph, proclaimed by Pope Francis, Bishop Barres said Bishop Koenig’s style of ministry also reminds him of St. Joseph, who Scripture depicts working quietly behind the scenes with charity and goodness.
Bishop Koenig is also “an outstanding listener,” said Bishop Barres. “That’s a key to his ministry. “
He’s a real ‘pastoral artist’ in that regard, Bishop Barres said, using a phrase coined by St. John Paul II. “Really good listening to God requires a self-emptying in prayer,” he added.
Bishop Koenig is also a tremendous mentor of young people, young adults and seminarians,” Bishop Barres added. “One of his many legacies in the Diocese of Rockville Centre is his mentoring of young priests, such as our current Vicar General Father Eric Fasano.”
Bishop Koenig’s priestly ministry has included parish work, including stints as a pastor and rector of St. Agnes Cathedral, and most recently as vicar for clergy.
“Priests trust him,” Bishop Barres said. “They trust his empathy and compassion. He knows their joys; he knows parish life and he knows the crosses involved. He’s very empathetic.”
Also, because the Diocese of Rockville Centre is now experiencing bankruptcy as a result of the priestly sexual abuse crisis, Bishop Koenig will have an understanding of the process the Diocese of Wilmington experienced when coming to a settlement in 2011 with the survivors of sexual abuse by priests and developing strong policies to protect children from future tragedies, Bishop Barres noted.
As Bishop Koenig moves 145 miles south of Rockville Centre to Wilmington, the biggest difference in the two dioceses he’ll find will be size.
Bishop Barres said that Long Island’s larger parishes range from 4,000 to 10,000 families. Rockville Centre counts more than 1.5 million Catholics, members and non-members. Wilmington’s Catholic population is just over 240,000.
And while Bishop Koenig might not find a lot of New York Mets fans in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, he will probably find less crowded golf courses here than on Long Island, where he played with fellow priests when he got a chance and shot in the mid-80s, according to Bishop Barres.
What Bishop Barres is most happy about is that the incoming 10th Bishop of Wilmington and the outgoing Bishop Malooly of Wilmington “got each other from the moment they met,” he said.
“I’m very excited about that.”
Finally, as Rockville Centre‘s “gift” to Wilmington, Bishop Koenig will bring two gifts to his July 13 episcopal ordination and installation from Bishop Barres as well.
It’s tradition for the bishop of the new prelate to present him a bishop’s ring to wear as a sign of his new office. In addition, “I was able to give one of Bishop Robert E. Mulvee’s pectoral crosses to Bishop Koenig,” Bishop Barres said.