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Diocese of Wilmington spent more than two years planning installation Mass for new bishop

The choir and musicians. Dialog photo Don Blake

Although the Diocese of Wilmington only found out at the end of April that Msgr. William E. Koenig of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., would be its next bishop, officials began planning for the arrival of a new prelate long before that. After all, Bishop Malooly submitted his resignation to Pope Francis in January 2019 when he reached the age of 75.

“We knew when he was turning 75, but after he submitted his resignation to Pope Francis, we had a group that did some provisional planning,” said Father Joseph McQuaide, diocesan chancellor.

“It’s difficult to plan for a big event when you don’t know the date, and you don’t know the person, and you don’t know if it’s going to be next month, next year, or two and a half years in our case, winter or summer, or in the middle of a global pandemic.”

As has been the case for several other bishops in Wilmington, the Mass of installation — and in this case, ordination as well — took place at St. Elizabeth Church in the city instead of St. Peter Cathedral. It has seating for approximately 900 people, and offered much more room for parking and space for priests and deacons to vest before Mass, Father McQuaide said.

Bishop William E. Koenig

Delaware’s COVID-related state of emergency ended that day, so Father McQuaide said no restrictions were expected for those in attendance that afternoon. But despite the size of the church and the lack of a social-distancing requirement, attendance was by invitation only.

Priests and deacons of the diocese were invited, along with men and women religious, members of the various diocesan ministries and offices, and various councils that advise the bishop.

“Each parish is getting six tickets. In my church, it’s whoever wants to come, and if we get more than six, we’ll just draw names out of the hat,” said Father McQuaide, the rector of the cathedral parish.

With schools out for the summer, St. Elizabeth School did not have to worry about canceling classes for the day. But some Vikings were on hand.

“We are going to have some representation from the Catholic schools and religious ed who will greet him,” Father McQuaide said.

In addition to Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, who was once an associate pastor at St. Elizabeth, several priests from that diocese attended. Bishop Koenig also invited several family members and friends.

Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, left, and Bishop Malooly in Rome in December 2019.

The 2 p.m. service was livestreamed on the diocesan YouTube channel, with an extended procession that began a few minutes before that. The diocese also has partnered with EWTN.

“They will re-air it later on once they get the full file,” Father McQuaide said.

With the Mass scheduled for mid-July, Delaware’s heat and humidity was always a possibility, and it was in the 90s with high humidity. To that end, portable air conditioning was installed at St. Elizabeth, and Father McQuaide said the noise that created was expected to be “manageable.”

Davd Ifkovits, the music director at St. Mary Magdalen and chair of the music department at Archmere Academy, led a specially formed choir that provided music at the Mass, Father McQuaide said.

During Bishop Koenig’s ordination and installation, he received a miter, which bishops have worn since the eighth century, and a crosier, a symbol of his role as the diocese’s shepherd. Both were ordered by the diocese. The crosier, which came from Italy, is a gift from the priests of the Diocese of Wilmington.