Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bishops, Cathedrals, and the Diocese of Baker

Now that we have a new bishop-elect, many thoughts are coming to my mind regarding his ordination and installation (see this post). That leads me into thoughts about the history of the Cathedral parish, and the “politics” that have surrounded it, especially in the 9 years that I’ve lived here. 

There are three parts to this post:

I. Previous Bishops of the Diocese of Baker
II. The Cathedra in St. Francis de Sales Cathedral
III. Esteem and Reverence for the Cathedral

I. Previous Bishops of the Diocese of Baker

Fr. Liam Cary will soon become the sixth Bishop of Baker.

Here are some interesting facts about the previous bishops. We've had:

Bishop O'Reilly
  1. Bishop Charles O'Reilly (from what was then the Archdiocese of Oregon City)
  2. Bishop Joseph McGrath (from what was then the Diocese of Seattle)
    • (and his Coadjutor Bishop Leo F Fahey, who died suddenly two weeks before the man he was appointed to succeed)
  3. Bishop Francis Leipzig (from the Archdiocese of Portland)
  4. Bishop Thomas J Connolly (from the Diocese of Reno)
  5. Bishop Robert F Vasa (from the Diocese of Lincoln).
Now, none of these six men were already bishops somewhere else at the time of their appointment to the Diocese of Baker: every one of them was ordained (or, in the first four cases, "consecrated") as bishop precisely for assignment to Baker.

And where do you suppose these men were consecrated/ordained as bishops for Baker – in the cathedral church of the Diocese of Baker? Well…take a look:

  1. Bishop Charles O'Reilly – at cathedral of the Archdiocese of Oregon City
  2. Bishop Joseph McGrath – at the cathedral of the Diocese of Seattle
    • Coadjutor Bishop Leo F Fahey - at a parish church in Bay St. Louis, Louisiana, his home town
  3. Bishop Francis Leipzig – at cathedral of the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon
  4. Bishop Thomas J. Connolly – at St Francis de Sales Cathedral in Baker City
  5. Bishop Robert F Vasa – at the county fairgrounds in his diocese-to-be, over two hundred miles from his cathedral
So...here’s the current count: only one out of six of our bishops has actually been ordained in his own cathedral!

And what does the current edition of the Roman Pontifical say regarding the most appropriate venue for the ordination of a diocesan bishop? As I have noted previously:

21 The Bishop who is placed as head of a particular diocese should be ordained in the cathedral church... [Again, it seems to me that the sense of the Latin editio typica here is much stronger: "Episcopus, qui tamquam caput cuidam dioecesi praeficitur, in ecclesia cathedrali ordinetur." Any Latin scholar is welcome to comment on that.]

26 Within his own diocese it is most fitting that the newly ordained Bishop preside at the concelebration of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. But if the Ordination takes place in some other diocese, the principal ordaining Bishop presides; in this case the newly ordained Bishop takes the first place among the concelebrating Bishops.

Perhaps this helps to make the case for the upcoming ordination to be held at our cathedral church; or, failing that, at the cathedral in Portland, Fr. Cary's home diocese.

I have no idea how these decisions are made, or who makes them; but one can only hope that they are made with due consideration for the norms established by documents such as the Ceremonial of Bishops and the Roman Pontifical.

II. The Cathedra in St. Francis de Sales Cathedral

Now here are some interesting notes about the cathedra – the bishop’s chair – at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral, the cathedral church for the Diocese of Baker, located in Baker City, Oregon.

The Diocese of Baker celebrated its Centennial in 2003. It's now one hundred nine years old. You'd think that by now the Bishop of Baker would have a permanent structure for his cathedra.

From the 1989 ICEL translation of the official 1984 Ceremonial of Bishops (my emphases):

47 The bishop's cathedra or chair mentioned in no. 42, should be a chair that stands alone and is permanently installed. Its placement should make it clear that the bishop is presiding over the whole community of the faithful.

Depending on the design of each church, the chair should have enough steps leading up to it for the bishop to be clearly visible to the faithful...

A cathedra that is not permanently installed supplies a sign value that points in the direction of a merely provisional understanding of the office of bishop, not to its permanence and stability. (On the other hand, the cathedra in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland is also merely a temporary, wooden chair.)

The cathedra in St. Francis de Sales Cathedral
In the Diocese of Baker, there is little to commend the cathedra or its placement to indicate its theological significance in the life of the local church as the primary symbol of the office of the Bishop of Baker. The spindly wooden chair that's been used for decades as the Bishop's cathedra: a) is not permanently installed (even the cleaning ladies move it weekly to vacuum under it); and b) has not a single step leading up to it, but merely sits on the floor of the sanctuary – just like the chair of the priest who substitutes for the Bishop of Baker in his cathedral. The only visual difference between the two chairs is that one is slightly taller than the other, and one sits on the left of the sanctuary while the other sits opposite on the right. Big deal. And we wonder why the Faithful haven't acquired a due appreciation for the office of Bishop, even in his own cathedral!
Here you can see that the cathedra did have steps
leading up to it. 
(Go to the website of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral parish for many great photos of the Cathedral past and present, as well as photos of past bishops.)

III. Esteem and Reverence for the Cathedral

Consider this paragraph from the Ceremonial of Bishops:

45 Effective measures should be taken to instill esteem and reverence for the cathedral church in the hearts of the faithful. Among such measures are the annual celebration of the dedication of the cathedral and pilgrimages in which the faithful, especially in groups of parishes or sections of the diocese, visit the cathedral in a spirit of devotion.

First, let’s address the celebration of the dedication of the Cathedral: In the nine years I’ve lived in the Cathedral parish, the bishop has never once come to the Cathedral to celebrate its dedication on the actual anniversary date of April 9…well, there’s a story about that date, too. April 9 is the original date of dedication, but the date of the celebration was changed to April 28 by a bishop prior to Bishop Vasa; this was probably done because April 9 often falls either during Lent, Holy Week, or the Octave of Easter, when those days take precedence, thus preempting the dedication anniversary.  However, a few years ago, the rector of the Cathedral, apparently unaware of the reasoning for the change, effectively – if without authority to do so – changed it back to April 9. But this year, then, the Ordo published by Paulist Press notes that the dedication of St. Francis de Sales Cathedral will be held on April 16 and is “observed this year in Cathedral only”. Why this further change? Because April 9 is Easter Monday, preempting the dedication anniversary; this further illustrates the wisdom, or at least practicality of observing the anniversary of the dedication on April 28.
Well…that’s a moot point anyway; I really don’t think that any other parish in the diocese celebrates – or is even aware of – the anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral.  Last year, there was not even any mention made of it in the Diocesan Chronicle, the official bi-weekly newsletter of the Diocese of Baker.

100th Anniversary of the Dedication of
St. Francis de Sales Cathedral...no bishop.
On April 9, 2008, the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral was celebrated – but again without its bishop, even on this momentous occasion! Instead, the rector of the Cathedral and two former pastors concelebrated.

Second, let’s consider that line about taking measures to “instill esteem and reverence for the cathedral church”. Uh…not. Not in this diocese, anyway. If anything, esteem and reverence for the cathedral church have gone downhill over the years, and in my opinion, that is directly the result of moving the chancery to Bend. The bishop is in Bend; the chancery offices are in Bend; the Diocesan Retreat Center is in Bend. The Cathedral is in Baker City, 5 hours away, on winding highways, not freeways. That’s 5 hours on a good day. In the winter, unpredictable weather and snow storms can make travel between the two cities downright perilous.

So, with the distances involved in traveling between parishes in this far-flung diocese, and with the bishop located so far from his cathedral, it is not surprising that people in towns more than a couple of hours away have forgotten that we even have a cathedral. Then throw into the mix a new Aztec temple church and “Catholic center” in Bend, which can accommodate ordinations, and you shove the Cathedral even further into the background. 

Side note: A correspondent who has been there points out that the new church in Bend apparently wasn't designed to accommodate the rite of ordination - whether of a deacon or a priest, let alone of a bishop. The "theater-in-the-round" "wedge" sanctuary there is disproportionately small for the size of the building: the space between the front of the altar and the first step is so minimal that an ordinand lying prostrate before the altar during the Litany of the Saints practically has the top of his head touching the bishop's faldstool, whilst his feet hang over the step. 

At any rate, it’s not just the rest of the diocese that has diminished respect for the Cathedral: it’s the Cathedral parish itself.

My impression, after working in the parish office as parish secretary for 3-1/2 years and watching the workings of the parish from more of an outsider’s viewpoint over the last 5 years, is that the people of the parish have slowly come to consider this to be “their” parish – with little or nothing to do with the bishop, and with little awareness of the importance (hypothetical at least) of the Cathedral for the diocese – you know, that “mother church-of-the-diocese” thing.

Even nine years ago, when I became the parish secretary, I noticed a particular attitude toward the duties and responsibilities of the Cathedral parish. There was downright resentment when we had to prepare for “special events”, such as the Chrism Mass and ordinations. The staff seemed to feel that it was a huge imposition, rather than an honor, for the parish. And such events were never well-attended, especially considering their significance and the fact that they were locally available to Baker City parishioners. For some Chrism Masses, in fact, there were more out-of-towners than locals in attendance.

This decline in the Cathedral’s “status” may also have come about because Bishop Vasa was – to my uninitiated eyes – not well-received in the Cathedral parish. People there seemed to hold Bishop Connolly in high esteem, but they did not like Bishop Vasa’s more orthodox approach to liturgy and the social issues of the day. From my desk in the parish office, I heard lots of complaints and ludicrous comments, especially about how Bishop Vasa was “pre-Vatican II”, which led me to do a little research and write a paper, basically in his defense. No one really paid much attention.

Still, a new day is dawning! We have a new bishop on the horizon. We’ll have to see what unfolds as he develops his own vision for the future of the Diocese of Baker.

1 comment:

  1. When I was a minor sem in high school, our TOR Province sent some friars to work in Baker City Diocese. I just remember stories of the long drives between a parish church and its missions. With Eucharistic fast then if effect it made for a lot of headaches! 5 hours between Baker and Bend..... good grief. Thanks for the article which brought back memories of some of their "war stories". - Fr. Seraphin Conley, TOR


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