A pastoral welcome

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

The Notre Dame community officially welcomed its new bishop during a special Mass of Thanksgiving on Tuesday evening, February 9, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Kevin C. Rhoades, the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, presided and gave thanks for the voices of the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir descending from the loft and for the hundreds who had gathered for the Mass despite the steady, picturesque snows circling down the basilica spires to blanket the campus in white.

Rhoades was installed as Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s replacement on January 13. D’Arcy, 77, had led the diocese for 25 years and worked with three University presidents during that span before he formally handed over to Rhoades his duties as shepherd of the area’s 160,000 Catholics.

This was not a first visit to campus for Rhoades, 52. During his homily, he recalled celebrating Mass in the basilica after Notre Dame’s 2006 home football victory over Penn State. At the time, Rhoades was finishing his second year as the bishop of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Since his appointment to Fort Wayne-South Bend in late autumn 2009, Rhoades has made several trips to campus. He joined D’Arcy for an appearance at the annual conference of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture. During Tuesday’s Mass, he mentioned meetings with the Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, the University’s president. Earlier this semester, he celebrated Masses in the chapels of Siegfried Hall and Morrissey Manor.

Father Jenkins introduced the new bishop to the basilica congregation, saying he hoped Rhoades, a native Pennsylvanian and former rector of the historic Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, would feel at home on campus, and not merely like a guest.

As bishop of Harrisburg, Rhoades was among the 80 U.S. prelates who were publicly critical of the honorary law degree Notre Dame conferred last spring upon President Barack Obama at commencement. But he made his affection and high regard for the University known in his first public appearance as D’Arcy’s named successor. Tuesday night, he appeared quite comfortable in the basilica pulpit as he quoted Pope John Paul II’s view that “bishops should not be seen as external agents, but as participants in the life of the Catholic university.

“As I undertake my new responsibilities as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend,” he said, “I am very conscious of my . . . responsibility particularly to strengthen and promote the Catholic universities in my diocese and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity.”

The bishop’s homily reflected on the closely intertwined histories of the University, founded in 1842, and the diocese, erected in 1857. He noted that he shares his birthday, November 26, with the University, since that was the day that Father Sorin and the seven Holy Cross brothers in his party arrived at the original Log Chapel built by the French missionary, Father Stephen Badin.

Rhoades studied for the priesthood in Rome. He was ordained in 1983 and was first assigned to parish work and Spanish-speaking apostolates in the Harrisburg diocese. In 1986 he returned to Rome and earned degrees in sacred theology and canon law. He later taught courses in these subjects and in Hispanic ministry at Mount Saint Mary’s and was appointed rector of the seminary in 1997, the position he retained until his appointment to Harrisburg in 2004.

As bishop, Rhoades successfully boosted seminarian recruitment and advocated for stronger parochial schools and improved pastoral outreach to Hispanics.

Father Jenkins alluded to this latter interest when presenting Rhoades with a welcoming gift: a finely crafted wooden crozier, the curved staff symbolic of a bishop’s role as shepherd of the local Catholic flock. The crozier bears Rhoades’ episcopal coat of arms and its motto, “Veritatem in caritate” or “truth in charity,” as well an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, created by ND art professor Maria Tomasula.

“I knew I was going to be receiving a gift,” a visibly grateful Rhoades told the congregation. “I thought it was going to be a Fighting Irish sweatshirt.”

He added that Jenkins had given him a personal gift the evening before, a framed, black-and-white photo of Notre Dame’s famous replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, taken around 1900. Rhoades said the gift carried special personal significance for him because he traced his priestly vocation to a visit he had paid to the replica grotto at Mount Saint Mary’s as an undergraduate student in the 1970s. He said he is moved to pray at Notre Dame’s grotto whenever he visits campus.

John Nagy is an associate editor of Notre Dame Magazine.