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SPRINGFIELD — “I was anxious to have Bishop McDonnell here by Holy Week. So we agreed on this day. He seemed very anxious to have the installation today, April Fools’ Day. I was worried that he might get to the Mass today and then, as we brought him to the cathedral, jump up and say ‘April Fools’!” With those introductory remarks Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley welcomed Bishop Timothy McDonnell to the province of Boston following his installation as the eighth bishop of the western Massachusetts diocese.
The Bronx native and longtime Yankees fan was welcomed to Springfield on what seemed an unusual day — April 1. Taking advantage of the date, the new bishop preached on faith that, in some ways, causes believers we perceived as fools because, like Abraham, Moses and Jesus, we believe contrary to what seems to be popular. He thanked the Diocese of Springfield for its faith in spite of the tremendous trials it has undergone over the past few months. In addition to past incidents of clergy sexual abuse, the diocese was shocked earlier this year when the previous bishop, Bishop Thomas Dupre, resigned because of allegations made against him.
During his greetings, Archbishop Montalvo, the papal nuncio to the U.S., noted that the Holy Father was especially concerned to have a new bishop in Springfield to begin the healing process of the diocese. Indeed, Archbishop O’Malley reminded Bishop McDonnell that “it will not be easy. There is much healing to be done. But you are supported by our love and prayers.”
The welcome for the new bishop was immediate and warm. As he entered the cathedral, sustained applause accompanied him to the sanctuary. In spite of his best efforts he was, for a few minutes, unable to curb the enthusiasm he had already inspired among his priests and people. If the applause was a sign of hope, then hope sprang new in Springfield on April Fools’ Day.
Prominent in the assembly was the beloved bishop emeritus of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Maguire. Nearing his 85th year, he greeted his latest successor warmly in his remarks. Bishop Maguire noted that his predecessor, Bishop Christopher Weldon, had also been a New York priest prior to being named fourth bishop of Springfield in 1950.
The splendid cathedral of St. Michael was filled to overflowing. People from parishes across the four western counties of the commonwealth, together with their priests and invited guests from the “Big Apple” and New York, some 30 bishops and Bishop McDonnell’s former superior, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, were all present to celebrate the Mass of Installation.
Once Bishop McDonnell was seated in his “cathedra,” or bishop’s chair, representatives of the diocese and civic communities, as well as representatives from other faith communities, welcomed him to Springfield.
His homily was replete with biblical references to the trials endured by faithful men and women in the history of salvation. Offering an apology to the victims of clergy sexual abuse, he also focused attention on the great hope that the Easter feast holds out for all.
Quoting Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, he said, “There is nothing so bad that God can’t bring a greater good out of it — if we let Him.” He continued, “With Holy Week so near, I cannot give up hope. Easter does follow Good Friday.”
Marking the beginning of his serviced as bishop in Springfield, he promised, “I intend to begin my ministry among you as a listener — learning from all of you.”
A reception followed for all guests at Mont Marie in Holyoke, a conference center owned by the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The new bishop stood in line for several hours greeting all who came to welcome the Yankee fan to “Red Sox Nation.”