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Bishop Robert Reed: Living God's will 'has been the joy of my life'

By Donis Tracy Pilot Correspondent
Posted: 8/26/2016

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Bishop Robert P. Reed Pilot photo/Laura Lee Richard

One would never guess that a professional communicator would find himself at a loss for words. But when Bishop Robert P. Reed received a phone call from Apostolic Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano informing him that Pope Francis has just named him bishop, he was dumbfounded.

"I was speechless. I was literally speechless," Bishop Reed said.

Bishop Reed recounted that he was visiting friends in New Jersey when he saw two messages on his phone, asking that he call "Archbishop Vigano" on a "communications matter."

"When the secretary answered the phone saying 'Apostolic Nunciature,' I thought to myself, 'There's something going on here,'" he said.

Archbishop Vigano told Bishop Reed to pray for discernment before he decided to accept.

Bishop Reed jumped into his car to begin driving home but before pulling away, he phoned the closest Catholic church and asked if he could spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

"I stayed until the church was closing for the day," he said. "Then I called the nuncio and accepted."

"Because I love the priesthood -- and I truly do -- and because I've had so many incredible experiences and I've been influenced by so many people I've served, I see this (becoming a bishop) as a new chapter. I'm living out something that I'm convinced is what God wants me to do, and living out God's will for me has been the joy of my life," he said with a smile.

Bishop Robert Reed was born on June 11, 1959 in St. Elizabeth Hospital in Brighton. The youngest of five children born to William L. and Jeanne Louise Reed, he was raised in Swampscott.

Although his father was not Catholic -- he was Presbyterian -- Bishop Reed, his siblings and his mother were active parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Church in Swampscott.

"The church was very much the center of our lives, as a family and of my life personally," he said. "I always tell people I had two centers in my life: 68 Walnut Street and St. John the Evangelist Church."

When Bishop Reed was only seven years old, tragedy struck the family: his father was killed in a car accident, leaving his mother to raise the family.

Though his mother would later marry Charles Boland, a family friend, the death of his father was a challenge for the family.

"It was a very difficult time," Bishop Reed said, "but my mother did a fantastic job raising me and helping us all to move beyond that tragedy and to continue with our lives and be successful adults."

According to the bishop, this loss "played a big role" in his discernment process.

"Although I was young, I began to ask big questions -- What is living all about? How important is my faith? How do I deal with this and move forward in a positive way?" Bishop Reed said.

"My Catholic upbringing, the good example of my mother, the Sisters of St. Joseph at the parochial school in Swampscott I attended -- all these had already laid the foundation of my Catholic faith and so I backed myself on that. I think that was probably the seed of my vocation," he mused.

"Really, I always wanted to be a priest," he said, adding with a laugh, "actually, I really wanted to be Batman, and if not Batman then Robin the Boy Wonder."

"But in all seriousness, the desire to be a priest was always too strong to really consider anything else very seriously," he said.

He recalled one time when the family went to visit his three brothers at St. Anselm's College in Manchester, N.H.

"We went to Mass there with the Benedictine community. I remember being so very taken by the music, by the beauty of the liturgy, by the vestiture of the two concelebrating priests," he recounted. "It was the first time I actually saw myself in that role. Ever since then I've had a great respect and awe of the liturgy in the Sunday Mass."

With a smile, Bishop Reed recalled telling his mother that he wanted to become a priest. "I remember her saying to me, 'Bobby, you can do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy.'"

After graduating from St. John Preparatory School in Danvers in 1977, Bishop Reed went to St. John Seminary College in St. Clement Hall where he studied philosophy and biology. His rector then told him he had been chosen to complete his studies at the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

"Although I was very anxious about it at first, it ended up being a life-changing experience," he said. "It was a challenge for me, of course, because there were so many guys from around the country and around the world that I studied with who were very gifted, but the proximity to the Holy Father -- Pope St. John Paul II was still relatively young and vibrant although it was after the assassination attempt -- he was a very significant influence on us just by his mere presence down the street."

In 1984, Bishop Reed was ordained to the transitional diaconate by Cardinal William Baum. That year, during the Pentecost Mass, he had the opportunity to serve Mass for Pope St. John Paul II.

"The whole experience of serving the pope as a deacon on Pentecost -- that sense of the Church being a Pentecost, unleashing the power in the world that goes beyond language, nationality. You feel that breath of the Spirit that continues to blow in the Church when you have the ability to be so close to the Holy Father," he said.

In 1985, Bishop Reed returned to the Archdiocese of Boston, where he was ordained to the priesthood at his home parish.

"To be ordained at the same place where I had been baptized, had many times received the sacrament of reconciliation, had been confirmed, was just marvelous. And then to celebrate the day following my ordination, the first Mass of Thanksgiving was quite the thing -- which is why I can say (St. John the Evangelist) has been a true center for my life,'' he said.

As a newly ordained priest, Bishop Reed was assigned to Immaculate Conception parish in Malden.

"At the time, it was the largest parish in the archdiocese," said Bishop Reed, noting that five priests lived in the rectory at the time under the guidance of then-pastor "the great" Father Arnold Colletti.

"It was non-stop there," he said. "It was great."

After five years, Bishop Reed was moved to another busy parish: St. Catherine of Siena in Norwood. For nearly five years, he was the parochial vicar there, also serving as the chaplain to the local police department.

"I loved every minute of it," he said, adding that "every single assignment that I've had, I have loved. Every single one -- and I can say that sincerely. Some were more challenging than others, of course, but I have been blessed with each assignment."

After leaving St. Catherine of Siena parish, Bishop Reed was made pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Dorchester, where he learned to celebrate the Mass in Haitian Creole to better minister to the parish largely comprised of Haitians, Cape Verdeans, and Trinidadians.

In 1997, Bishop Reed was asked to take on a completely different ministry, one that required him to return to school. He accepted, and began working at Boston Catholic Television. He also enrolled in Boston University's College of Communication to study Television Management. In 2005, he was made director of CatholicTV -- which encompasses not only the television station, but Pilot Printing, The Pilot newspaper, Catholic radio and the archdiocese's other digital media.

"I was happy to do it because I have had a lifelong fascination with TV, which began when I was a kid," he said. He noted that he was part of the studio audience on two separate occasions for his favorite childhood show: "Boomtown."

"To see how a show like that was put on, to see how it actually happened, was really fascinating to me," he said.

He also pointed to another show that as a young man he watched with interest: Dr. Robert Schuller's "Hour of Power," a weekly Christian program broadcast in the 1980s from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

"I used to watch him and that production from the Crystal Cathedral as a young person and I used to say to myself, 'Why can't we as Catholics do something like that?'" he said.

In 2012, the Diocese of Orange purchased the Crystal Cathedral and renamed it Christ Cathedral, he explained. "Ironically, a few years ago, I was invited by Magnificat to emcee the first real Catholic event at Christ Cathedral. I stood in the same spot where Rob Schuller stood, in front of a packed cathedral, and I thought, 'Isn't this strange?'"

"To be asked to study television, and to come to work here for a time. Then to return again as the director has been a significant part of my priesthood," he said. "I've had the chance, in cooperation with this great crew here, to make some inroads using television -- and more recently other digital means -- to continue to present God, the Catholic Church and Catholic life as a possible way to live to the masses."

"I've developed a deeper understanding and appreciation of the power of this institution," he continued. "We're a platform for the bishops of the United States, for independent producers, for Catholic colleges and universities, orders of consecrated men and women, and the like to showcase the life and the faith in their particular institution or diocese or community."

"So we're a 24/7 advertisement for the Catholic Church in this age," he said.

Although he knows he will have other duties as regional bishop, Bishop Reed hopes to continue on as director of CatholicTV. He said he is looking forward to serving the Church as bishop in whatever capacity he is called to do.

"To me, the priesthood is something that's always new. You're always learning, you're always growing. And your appreciation and your understanding of what the priesthood is and does, in literally bringing Jesus to the people -- is also always evolving," he said. He noted that his motto, "Iesus sola nobis spes" ("Jesus is our only hope") indicates his firm conviction that, "when it comes down to it, that is the fundamental fact. In all things, Jesus is our only hope. There's nothing more than that," he said.