From mountains to plains: Bishop Conley installed
By Roxanne King
Southern Nebraska Register; photo courtesy of Kevin Clark
LINCOLN, Neb.—He’s now a Nebraskan.
So said Bishop James Conley in his homily as he was installed the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Lincoln in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ on Nov. 20.
“I moved from Denver to Nebraska on Nov. 6, exactly two weeks ago today. And in that time I’ve experienced my first Husker (football) victory and my first runza (beef and cabbage) sandwich,” he said, eliciting laughter. “Both were pretty awesome.
“I’ve also already eaten more kolaches (pastries) than I care to admit. I think it is fair to say that I am now a Nebraskan.”
Abundant flowers, soaring choirs, trumpet, organ and kettle-drum fanfare, and a grand procession comprised of 200-plus priests, 41 bishops and abbots, a plumed Knights of Columbus honor guard and decorated laity accented the joyous installation Mass that filled the 850-seat cathedral to overflowing.
At the start of the Mass, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, apostolic nuncio to the United States, read a letter from Pope Benedict XVI appointing Bishop Conley, the former auxiliary bishop of Denver, to his new position.
“Surely, as you carry the pouch of Gospel seeds from the Rocky Mountains down to the Nebraska plains, you will impart to your clergy and your people divine truth and show skill in preaching about God by doing so from the depth of your heart,” Archbishop Viganó read.
After showing the letter to the diocese’s College of Consultors, a priest advisory board, Archbishop Viganó and Omaha Archbishop George Lucas escorted Bishop Conley to the cathedra, a special chair symbolizing his teaching authority. As Bishop Conley took his place there the congregation broke into applause.
Bishop Conley’s new diocese is home to 134 parishes serving nearly 97,000 Catholics in southern Nebraska. He succeeds Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who led the diocese for 20 years.
Honoring Bishop Conley’s devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus—he was elevated to the episcopacy in 2008 on the feast of the Sacred Heart and his episcopal motto, “Heart speaks to heart,” taken from his spiritual mentor Blessed John Newman, echoes that fondness—the Mass was the votive Mass for the Sacred Heart.
Call to holiness
“Today we celebrate the installation of a bishop. This is a historic moment in the life of our local Church and in the life of the Church universal,” Bishop Conley told the congregation. “But the focus of today’s Mass is not the installation of a bishop. The focus of this Mass and the focus of every Mass is the redeeming sacrifice of Christ on the altar.”
Bishop Conley then urged his new flock to holiness.
“Brothers and sisters, we who wish to become saints in heaven, to share in the victory of the resurrection, must begin by clinging to the pierced and sacred heart of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Our hearts must become like his. We who wish to be saints must be willing to die like Christ, to die to sin and to ourselves.”
Photo by Roxanne King/DCR
Bishop James Conley blesses a man during distribution of Communion Nov. 20 in Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, Neb.
He then shared a special message for each segment of the faithful.
To bishops: “There is nothing more important for a bishop than the care of souls. If the Church is to flourish in the world today, if the new evangelization is to really take root, if we are to truly build a culture of life—holiness must begin with us.”
To priests: “Brothers, our priesthood should be characterized by joy. Our sufferings can transform our hearts into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. They can allow us to love as Christ loves.”
To seminarians: “You give us great hope.”
Addressing religious women, he said, “You point us to heaven by your vocation.”
To the lay faithful, he said: “Your holiness can transform the world.”
The mission of the Church, Bishop Conley told the congregation, is not his responsibility alone.
“It is our responsibility,” he said. “… Our vocations depend on one another and on the mercy of God.”
After the Mass, faithful of the diocese shared their enthusiasm over the installation.
“If heaven is anything like this (Mass), I want to go!” declared Lincoln Marian Sister Janelle Buettner, 34, a high school teacher. “We are so blessed to have Bishop Conley. I’m excited for what he has to offer the Diocese of Lincoln.”
“We’ve been thrilled ever since it was announced he would be our bishop,” said Greg Schleppenbach, 48, director of the Nebraska bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Office. “(Bishop Conley) will maintain theological orthodoxy but he also has a youthful perspective and appeal to the young, and a particular love for the pro-life movement—and his experience as a convert will be a wonderful asset.”
Bishop Conley’s mother, Betty Conley of Overland Park, Kan., was overcome with emotion.
“I’m overwhelmed and speechless,” she said. “It made tears in my eyes.”