I returned late yesterday afternoon from the festivities in Erie, Pennsylvania, surrounding the Ordination and Installation of their tenth bishop, Bishop Lawrence T. Persico. It was a wonderful couple of days celebrating the ordination of one of our own priests to serve the Diocese of Erie. Bishop Persico has served as a priest of our Diocese for the last thirty-five years. For the past fourteen of those years, in addition to his administrative roles in the Diocese, he served as pastor of Saint James Parish in New Alexandria. I had the opportunity to speak with a few of them on Sunday evening before the celebration of Evening Prayer in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Erie. They were excited as they spoke of their love for the man, their justifiable pride in having had him as their shepherd, and their joy at his call to the Episcopate. They told stories of the great bonds of friendship and regard that have developed over these years, and took special delight in recounting the great tradition that the daily Mass goers have of congregating in the parish hall following Mass for the morning "coffee clutch", of which the new bishop took part. In fact, he has told us that on the morning of the call from the Nuncio in Washington telling him of the Holy Father's choice of him as Bishop of Erie, he was having coffee with the group before going to work. The Nuncio asks for a response, and he had to tell him that he was in a public place and would call him back in a few moments. Of course, you cannot tell anyone the news until it is announced in Rome, a real test of your ability to keep a secret.
Those same people I spoke with Sunday night were there with many more fellow parishioners in the right front section of pews, opposite the new bishop's immediate family, because they, too, were his extended family. They told me that even with reserved seats that they had arrived very early to make sure they could see everything that would take place. I sat off to their right, and watched them beam with pride and shed tears of joy for their friend and pastor - Father Larry, Monsignor Larry and now Bishop Larry.
I don't think that even the bishop's family was prouder of this honor and call. The people of Saint James in New Alexandria were justifiably proud.
One other note ... attending the ceremony from Rome was Archbishop Giuseppe DeAndrea, Canon of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, and one of our former priests. Archbishop DeAndrea left us a number of years ago to enter the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, and is now retired. He was present because he knows Bishop Persico well, but also because he was a former pastor of Saint James in New Alexandria. This lovely, small rural parish, has given two of their pastor to the Church for greater service. Talk about being justifiably proud!