Being a Bishop

Q: How did you become a bishop?

A: The short answer is that God called me to be a bishop. The longer answer involves the process in which the Catholic Church carefully listens to the Holy Spirit in the choice for our bishops. This occurs in a number of ways from prayerful choices to inquiry with other bishops and individuals familiar with potential candidates. It is a very involved, and at times, a painstaking process. You see, the Holy Father is determining through the gift of the Holy Spirit who are the men to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, as successors of the same Apostles Jesus called nearly 20 centuries ago.

Extensive work goes into the process here in the United States (for a U.S. bishop) as well as in the Vatican at the Congregation of Bishops, a group of bishops who assist Pope Francis in his governance of the church as the vicar of Christ.

Needless to say, I was very surprised to receive the phone call from the apostolic nuncio (sort of like the Holy Father’s ambassador to the United States) on June 26, 2012, informing me the Holy Father wanted me to be your bishop. What went through my mind is similar to your question: “How did I just become a bishop?”

After that, I “surfed the net” to better understand where the Holy Spirit was sending me: the Diocese of Steubenville.

Q: Is that hat you wear one of those Jewish hats?

A: This could be a trick question, even though I believe you are speaking of the zucchetto (scull cap) which looks like a Jewish yarmulke. While the two do look alike, it is unclear if they are related other than in style. The zucchetto in earlier times kept the heads warm for churchmen becausethey had the top of their head shaved as a sign of their offering their entire life to God and his church. As a successor of the Apostles, ordained to teach, to sanctify, and to govern the people of God, I wear the magenta or violet colored zucchetto as formal attire. That means you may see mewith the zucchetto in church and at some church functions, but not in the hardware store, at the supermarket, nor while bike riding (I have a special helmet for that).

I alluded that this could be a trick question because the word miter (our British and other English-speaking friends spell it mitre) has roots in early Jewish history. Shortly after the Hebrew people fled Egypt through the Red Sea, Moses’ brother Aaron was given a miter for sacred celebrationsdistinguishing himself as a priest. In the Catholic Church, it’s probably been a little more than 1,000 years that bishops have worn miters distinguishing themselves as successors of the Apostles. Research is rather sketchy for one to determine whether or not it was normative for bishops to wear miters in the first thousand years of the church’s history.

Q: How far back can you trace your succession? Do you know who the original apostle was in your line?

A: You and I are taught to “do our homework” in supporting what we wish to share. It is important for us to remember that as we look across different eras sometimes the recordings are not as complete as we would like here in the year 2013. I say that because through written confirmation I can trace back my apostolic succession all the way back to 472 years ago (1541) and that would be Cardinal Scipione Rebiba.

Now you might ask the question, what happened to the other 15 centuries? We need to recall that the 16th century was an era of great upheaval and discontent. Think about it. We are speaking of an era in which there is the Protestant Reformation, the Counter Reformation, military campaigns as well as sociological challenges like plagues. Many challenges handicapped the ability to keep a constant written record. However, with a number of popes following along to the extent that we can research the apostolic succession even with the challenges of the Reformation times and social upheaval, we can trace my episcopal lineage back to the original apostles.

As for the specific apostle, I can safely say it was one of them! Perhaps Peter or James?

You touch upon though a very significant truth about the Catholic Church and that is there are significant pillars upon which our faith is built; pillars which, of course, find their firm foundation from Jesus Christ himself. One pillar is Sacred Scripture, also known as the Bible, God’s Revealed Word. Another is Tradition, that is, the continuance of the gifts of the Church shared with us by Jesus Christ himself and meant to be protected and defended at all times. And, of course, what you have touched upon today, the Magisterium or the apostolic leadership in the Church which my brother bishops and I share in the leadership under the successor of St. Peter himself and that is Pope Francis. How fortunate we are to have such a rich reality in our faith as we share with our brothers and sisters the reality that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth and the only life. In no other name can we find our salvation.

How fortunate we are that Jesus Christ Our Lord and God loves us so dearly as we also are blessed with his Mother Mary, our Mother in Faith, who keeps us also so dear to her Immaculate Heart. May you and your loved ones find joy and safety in the presence of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, patroness of the Diocese of Steubenville.

Q: What role, as a bishop, do you play in Catholic education?

A: Thank you for this question for as a successor of the first Apostles, I do not just govern (administrate), sanctify (offer blessing), I also have the responsibility to teach or share our faith with our fellow brothers and sisters. This entails a number of approaches, one of which is obvious to defend the Deposit of Faith. What does that mean? Think about it: When you have money in the bank you are keeping it safe, so that it does not disappear or diminish. Of course, the investment of which I speak of our faith has eternal consequences and is much greater than any material goods we have here on earth.

Another practice is that I share our faith with others through both my words and my actions. You see, in the Creed that we profess every Sunday, and for many of us each day, these are not just words that a bunch of people in our Church came up with over 15 centuries ago. No, what we proclaim, we are meant to live. In doing so, I as a teacher am sort of a “spiritual enabler,” in that I assist people to further delve into their faith. Our faith is not simply a bunch of do’s and don’ts in a book and a bunch of prayers invented by a number of individuals over time. No, all of this of which I just spoke communicates the very relationship into which our Lord Jesus Christ has invited us. In other words, all of our teaching centers on Jesus Christ.

Finally, and the one that tends to get bishops the most press, is when we have to stand up for the faith in times when it is not culturally or socially popular. That is the time when we have our integrity and courage tested. As a teacher, I constantly encourage us to reach out to the defenseless, such as our to-be-born brothers and sisters as well as those in the final days of their life. Their dignity of life is no less than yours or mine and merits our protection. Also, we reach out to our brothers and sisters who are poor; namely, have lost their jobs or are disenfranchised from or marginalized by our society. These brothers and sisters need our help as most often comes in our own self-sacrifice of time, treasure and talent. As you read in the paper or online, you see that there are other areas where the bishop, as teacher, will “take a hit” by members of our society who do not just disagree with the Church’s position but lower their method to a level of insult and/or vindictiveness. Of course, none of us can take ourselves to that level for it is our Lord Jesus who has reminded us to be patient, as well as courageous, just as the saints before us found themselves in challenging times.

I am honored to be your bishop, and I joyfully embrace the task of teacher. How can one not be delighted to assist the growth of our Church in the faith handed over to us by the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself?


Q: Have there always been bishops in the Church?

A: The short answer is “yes.” We know from the Bible that Jesus founded the first bishops, which also were known as the Apostles. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit other bishops followed or succeeded these Apostles as the “first bishops” shared the “episcopal ministry” with the bishops who followed them.

In other words, there is an unbroken chain or tradition between myself and my brother bishops and the Apostles who walked with Jesus nearly 2,000 years ago.This is edifying, for the Eucharist, which we celebrate at Mass, depends on the ministry of bishops. As the priest is an extension of the ministry of the bishop, it is through him that we have Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist at the altar.

How blessed we are to have within Jesus Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church, the great gift of the magisterium, which is made up of Pope Francis, the successor of St. Peter, and his brother bishops.

Q: How does the bishop know so much about God and the Church?

A: On Sept. 10, 2012, through the Sacrament of Ordination, I received the three functions and powers to teach, to sanctify and to govern. However, that holy moment of receiving God’s Grace did not provide me with an IQ of 250. As a matter of fact, I have learned this past year and a half in a profound way my limitations as a human being striving for holiness.

You and I need Jesus Christ. Every day we need him. Every day I celebrate Mass and pray the Office of Readings, which is the common prayer of the Church and of which I have promised to pray daily. I also take a Holy Hour with the Lord and have opportunity throughout the day, sometimes albeit briefly, to reflect and meditate on parts of the Bible. Still, with all of this prayer time, I also realize the temptation for the bishop “to live in a bubble.” Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is quite clear that my brother bishops and I must get out into the world and be with our people. The odometer on my car certainly illustrates the fact that I do not stay in one place too long.

My brother bishops are a great source of wisdom for me as I exercise my episcopal (bishop’s) ministry, as do my brother priests as we share our priestly ministry as celebrants of the Holy Eucharist and as they serve as pastors of their respective parishes, as are the outstanding people on my chancery staff in Steubenville. Notwithstanding, I also have the opportunity to visit with parish communities and their families as well as, of course, our schools. Further assistance to my ministry is my getting out, even on the street in Steubenville, Marietta or Ironton, to see the people. Yes, I even learn a lot when attending a high school football game.

Having said all this, my conclusion to this is simple: My beginning to know so much about God and his Church is my self-knowledge as I really don’t know as much as I should. This attitude is humbling, but also essential to a shepherd in our Church, which embraces the true faith that Jesus Christ is the son of God who suffered, died, was buried and rose from the dead in order that you and I may have eternal life. Jesus will never leave us and wants us to understand more fully the depth of his love.

Together may we, with ardent desire, climb the Easter Mountain of Lent, keeping our eyes always on the one who loves us so much, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world.