Waves of eager chatter filled the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
Then, a triumphant organ chord pierced the air and the procession began. Knights of Columbus in neat sashes, priests and bishops in pristine white vestments, and three American cardinals paced prayerfully down the aisle and slowly ascended to the shrine’s magnificent sanctuary in the Great Upper Church. Among the cardinals were Cardinal Dolan, who served as a concelebrant and co-consecrator, and native New Yorker Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, a former auxiliary bishop of New York and former Archbishop for the Military Services, USA, who is the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
In their midst were Bishops-designate William J. Muhm, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York who has served as administrator of Most Precious Blood parish in Walden since December, and Joseph L. Coffey, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The two men who would walk out of the church with brand new miters and crosiers, and new responsibilities to their flock that is the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services.
Bishop Muhm, 61, had served as a U.S. Navy chaplain until retiring with the rank of captain last year. Ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of New York by Cardinal John O’Connor in 1995, he served as parochial vicar of St. Ann, Ossining, 1995-1996, and Holy Family, Staten Island, 1996-1998.
Bishop Coffey, 58, has served since 2001 as a U.S. Navy chaplain, holding the rank of captain.
Army and Navy families, as well as kin of the two to be ordained bishops, packed the middle of the national shrine and waved excitedly as their beloved priests walked by.
And so began the afternoon Mass March 25 celebrating the episcopal ordinations of the two men who would soon be officially auxiliary bishops.
Their ordination fills the spaces left by Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Coyle, who was transferred to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and Auxiliary Bishop Richard B. Higgins, who is retiring.
The happy occasion fell on the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.
Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the military archdiocese, served as principal celebrant and ordaining prelate before a congregation of more than 2,000 on the beautiful spring afternoon. Other prelates participating in the solemn rite included Justin Cardinal Rigali, archbishop emeritus of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States. A total of 15 bishops concelebrated the Mass, as did 180 priests.
Archbishop Broglio, in his homily, asked Bishops-designate Muhm and Coffey to keep alive in their hearts the example of Mary the mother of God in receiving God’s will during the Annunciation.
Archbishop Broglio first illustrated the contrast between Ahaz, the king in the day’s first reading who was too haughty to put his trust in God, and young Mary’s humble acceptance of the divine will in her life. Upon God revealing His will to Mary, Archbishop Broglio said, “(She) simply states the obvious, that she is a virgin and then the words that have become a model of fidelity forever after: ‘Be it done to me according to thy word.’”
“She makes no conditions, but opens herself completely to the will of God,” Archbishop Broglio continued.
And like Mary’s journey as the mother of God, there would be challenges for the new auxiliary bishops.
“Episcopal ministry in this global archdiocese is not easy. Travel dominates the weeks. Bureaucracy muddles the relationship between bishop and priest. Many masters compete for attention,” Archbishop Broglio warned.
Archbishop Broglio expressed his confidence that the two new auxiliaries would carry out their duties faithfully despite struggles: “No one can deny that you begin in a very challenging time when the past sins of some bishops and clergy have been widely publicized…I have watched you interact and minister to our people. You know what you are doing.”
Bishop Muhm will serve as Archbishop Broglio’s Episcopal Vicar for U.S. Military installations in Europe and Asia. He replaces Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer, who is moving back to the United States to serve as Episcopal Vicar for the eastern part of the country. Bishop Coffey will serve as Episcopal Vicar for Veterans Affairs, replacing the retiring Bishop Higgins.
After the ordination ceremony and Communion, newly minted Auxiliary Bishops Muhm and Coffey stepped up to the ambo to thank those that had brought them to this point.
Voicing his gratitude to his parents, fellow priests, and even his pro-life friends in Philadelphia, Bishop Coffey remarked, “It’s been so great to serve alongside you in the great adventure of being a priest.”
Bishop Muhm shared similar sentiments, remembering that the service of all those he had ministered to in the military archdiocese had reminded him of Mary’s words, “let it be done to me according to your will.”
Bishop Muhm, the youngest of three children, was born to the late James and Anne Muhm in Billings, Mont., and raised in Denver.
Before entering the seminary in 1989 to study for the priesthood for the Archdiocese of New York, he was commissioned a Navy ensign in 1981. After release from active duty, he worked as an accountant. From 1986-1989, he also served as a Navy Reserve supply corps officer.
In 1998, Bishop Muhm returned to active duty as a Navy chaplain. His assignments included Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan; aboard the USS Wasp and USS Bonhomme Richard; a post-9/11 deployment in the Arabian Sea; the Training Support Center Great Lakes in Illinois; Anbar province, Iraq; the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Bishop Muhm’s military awards include the Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with two gold stars, Navy Commendation Medal with gold star, Navy Achievement Medal with gold star and fleet marine force officer qualification.
He earned a master’s degree in theology, a master of divinity and a bachelor of sacred theology from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, and a bachelor’s in business administration from Colorado State University. —CNS
Catholic New York contributed to this report.