Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Gerald Walsh arrived at a reception for New York’s new auxiliary bishops, Bishop John Bonnici and Bishop Joseph Espaillat, with the same content expression he exhibited two hours earlier at their episcopal ordination where he served as a principal co-ordaining bishop.
“Both of them are very fine,” Bishop Walsh told CNY at the March 1 reception held in Cathedral High School, located at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan, after the Mass of Ordination of Bishops at St. Patrick’s Cathedral where Cardinal Dolan was the principal ordaining bishop and celebrant.
“For me, it was a very high honor” to serve as a co-ordaining bishop, “because I know them and I was very happy to see them get ordained.”
He reminisced about both. An “A-plus” student, John Bonnici, whom Bishop Walsh taught at Cathedral Prep, “did his work, took part in class, was able to help other people who were not as good as he was in marks.”
And then-seminarian Joseph Espaillat was “very reliable” when he served at St. Elizabeth’s parish in Manhattan for three summers where Bishop Walsh was pastor. “He was well prepared and he was very, very effective with everybody—young people and elderly, American and Hispanic.” In addition to his seminary work, “he was coaching the basketball team—and that was a great help.”
Bishop Walsh was certain both would be “people bishops—they will be out in the street, in front of the church; available, accessible and approachable.”
While receiving words of congratulations, Bishop Espaillat, 45, took a moment to tell CNY, “It’s a beautiful day, but it’s even a greater day for the Archdiocese of New York.”
As a group of teens and young adults approached him, the bishop said, “My people from the Bronx.” After greeting the group, he acknowledged a young woman among them, told the surrounding crowd that he’s known her since she was a baby, and noted, “She is studying to become a medical doctor; she’s from St. Peter’s in Yonkers. I’m very proud of you.”
Among those at the reception were Bishop Espaillat’s parents, Jose and Mercedes, and his younger sister, Tahimy, a major in the U.S. Army.
Mrs. Espaillat told CNY in Spanish that she is very proud of both her children, and on this special day for her son she felt “emotional, grateful to God (agradecida con Dios), and to the many people who have prayed for him. Prayer is everything.”
Equally happy about the occasion was New York City Police Officer Jorge Bencosme, 26, a member of St. Peter’s parish in Yonkers, where Bishop Espaillat earlier served as pastor, administrator and parochial vicar.
Bencosme, who became a police officer five years ago, said Bishop Espaillat is “always there as a father figure” for him and has been since his youth. “He was that person that used to push me to always go to church” and to parish religious education classes.
His jurisdiction includes St. Anthony of Padua parish, the Bronx, where Bishop Espaillat is now pastor.
For Bencosme, an invigorating moment at Bishop Espaillat’s ordination happened after the Mass, during the recessional at the back of the cathedral. “It was beautiful,” he said of the liturgy. “He actually came up to me and gave me a hug. That was a big blessing for me, especially being in uniform with the job that I do as a police officer.”
A beaming Bishop Bonnici had not even crossed the threshold of one of the two sites of Cathedral High’s reception venues when well-wishers circled him.
He described his ordination to the episcopacy as “exhilarating” and “a true gift from God.” His Ordination Mass highlights were he and Bishop Espaillat “embracing each other after we received everything in the rite and realizing that everyone was so ecstatic that we had become bishops.”
“Prayers of gratitude” and “my mom and dad,” the late John and Gertrude Bonnici, would “definitely” be among his prayers that night, he said.
Bill and Kimi Quinn of St. Augustine parish in Larchmont were among the multitudes who had a photo taken with Bishop Bonnici, their pastor, at the reception.
“He’s a great leader of the parish and certainly an excellent priest,” Quinn said. “He connects with the parishioners very well.”
Yuderkis Romero, a parishioner of Holy Cross in the Bronx, told CNY in Spanish, “This is a great honor for us to be here; this is a very special and joyful day. Bishop Espaillat has worked very hard over the years with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.” She noted that Bishop Espaillat “is always very concerned with the faith formation of the members.”
Maria De La Cruz, parishioner of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Manhattan and a married mother of two, said, “I feel very happy and joyful for him and his family. A big shout out to Bishop Espaillat’s mother and father; they are tremendous people. My family and I love his ministry.”
At one of the reception tables were Anthony Biscione, Eileen Murtha and Suzanne Walsh. Biscione and Ms. Murtha are administrators with the archdiocesan Superintendent of Schools Office. Ms. Walsh is a parishioner of St. Lawrence O’Toole in Brewster. All three expressed delight over the ordinations of Bishop Bonnici and Bishop Espaillat.
“There were so many people in that cathedral, and you could tell that they personally touched their lives,” Biscione said.
Christopher Rivera, 30, a Young Life staffer and youth minister at St. Teresa of Avila in Manhattan, said, “It’s an exciting day for everyone. Bishop Espaillat invites everyone to help fulfill the needs of our Church.” Rivera is a former coordinator with archdiocesan Youth Ministry.
Father Lorenzo Ato, communications director with archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry, said, “This is a day of blessings for the Archdiocese of New York. Both new bishops are blessings and gifts from God for our communities.”