This year’s Mardi Gras was a special day of celebration for me and for everyone at the two parishes in Larchmont. The pastor whom we share at my parish, St. Augustine’s, and SS. John and Paul was ordained a bishop at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Our pastor is Auxiliary Bishop John Bonnici. He was ordained March 1 by Cardinal Dolan together with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Espaillat, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua parish in the South Bronx.
The cathedral was filled with members of the three parishes, as well as relatives and friends of the new bishops. I don’t think any Mardi Gras celebration anywhere could have equaled the exuberant spirit of faith and joy that filled the cathedral.
I had come with members of St. Augustine’s and SS. John and Paul. We traveled together on two buses. The mood on my bus was cheerful but quiet; people chatted or watched the scenes outside change from suburban to urban.
Once we were inside the cathedral, it was impossible not to be caught up in the excitement well before the Mass began. With the start of the procession of concelebrants, the excitement increased palpably. It broke out even more strongly in cheers and applause when the two bishops-elect appeared, and people smiled and waved as they passed in the procession.
It has been my privilege for many years to cover special Masses and events in the cathedral, including priestly ordinations. This day, however, had special meaning for me. Years ago, as CNY’s features editor, I wrote profiles annually about each of the fourth-year seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers who were about to be ordained priests. I interviewed each one and got to know something about him—what had drawn him to the priesthood, how he saw the Church and its service to God’s people, what he wanted to accomplish in his own priesthood. I found it deeply rewarding to talk with these men, to get to know them and to hear their stories.
One of the men I interviewed was John Bonnici. I knew by his answers to my questions that he would be an outstanding priest. He had studied theology in Rome; he spoke eloquently about God and the Church. He seemed to speak from a deep and prayerful understanding of the meaning of the priestly vocation, its responsibilities and the honor of being called to priesthood. He conveyed a strong sense of the dignity and goodness in the people he would serve. It was obvious that he wanted to be the kind of priest that God had called him to be, and that the people needed and wanted.
I was overjoyed when I learned, 31 years later, that he had been named the pastor of my parish. I was not in the least surprised when it was announced that he would be made a bishop.
On the day of their episcopal ordination, the new bishops looked radiantly happy. I did not know much about Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Espaillat, but I didn’t need to. His radiant smile, and the joy and enthusiasm of his parishioners and others, told me everything I needed to know about this devoted and spirit-filled priest.
Bishop Bonnici and Bishop Espaillat offered remarks near the end of the Mass. They confirmed what all of us who were there already knew: God had chosen two exceptional priests to receive the honor—and the formidable responsibilities—of being bishops. How blessed are all of us in the archdiocese, and not only those of us who are privileged to call them our pastors.
The celebration in St. Patrick’s Cathedral was glorious. It made me feel so blessed, so proud, to be a Catholic, to share in this faith handed down from Christ through the Apostles and their successors, to have as my spiritual inheritance this magnificent, incomparable liturgy, to worship with my friends and others who, even though I don’t know them, are part of the family of faith to which I, too, belong.
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