WINDSOR TERRACE — William E. Koenig, born in Queens and fondly recalled as a “priest’s priest” for his faithful service to Catholics and fellow clergy of Long Island, on July 13 became the new bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware.
The installation made him the 10th bishop of the diocese, which was founded in 1868.
St. Elizabeth Church held an overflow crowd of family and friends for the longtime priest’s first Mass as bishop.
Representing the Diocese of Brooklyn were Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Auxiliary Bishop James Massa. Carrying the new Bishop Koenig’s miter was his longtime friend, Father Robert Whelan, pastor of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Queens. Other top Catholic leaders joined the celebration, including Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York, and Wilton Gregory of Washington, D.C.
“I am humbled by, and grateful for, the call to join you as we together continue to form a spiritual house,” Bishop Koenig told his flock of parishioners.
Humility is a defining characteristic of Wilmington’s new shepherd, Father Whelan said. They have been friends since college. Both attended the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception at Huntington.
“Oh, yes, he is very down to earth, very humbled,” Father Whelan said of Bishop Koenig. “He certainly had no ambition to climb the ecclesiastical ladder. He was just about being a good priest. And he’s really a ‘priest’s priest.’ One of his jobs has been ministry to priests.”
“I think that my whole class — we weren’t surprised that he would be chosen (for bishop). He certainly has all the great qualities needed for the role,” Father Whalen added while noting that the class members were surprised that he wasn’t picked sooner.
Bishop Koenig was born on Aug. 17, 1957, in Glendale, Queens. He and his brother, Joseph, are twins and have a younger brother, Michael. Their parents, the late Alfred and Mary Koenig, moved the family to East Meadow in Long Island. They belonged to St. Raphael Parish in East Meadow and attended its elementary school.
The family was immersed in parish activities but also found time for sports and outdoor activities, especially baseball and golf.
The new bishop spent his high school years at the St. Pius X Preparatory Seminary in nearby Uniondale. He went on to study at Cathedral College at Douglaston, Queens, and the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington.
Those early college days are when Bishop Koenig befriended Father Whelan, a native of Rockaway, Queens. He recalled how they were waiters at Maude Craig’s seafood restaurant.
Prior to their ordinations in 1983, Bishop Koenig and classmates pledged to support each other indefinitely, Father Whelan said.
“Even though half of us are from Rockville Centre and half from Brooklyn, we’ve been very tight,” he said. “We get together on the second Thursday of the month.
“We [share] our highs and our lows, then we have prayer together, and then we have dinner. We started [with] 16 or 17 back then, but now there’s 10 or 11.”
Bishop Koenig’s first assignments as a priest were at St. Edward the Confessor Parish in Syosset and St. James in Setauket, both on Long Island. From St. James, he helped the campus ministry program at State University of New York, Stony Brook.
In 1989, he became the diocesan director of vocations at the Cathedral Residence of Immaculate Conception in Douglaston. There, he joined four other priests in guiding seminarians from the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Centre. As a resident, he helped seminarians working to complete college or pre-theology requirements.
In 1990, the Diocese of Rockville Centre assigned Bishop Koenig to the role of Diocesan Director of Ministry to Priests and Diocesan Director of Vocations. Six years later he became parochial vicar at St. Agnes Cathedral, where he served four years.
His next assignment was pastor of St. William the Abbot in Seaford, New York, from 2000-2009. In 2007, he was named Chaplain to Pope Benedict XVI. Two years later, then-Msgr. Koenig was appointed rector of St. Agnes Cathedral. He served there until 2020 when he was named vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Rockville Centre.
On April 30, Pope Francis appointed the Queens native to become the 10th Bishop of Wilmington. The announcement was made that same day by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States.
Bishop Koenig takes over from Bishop Francis Malooly, who had held the job since 2008. In 2019, Bishop Malooly, then age 75, sent his resignation to Pope Francis in accordance with canon law.
The Diocese of Wilmington comprises 1,932 square miles in the state of Delaware and 3,375 square miles of Maryland’s eastern shore. The total population within the diocese is almost 1.5 million people, of which around 247,000 are Catholic.
Bishop Koenig thanked scores of bishops and priests who influenced his priestly ministries, including Bishop John Barres, his old boss at Rockville Centre.
He also praised “Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the ordinary of the great Diocese of Brooklyn — the diocese in which I was baptized. And so thank you, Bishop Nick.”
Bishop Koenig also honored Father Whelan and their classmates.
“For those men who I’m privileged to call now my brother priests, I thank you for being here,” he said. “Your fraternal support and example mean so much to me and our diocese. You keep me on my toes.”