‘We Welcome Them and Pray With Them and For Them’
MIDTOWN MANHATTAN — Even before they were ordained as the Archdiocese of New York’s newest bishops, Auxiliary Bishops Joseph Espaillat and John Bonnici had already made their mark.
Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat, 45, known as “Father J,” is famous for his rap songs and his efforts to engage young people in the Church. For a time, he served as the director of Youth Ministry for the archdiocese. Auxiliary Bishop Bonnici, 57, had gained respect for his work on behalf of the unborn as director of the archdiocese’s Family Life/Respect Life Office.
On March 1, the two men were ordained at a special Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the main celebrant of the Mass, called them “two new shepherds” and said, “We welcome them and we pray with them and for them.”
It was exciting for the priests of the archdiocese “to see two of their own chosen by Pope Francis,” Cardinal Dolan added.
Auxiliary Bishops Bonnici and Espaillat were appointed by Pope Francis on Jan. 25. The announcement was made by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S.
Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat, who is now the youngest auxiliary bishop in the U.S., is the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Bronx and will remain in that post. He was ordained in 2003 and previously served as parochial vicar and then pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Yonkers and parochial vicar of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish in Manhattan.
“It’s humbling, really,” he said of his being appointed auxiliary bishop. He is grateful, he said, for his time as director of Youth Ministry, because of the opportunities it gave him to spread the word of God to people who need to hear that message.
Having walked into the cathedral that day as a priest, he would be walking out as an auxiliary bishop. But his thoughts were with his fellow priests. “To my brother priests of the Archdiocese of New York, I thank each and every one of you. I love you very much,” Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat said.
As she sat in her pew in the cathedral waiting for the Mass to begin, Wanda Vasquez, director of Hispanic Ministry for the archdiocese, said her community was excited to see Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat’s big moment. “And the work he does with young people is important. He speaks to them where they live,” she added.
Auxiliary Bishop Bonnici, who was ordained in 1991, is currently the pastor of Sts. John and Paul/St. Augustine Parish in Larchmont — a job he is keeping. During his three decades of service, he has served as pastor of St. Columba Parish in Chester, New York, pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in the Bronx, and as parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Elmsford. In addition, he has spent time in the classroom as an adjunct professor of theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.
He served as assistant director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office in 1995-1996 and became its director in 1996, guiding that office for the next six years.
In his heart, he said, he is a parish priest.
Auxiliary Bishop Bonnici recalled that as a student in Rome many years ago, he had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa. She wrote a message to him, “To Jesus through Mary.” He didn’t realize it at the time, but there was more to that saying.
“I have been honored to serve so many of you as your priest, as your pastor. And by listening to your stories, by allowing me the opportunity to learn about your lives, I discovered and continue to discover new ways to make my way to Jesus through Mary,” he said.
For both new auxiliary bishops, the notification from Archbishop Pierre came as a shock. “I apologize for thinking it was a spam call,” Auxiliary Bishop Bonnici joked. “He called me six times!” Auxiliary Bishop Espaillat said of the nuncio. “I asked him if it was a joke.”
“It’s not a joke,” Archbishop Pierre told him.