National News

New Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, La., Urges Faithful to ‘Walk Together to Answer God’s Call’ to Build Up Church

Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville concelebrates Mass during his installation as the fifth bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, La., at the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales in Houma March 29, 2023. (OSV News photo)

By Richard Szczepanowski

(OSV News) — Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, a former auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, was installed March 29 as the fifth bishop of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana.

“I put my trust in Jesus Christ because whenever he gives us a mission, he also gives us the strength and the wisdom to carry it out,” Bishop Dorsonville said as he was installed during a nearly two-hour liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Francis de Sales in Houma.

During the Mass, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the apostolic nuncio to the United States, read Pope Francis’ mandate appointing Bishop Dorsonville as the bishop of Houma-Thibodaux.

In the decree, Pope Francis asked the faithful of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux to welcome their new bishop “as a father to be loved and a teacher to be heeded.”

Archbishop Pierre told Bishop Dorsonville that he will be made to feel at home in his new diocese “because you will find in this diocese many opportunities to continue your ministry as shepherd.” He also urged Bishop Dorsonville to “listen to the laity who have many gifts and much love for the Church” and serve as “both a brother and a father” to his priests.

After the decree was read, Bishop Dorsonville said he accepted the appointment “with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and with the love of God in my heart.” He then presented the mandate to diocesan officials and the faithful of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.

Afterward, Bishop Dorsonville was presented with a crosier, or shepherd’s staff, and escorted to his bishop’s chair, known as cathedra — the symbols of his authority. The faithful who packed the cathedral to witness the installation applauded as the new bishop of Houma-Thibodaux assumed his post. He was then welcomed by representatives of his new diocese.

Bishop Dorsonville, 62, succeeds now-Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, who was installed to lead the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, March 30, 2022.

In his first homily to his new flock, Bishop Dorsonville said, “I am so grateful for your kindness in welcoming me to this great state of Louisiana. It is your home and now it is mine too. I realize that a new chapter of my life has begun, knowing that the book gets better as the book goes on.”

Promising that “from now on you are in my prayers,” Bishop Dorsonville called on his new family of faith to “walk together to answer God’s call to continue to build up the church we love … if we do that together we will be closer to holiness.”

He also asked for prayers of his new flock that “in my words, actions and deeds from now on you do not recognize my voice, but (instead) a faithful instrument of Jesus Christ.”

Among the clergy at the installation Mass were Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington; Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop emeritus of Washington; Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans, the metropolitan archbishop of the ecclesiastical province that includes the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux; Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; more than 30 other bishops and archbishops and more than 150 priests.

Hundreds crowded the cathedral for the Mass, which was also livestreamed on the diocesan website and on YouTube. More than 300 people from throughout the United States and as far away as Italy and Ireland followed the Mass online.

Prior to the Mass and following ancient church tradition, Bishop Dorsonville knocked on the door of his new cathedral where he was admitted by diocesan officials. He used a hammer that was given to him as a young man by his father. After entering the cathedral, Bishop Dorsonville blessed a crucifix, processed into the church and prayed before the tabernacle.

Located southwest of New Orleans, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was erected in 1977, and comprises the civil Louisiana parishes of Terrebonne and Lafourche, as well as parts of St. Mary and Jefferson parishes. It has 38 churches and 11 schools, and comprises an area of 3,500 square miles with a total population of more than 257,000 of which nearly 34% — about 90,000 — are Catholic.

The diocese is still recovering and rebuilding from Hurricane Ida, the deadly category 4 storm that slammed Louisiana in August 2021. It was one of the three strongest hurricanes on record to ever hit the state.

Bishop Dorsonville in his homily promised to “build up the dignity of the human person by loving the poor and fixing my eyes on the people who are still struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives after the last hurricane. We are here for them.”

Father Patrick “P.J.” Madden, who served Houma-Thibodaux as diocesan administrator since April 1, 2022, said the installation Mass was planned as a celebration “for and about the people” of the diocese because Bishop Dorsonville “is so conscious of the pain in our diocese as we continue to recover from Hurricane Ida.”

A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Bishop Dorsonville was named an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Washington by Pope Francis in 2015. He had been vicar general for the archdiocese of Washington since 2015. The pope appointed him Houma Thibodaux’s bishop Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Houma-Thibodaux Feb. 1.

He is a former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ migration committee and has been a member of several other USCCB committees, including the domestic policy and religious liberty committees and the Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.