Two diocesan priests with years of institutional and pastoral experience were ordained auxiliary bishops to serve Brooklyn and Queens at St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, July 20. It was the first episcopal ordination held at the site.
Bishops James Massa, moderator of the Curia, and Father Witold Mroziewski, pastor of Holy Cross parish, Maspeth, were raised to the fullness of the priesthood with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio serving as consecrating bishop assisted by co-consecrators, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, and Bishop Raymond Chappetto, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn and vicar general.
Presiding at the Monday afternoon liturgy were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, and retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington, D.C. More than 35 bishops attended, including Archbishop Bernardino Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; and Brooklyn natives Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Fla., and Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y.
The line of procession also consisted of several hundred priests, deacons, men and women religious as well as representatives of lay organizations, and other religious affiliations.
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During the two-hour ceremony, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic delegate to the United States, read the proclamation by Pope Francis declaring the two men as bishops. The proclamation was met with applause that signified the approval of the congregation.
Other significant moments included the chanting of the Litany of Saints while the candidates lied prostrate in the sanctuary, the imposition of hands upon the heads of the new bishops, the anointing of their heads with sacred chrism and the presentation of the miter, crozier and bishop’s ring.
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Before the final blessing, the new bishops were escorted around the co-cathedral as they bestowed their first blessings upon those in attendance.
Serving as assistant priests to Bishop Massa were Msgrs. Joseph Nagle and Peter Vaccari, while Bishop Mroziewski was assisted by Msgrs. Thomas Machalski and Peter Zendzian.
In his remarks at the end of Mass, Bishop Mroziewski expressed his thanks to Bishop DiMarzio,” referring to him as “an excellent father.”
“Bishop DiMarzio, I say from the depths of my heart, thank you.”
“My first assignment was given under the signature of our retired diocesan bishop, Most
Reverend Thomas Daily, over 20 years ago. … I thank him for receiving me so warmly.”
He said that his appointment as a bishop “was truly a surprise and unexpected.”
After thanking the members of the hierarchy for their presence, he added that “you’ve accepted me as your brother.”
But he also acknowledged, “Of course, probably the most important person here, with all due respect, is my mother, Waclawa …
“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for the gift of my life and for the gift of the priesthood which you nurtured in me.”
At a press conference that immediately preceded the ordination, Bishop Massa shared that he was ecstatic to see so many friends and family coming together for this day.
Microcosm of the Church
“It’s a little bit of a microcosm of the Church that is assembled at the cathedral,” he said. “And you feel kind of held by them.”
One of those friends who had arrived more than an hour before the ceremony was Susan Valenti, a parishioner at Holy Name of Jesus Church, Park Slope, where Bishop Massa was an administrator.
“He is very sweet, very holy. I’m thrilled to be here today,” she said.
“I told them I would say congratulations but I know that Pope Francis says this is not a time to celebrate, this is a time to do more work,” she added. “It is hard not to say congratulations but I wish him good luck.”
After the ceremony, friends and family started lining up to receive their blessings in the undercroft of the co-cathedral.
Among them was Angela Di Paola, a member of the Secular Institute of Apostolic Oblates, lay consecrated women who take their vows to the apostolate of the Pro Sanctity Movement.
“I know the bishop (Massa) through the Pro Sanctity Movement and I’m very happy for him because he deserves it; he is a very good person. He is a good priest, who is always ready to give (assistance) to people,” she said. “We were at a reception and I invited him to bless a child that had some kind of disease and he came immediately. It was very kind of him. You can see the presence of God in him.”
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, pastor of St. Anastasia, Douglaston, said he was honored to serve at the ordination of his friend Bishop Massa. They had worked together in Washington when Bishop Massa was in charge of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Msgr. Sherman was associate director of the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Divine Worship.
“It is wonderful to see somebody so gifted and so gentle to be ordained to the episcopacy,” said Msgr. Sherman, who was masters of ceremonies to the co-ordaining bishops and archbishops along with Msgr. John C. Tosi.
He also offered some advice for the new bishops.
“When in doubt, stop, calm down and listen to the (Holy) Spirit,” he said. “Because the Spirit always speaks, just that we don’t always listen.”
As priests and parishioners processed out of St. Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, members of the Knights of Columbus Color Guard and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre commented on the beauty of the ceremony.
Ruben Martinez, a parishioner of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Ozone Park, who came to the Mass representing the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, was happy to be there for Bishop Mroziewski, who is also a member of the order.
“It is a great day in New York, not just in Brooklyn or Queens, but all of New York because this priest – bishop – will do a wonderful job,” he said.
He was not the only one who thought Bishop Mroziewski will be a bishop open to serve others.
Rabbi Moses A. Birnbaum, from the Jewish Center of Kew Gardens Hills, Flushing, said that even though he was invited to the ordination by Bishop DiMarzio, he came to the ceremony to support Bishop Mroziewski, with whom he had been involved in a Polish-Jewish dialogue.
“This is a tribute to the Polish- American community, he is a wonderful man,” the rabbi said, recalling his help when different groups worked together to change the name of 56th Rd. near Holy Cross Church in Maspeth to John Paul II Way.
Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Queens Jewish Historical Society and Stan Norwalk came to their first episcopal ordination as a sign of respect for Bishop Mroziewski. They added that then-Father Witold offered his rectory to have meetings to propose the idea to the legislators.
Heading to the new bishop’s reception in Flushing, Rabbi Birnbaum said he was planning on presenting Bishop Mroziewski with an annotated New Testament with commentary of Jewish scholars as a gift.
“It was very moving. God’s grace was around,” said Deacon Dean Dobbins from Our Lady of Mercy, Forest Hills, who was ordained a permanent deacon two months ago.
“These new bishops are shepherds and we have Bishop DiMarzio as part of this rock,” that is the Diocese of Brooklyn, he added.
For others, like Mariakutty Joseph, a member of the Secular Institute of Apostolic Oblates who had witnessed the ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Chappetto, participating in an ordination ceremony is always a cause for joy.
“It’s a beautiful experience. It was faith-filled and joyful and brought out a lot of blessings for the faithful,” said Joseph, who came from St. Kevin parish, Flushing. “These priests are a good example for the new generations. For the faithful people to pray together.”
Overall, attendees were happy to share this moment with the new bishops and wished them the best.
Rosa Charles, a parishioner St. Jude parish, Canarsie, said that the ceremony was a “peaceful and joyful celebration,” adding that the reading from St. Paul about God giving His people the strength to bear hardships was a good reference for the bishops in the times to come.
“We will be praying for you,” she said. “And always remember that God sends every one of us out to do His will.”
More than an hour before the ceremony began, the respective bishops’ families, friends and guests starting filling the co-cathedral. Among the first people to arrive were Bishop Massa’s longtime friends, Chris Andrus and his wife, Maria.
“I’ve known him (Bishop Massa) since second grade,” shared Chris. “We went to St. Michael’s School together and Union Catholic H.S.”
“We knew him when he was studying Latin on index cards,” added Maria, who met the future bishop in high school. “He’s baptized all of our children and given two of them First Holy Communion.
“We never let him forget who he is or where he came from,” Maria said.
They attended the ordination with Maria’s mother Rose Marie DeRosa, and Carm Marinaro, another friend who was escorted to the senior semi-formal by the bishop.
Having known him for so many years, the friends said that while Bishop Massa is well known for his intellect, his greatest gift is his compassionate heart.
“He has an uncanny ability to listen and understand everything you say,” Maria said. “The compassion he shows is incredible. He acknowledges everything, and never seeks to discredit what anyone says.”
Bishop Massa has made an equally profound impression on newer friends, Deacon Lachlan and Dolores Cameron of Stewart Manor, L.I. Their son, Father Lachlan Cameron, a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, served as the bishop’s master of ceremonies at the Mass.
“We’ve known Bishop Massa for 12 years. He’s become a family friend and a mentor to our son,” said Deacon Lachlan. “Sometimes he even comes to our house for dinner.”
The couple says what they most admire is the bishop’s humility and kindness to everyone.
“He’s very generous with his time and understanding. He’s always available,” the deacon said.
They were delighted to be Bishop Massa’s guests at his ordination, though Deacon Lachlan added, “We’re only sorry he’s being ordained for Brooklyn, and not Rockville Centre.”
As the newly ordained Bishop Massa processed out of the co-cathedral, a smile crossed his face and he paused to hug his friend, Rabbi Eric J. Greenberg.
“It’s lovely to see Father Massa, now Bishop Massa, rising in the church and being able to use his skills, intellect and devotion,” the rabbi said.
Currently the director of communications, programs and interfaith for The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, Rabbi Greenberg worked with Bishop Massa on Jewish-Catholic relations during the bishop’s tenure with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He looks forward to seeing the bishop use his skills to bring Catholics and Jews together in Brooklyn and beyond.
“James is well situated to increase Catholic-Jewish relations, understanding and education,” he said, noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our Time”).
“We’re at the beginning of the beginning of this process,” the rabbi said. “And I stand ready to work with James to bring that word and friendship and trust … together to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for everyone.”
His sentiments echoed those of Haydee Llanos, a parishioner of St. Laurence Church, East New York, who represented the Cursillo Movement.
When asked what gifts she hoped the bishops would bring to the people of Brooklyn and Queens, Llanos said, “Unity and peace – that’s what we need at this moment in the Church.”
“Thanks be to God,” said Fabian Rutkowski said regarding the ordination of his fellow countryman and family friend, Bishop Mroziewski.
“He’s from Poland – from our town – and we’ve always been close with his family. We’re really proud. We’re really happy,” said Fabian, who came from Philadelphia to attend the Mass. His mother Theresa made a special trip from Poland.
Sunset Park resident Irene Rudis had a shorter distance to travel to the ordination.
“Bishop Mroziewski was our pastor for 20 years at Our Lady of Czestochowa. We’re so excited,” said Rudis, who was invited to the Mass by the bishop himself.
“He’s a wonderful role model, a lovely person. He interested in everyone and he gives you his undivided attention, really,” Rudis said.
As he begins his new role, she knows he will be active – and hopes that his ministry will bring him to Sunset Park occasionally.
“It would be so wonderful for him to come back and confirm the parish children,” she said.
Among the many religious sisters in attendance at the ordination were the Missionary Sisters of St. Benedict from Huntington, L.I.
“We know very well Bishop Massa,” who has conducted conferences and retreats for the sisters, said Sister Bernarda Krajewska, O.S.B. “We’re very struck by his humble heart and gentleness. He is a beautiful person – a holy Christian and now hopefully could be a holy bishop.”
Though she didn’t know Bishop Mroziewski before, the Polish-born nun was thrilled to meet him and receive a blessing. “I assured him of our prayers,” she said.