Thank you, Monsignor Kemme, not only for introducing me, but especially for doing such a wonderful job as Administrator of the Diocese of Springfield for the past eleven months. The fact that the pastoral care of the Catholic community in central Illinois has been in your capable hands has been a blessing for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Springfield and will certainly be a great help for me. I look forward to working closely with you and will rely on your assistance in making a smooth transition as I begin my pastoral care of this community of faith.
I am not a stranger to Springfield. I was here just last month and in fact the past two years for “Catholics at the Capitol” with the Catholic Conference of Illinois. Over the years I have been here on various occasions, including the Mass for the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Springfield in 2003 shortly after I became Auxiliary Bishop. Actually, I visited Springfield for the first time on my eighth grade class trip when I was a student at St. Casimir School. We made that trip by bus. I returned to Springfield on my senior class trip before graduating from our high school seminary. We made that trip by train. Those visits introduced me to our state capital and to the world of Abraham Lincoln. Since that time, the sixteenth President of the United States has been a hero of mine. One of my hobbies is reading biographies and other books about Mr. Lincoln. I also visited the Abraham Lincoln Museum shortly after it opened, it having been dedicated the same day that Pope Benedict was elected to the papacy, five years ago yesterday, April 19, 2005.
In a speech given in Springfield on January 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln said, “We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducting more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings.”
It is indeed a “fundamental blessing” which I am profoundly privileged to inherit as the new shepherd of the flock that comprises the Catholic community of central Illinois. I am deeply grateful for the confidence shown by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in appointing me to serve as the ninth Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. I look forward to working with the priests, deacons, men and women religious, the lay Christian faithful and all people of good will here in our State Capital to carry out the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ to proclaim the Gospel.
The spirit with which I intend to approach my pastoral ministry is best expressed in the episcopal motto that I chose when I was first named to be a bishop by Pope John Paul II seven years ago, which is, “Lex Cordis Caritas,” Latin for, “The Heart of the Law is Love.” My hope is to radiate the love of Christ to everyone that I meet in my pastoral care. I pledge to do my best with the help of God’s grace and your support to build on the “fundamental blessings” established through the dedicated ministry of the previous bishops of Springfield, especially my immediate predecessor, the Most Reverend George Lucas, now Archbishop of Omaha.
I wish to express my sincere appreciation to my fellow priests and bishops of the Archdiocese of Chicago with whom I have been fortunate to work for the past thirty-two years. Most of all, I thank His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, Archbishop of Chicago, for being a true mentor over the past thirteen years during which I was privileged to serve as his Chancellor, as a parish Pastor and as his Auxiliary Bishop. I am pleased that we will continue to be co-workers in the vineyard of the State of Illinois that comprises the Province of Chicago. I am happy that Cardinal George will preside at my Installation here in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on June 22nd, the feast of the English martyrs, Saints Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher.
Here in the Diocese of Springfield we will have lots of time to get to know each other as I come to parishes, schools and various places for Confirmation Masses, parish visits and other special events. I look forward to meeting many of our government and civic officials here in our state capital. This season of planting seeds is a fitting time to begin a fresh springtime of new relationships and to grow in our communion as brothers and sisters in Christ. I pray that God who has begun this good work will bring it to fruition.
Before I open the floor to questions, there are a couple of other things you should know about me. One, I am a marathon runner. I have run sixteen marathons since 1995. As I marathon runner I have developed a sense of endurance and a commitment to going the distance. So you may see me from time to time literally running around town. Of course, I won’t be dressed like this, but you’ll recognize me by the SOX cap that I’ll be wearing. Second, my favorite sport is hockey. I still play hockey. I am a goalie. My nickname is, the “Holy Goalie.” If you’re trying to figure out how my mind works, you should know that most hockey players say that goalies are different. I get enjoyment from standing in front of a hockey net and having people shoot pucks at me at 100 miles per hour. I am used to taking shots. With that in mind, I will now take your questions!