BLOOMFIELD – Bishop Leonard Paul Blair, 64, current head of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio, will succeed Archbishop Henry J. Mansell as the fifth archbishop and the 13th bishop of Hartford, it was announced during a press conference Oct. 29 at the ArchdiocesanCenter at St. Thomas Seminary.
Last October, Archbishop Mansell submitted his letter of resignation to then-Pope Benedict XVI, as required by Canon law when a bishop attains the age of 75. Archbishop Mansell was 75 on Oct. 10, 2012.
Archbishop-designate Blair will be installed in Hartford at a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Dec. 16 – two days shy of the 10th anniversary of Archbishop Mansell’s installation on Dec. 18, 2003.
Bishop Blair said he was in Rome Oct. 17 when he received word from Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, papal nuncio to the United States, that Pope Francis had appointed him to the new post.
“The next day at a papal audience, I was able to thank Pope Francis in person for the confidence he has placed in me, and I asked for his blessing on the Church in both Hartford and Toledo,” he said in his remarks before more than 100 assembled clergy, religious and media representatives.
“I want to say how very happy and honored I am to be your new archbishop,” he said. “I especially look forward to meeting the priests, who are a bishop’s closest and indispensable collaborators. My new home also includes people of many different churches, religions and backgrounds whose collaboration and friendship I look forward to in times to come.”
A Detroit, Mich., native, Archbishop-designate Blair said that he will have much to learn in the days to come. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say ‘Hartford’ with just the right New England accent,” he quipped, “but I pledge all my love and effort to serve Christ by serving you, as together we seek to walk, and help others to walk, what Christ himself calls ‘the narrow road that leads to life.’”
Archbishop Mansell called it “a special joy for me” that Pope Francis has chosen Bishop Blair as his successor. “He comes with an extensive background and a distinguished record of service as a priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit,” Archbishop Mansell said. “He comes with a whole plethora of experience for which we are deeply grateful. We offer him our sincere congratulations, prayers and the promise of support as we go forward.”
Archbishop Mansell said that this is a beautiful archdiocese where “we are continually doing things that make us a better experience as a church. We’re very confident, given Bishop Blair’s experience and his record, that we will continue.”
On a personal note, Archbishop Mansell said, “It’s been a special privilege and an honor for me to serve as the Archbishop of Hartford for the past 10 years, and I thank you all for the graciousness with which you have welcomed me and the wonderful support you have given to me over these 10 years.”
He said that as archbishop-emeritus, he will live at the rectory of St. Augustine Parish in South Glastonbury.
Asked if he had specific directions he intends to take the archdiocese, Archbishop-designate Blair said, “I didn’t have any conversation with the Holy Father about particular things. Like all of you, I am very intrigued by this new Holy Father, and very challenged by him in the best ways. Many things are reported about the things he says and does, but I find that he’s given new energy to the Church.”
When many media microphones conspired to cause audio feedback, the archbishop-designate brought laughter by suggesting the bishops do an exorcism of the sound system.
Asked how he intends to handle bad publicity even long after the sex scandals of the Church have subsided, Archbishop-designate Blair said, “Well, I think the best way is simply to be the Church in the way that Christ wants us to be the Church ... to stay close to Christ and to really try to address the material and spiritual needs of people, in keeping with the Gospel.”
He said that when scandal struck the Toledo Diocese – before his installation there in 2003 – his predecessor (Bishop James R. Hoffman) removed some accused priests. “Subsequently, I had to remove some as well. I think our diocese responded appropriately,” he said.
Asked how he intends to shepherd fallen-away Catholics back to the fold, he said, “This is very much on the minds of the bishops. We speak in terms of a new evangelization, and that is to re-propose the message of the Gospel ... to people who may have been baptized Catholic who are no longer practicing, people who feel a kind of drift in their lives spiritually. So this is very much engaging the mind of the Church today. It’s much discussed, but it’s not just a matter of discussing but of doing, of seeing how we can be faithful to the word of God and to re-propose the Gospel.”
He said that his role on ethical issues such as same-sex marriage and assisted suicide will be dictated by the Church’s teachings. “Whether I were an archbishop or not, I certainly subscribe to the teaching of the Church in these matters that is rooted in the Gospel and rooted even more in just human reason and the difference between right and wrong.”
Archbishop Mansell told the Transcript that he had a lengthy discussion with Archbishop-designate Blair the night before the press conference, when Archbishop Mansell outlined many of the initiatives in the archdiocese. He said that, while it is up to the new archbishop, he hopes that work will continue to be done to improve people’s lives through the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal. “I strongly recommended it. It does significant work and really supports the people who are in greater need, and he understands that,” Archbishop Mansell said.
“Every year it funds so much of our operations, and every penny that comes in goes out in services, and even the administrative costs are covered by other funds, not from the funds that are contributed,” he said.
Auxiliary Bishop Christie A. Macaluso of Hartford said in a statement, “This is an exciting appointment by Pope Francis of a very gifted, intelligent, energetic man of faith to the See of Hartford.” He said that as Toledo’s bishop, “he distinguished himself as a wise and sound administrator and a humble man of deep faith.”