A bishop "is always on a mountain," wrote Pope John Paul II in one of his last books, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way (2004). "He must always be aware that whatever happens in his life takes on greater meaning in his community…" This is why the First Letter of Peter pleads that every bishop must be "a living example to his flock." (5:3)
Here in the Archdiocese of Hartford we have been graced by an Archbishop who literally lived the above Biblical description. Archbishop Henry J. Mansell was everything that the Gospel expects an Archbishop to be. For ten years here his episcopal stature has been defined in terms of humble service to the faithful of the Hartford Archdiocese and beyond – as well as in continuity with Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, whose role he inherited. Our hearts are filled with deep appreciation for all the graces that he and his predecessors gave to the Church in Connecticut.
Now, however, our thanks are directed anew to a new Ordinary of unusual faith and talent; namely, Bishop Leonard P. Blair, whose appointment as the fifth Archbishop of Hartford was announced by Pope Francis on 29 October. Ordinary of the Diocese of Toledo since October 2003, he arrived here with outstanding academic credentials, including a doctorate in theology from Rome’s Pontifical University of St. Thomas, extensive experience in various Vatican offices, expertise in seminary education and parish ministry.
From listening to our new Archbishop’s prepared address, as well as his responses to questions at his first news conference at St. Thomas Seminary on 29 October, he has already embraced his mission – in Pope John Paul’s words – "to stand at the heart of the Church as the first in faith, first in love, first in fidelity, and first in service." (Ibid.)
The crosier or pastoral staff with which a bishop in invested when he is ordained to the episcopate, is, of course, a symbol of leadership, the kind of leadership that Christ exemplified as he walked over our paths and climbed our hills. But a crosier has another purpose; specifically, it is a defensive weapon needed to ward off danger. Which means that a bishop is called by God to safeguard as well as lead. Recall the words of St. Paul spoken to the priests of the Church in Ephesus: "Keep watch over yourselves and the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood…" (Acts 20:28)
Surely the faithful of a diocese are expected to help a bishop in his roles of leading and safeguarding the flock entrusted to him. This means, in the first place, prayer; prayer for special enlightenment and strength. We were called upon by Bishop Blair to begin to pray for him now, weeks before his formal installation, scheduled for 16 December. And since he himself has entrusted his tenure here to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, we are invited to seek her maternal intercession for continuity with the ministry excercised by his great predecessors in the Hartford Archdiocese.
Ad multos annos!