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Mainers grateful for new bishop

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PORTLAND -- With the installation of Bishop Robert P. Deeley at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception as the 12th Bishop of Portland, Feb. 14, Catholics from the far reaches of Maine had an opportunity to meet their new bishop.

Some residents of Maine traversed greater mileage that day than many who had travelled from outside of the state.

A parishioner of Holy Family Parish in Greenville, Maine said she had traveled more than three hours -- all within the bounds of the diocese -- to reach the installation.

"I think that he is very happy to be here, that he is looking forward to working with, not only the priests, but the laity also. I think he brings a kind of a humbling presence to Maine," Lorraine Auclaire, 61, said.

A man who heads youth ministry for the cathedral and other nearby churches said the diocese had strong leadership in the absence of a bishop, but welcomed the sense of solidarity of vision and union with the larger Church that a residential bishop provides.

Evan Vaughn, 22, said, "It's nice to have that central role and to have that leadership, not that the chancery wasn't doing everything we needed to do without having a bishop, or with having Bishop Malone as an apostolic administrator, but it is nice to have that face and that someone who is that leader."

He compared the gap between bishops with period of "sede vacante" between the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis.

"There was that time of like, oh, we don't have that something else kind of pulling us together," he said.

He described the installation as a positive and happy occasion, and said he felt a warm presence about Bishop Deeley.

"He seemed so personable, or real, when he spoke. Just with someone who is in that high position, I expect that automatic booming authority of greatness kind of sound when he were to speak. Not that he didn't have that nice formal tone, but he sounded just like a priest I would regularly go to Mass with," he said.

A priest who serves multiple parishes, in what are called "clusters" in Maine, gave his perspective on some of the things Bishop Deeley might find markedly different from his experience in Boston.

Father Joe Koury administers three parishes -- Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Windham, St. Ann's in Gorham, and St. Anthony's in Westbrook -- and serves the tribunal of the diocese.

Father Koury said he lived in Boston for a time and had visited Boston College recently. He noted the physical scale of the Maine diocese.

"This is the Southwest corner of Maine. If you were to drive from Kittery to Fort Kent -- I did this one time, I used to live in a parish down there -- it's the same distance as driving from Portland to Columbus, Ohio. It gives you perspective," Father Koury said as he laughed.

A bishop's set of responsibilities includes periodic visits to parishes in his diocese for different events.

"Geographically, he is going to get used to it. You can't just hop in your car and visit a parish that is a six-hour drive, then turn around and come back." he said.

He said the exceptions are the larger cities like Bangor and Portland, but they are not characteristic of the diocese.

"It's pretty much a rural diocese, if you include the suburbs of the cities, but beyond that it's trees, more trees, some farmland, more trees. It really is totally different. It's not a big metropolitan city. So, geographically it will be a huge change," he said.

He said the ethnic and faith makeup of the diocese will present Bishop Deeley with a contrast to Boston. The diocese has many French-speaking populations -- including French Canadians and Haitians -- and a strong Native American presence in the Catholic community. He also anticipated the bishop encountering a population outside the Church very different from that in Boston, with Catholics in the minority throughout the state and many people having no particular faith at all.

"A large number of people in Maine belong to no established church, and that's the way they want it," he said.

He said of Bishop Deeley's arrival to end a 20-month period without a bishop would end a time of maintenance and provide the opportunity to move the local Church forward.

"There really has been -- and we could feel it -- a lack of priority setting or direction setting. That's why we are delighted to have a bishop," Father Koury said.

Father Koury said over his years serving as a canon lawyer he encountered Bishop Deeley.

"Most folks don't know Bishop Deeley in the way I knew him professionally in canon law work, but I think everyone is relieved. It's too long to go without a bishop," Father Koury said.

Father Koury said Bishop Deeley also made an impact on him personally with the homily at the Mass.

"He knows the role of a bishop, but he didn't seem to stand on formality or distance. He cracked a few jokes," he said, smiling. "People picked up on it."

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