“One place I visited is what had been the bishop’s residence when I first went to the Virgin Islands. It was a house built by Bishop Harper on the top of the mountain, on an extraordinary piece of land donated to the Church by Madame Bloch, a Frenchwoman. The house is still in ruins from the devastation left behind by the several hurricanes that have stricken the islands.” Pilot photo/ Courtesy Cardinal’s office
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On Tuesday (Sept. 2), Father Jonathan (Gaspar) and I flew down to the Virgin Islands for the installation of the new bishop of the Diocese of Saint Thomas, Herbert Bevard.
It had been a few years since I had been back, but it is always a joy to go there.
To participate in the consecration and installation of the bishop at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral reminded me of my own consecration and installation there 24 years ago.
Many people singing in the choir were singing in the choir when I was ordained a bishop there. There was the same sacristan, Mr. Knolly Beazer, who has been the sacristan at the cathedral for 50 years.
All of the former bishops of the Virgin Islands were there except for Bishop Ed Harper, who died in 1990. I succeeded Bishop Harper in 1985, when he retired. Besides myself there was Bishop Elliot Thomas, who succeeded me, and Bishop George Vance Murry who is now the bishop of Youngstown, Ohio.
It made me feel older to realize that I was the second bishop and now they are on their fifth!
The cathedral was built around the same time as our own Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston, but it is much smaller and only fits about 300 people. The cathedral was very crowded and was beautifully decorated, especially with all of the native flowers they used.
The Virgin Islands are a very special place. The people have a great enthusiasm for their faith. Their liturgies are extraordinary and joyful celebrations.
One place I visited is what had been the bishop’s residence when I first went to the Virgin Islands. It was a house built by Bishop Harper on the top of the mountain, on an extraordinary piece of land donated to the Church by Madame Bloch, a Frenchwoman.
The house is still in ruins from the devastation left behind by the several hurricanes that have stricken the islands. The house has been rebuilt twice. I rebuilt it once and Bishop Elliot rebuilt it once again. Now it is just there in ruins.
Of course, my visit was a chance to catch up with so many of the familiar faces from my time there. I was able to see many of the local priests I had ordained and meet with the deacons. There is such an active diaconate program on the Virgin Islands, started by Msgr. Michael Kosak and Sister Germaine years ago.
When I arrived, he was the only diocesan priest there, all the others were members of religious orders, so I made him a monsignor!
In fact, Bishop Thomas started in the diaconate program and then went on to the seminary. I ordained several priests in the Virgin Islands, but the first two priests I ordained are now bishops. Besides Bishop Thomas, there is Bishop Adalberto Martinez in Paraguay.
There are three islands with parishes: St. John’s, St. Thomas and St. Croix. The largest island is St. Croix, but the capital city, Charlotte Amalie, is on St. Thomas.
Bishop Harper was the first bishop to live on the islands and when I succeeded him, I became the first man ordained bishop on the island. My successor, Bishop Thomas, was the first diocesan priest to become the bishop there.
A great part of the joy from my visit to the Virgin Islands was to see how the programs, such as the homeless shelters, especially the Bethlehem House, we had begun long ago have grown and flourished.
The diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Islander, with the leadership of Mary Conway, and the television stations we started are now considered permanent fixtures of the life of the Church in the islands. I should also mention Krysten Winter-Green, who was very instrumental in running the shelters and expanding them.