Bishop Timothy McDonnell named Bishop of Springfield

SPRINGFIELD — Pope John Paul II has named New York Auxiliary Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell the eighth bishop of Springfield.

His appointment, announced March 9 by the Vatican, will be officially effective April 1, when he will be formally installed as head of the diocese.

Bishop McDonnell, 66, is an experienced pastor and archdiocesan administrator, having headed or helped administer offices that oversee some of the matters that are very likely to be prominent in the Diocese of Springfield in the next few years.

He is also well-known for his handling of the aftermath of what was, at the time, the most notorious case of sexual misconduct by a priest in the United States.

In 1990, then-Father McDonnell was named acting deputy president and deputy chief executive officer of the agency for runaway and homeless youth Covenant House after a newspaper reported on financial and sexual improprieties by the agency’s founder, Father Bruce Ritter.

At a press conference in the Springfield Diocese, Bishop McDonnell did not directly address the sexual abuse charges brought against recently retired Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupre. But he twice quoted Blessed Mother of Teresa’s comment, “There is nothing so bad that God can’t bring a greater good out of it — if we let Him,” when asked about the effects of the sexual abuse scandal on the mood of the diocese.

During a brief introduction to diocesan employees and interviews with the news media, Bishop McDonnell displayed both the charm of an experienced Irish-American pastor and an obvious familiarity with a wide range of the administrative needs of the church.

"What you see is what you get," he said at the start of each gathering.

The new bishop returned to New York later the same day and may only make brief visits to Springfield before his installation Mass. He told reporters that he will need to wrap up several matters in New York before coming permanently to Springfield.

He celebrated his first Mass in the Springfield Diocese at noon on March 9 in the Holy Spirit Chapel adjacent to St. Michael Cathedral. The small chapel was filled with worshipers and ringed with reporters, photographers and television cameras as the newly named bishop introduced himself with these words: “Guess who?”

"The Church is people, and the people in Springfield have given me a wonderful, wonderful welcome," he continued. He began the Mass by referring to the penitential season of Lent and emphasizing, "It is a long journey, but Easter does come."

During his brief homily, Bishop McDonnell told worshipers, “God asks us to be reconciled one to another and to Him ... That is what I hope to be here, a reconciler.”

He urged the congregation to seek forgiveness for their own sins and to offer forgiveness to others, as they continue “walking in grace to eternal life.”

Father Bill Pomerleau is a staff writer for the Catholic Observer of Springfield.