LINCOLN (SNR) - Crowding the pews and extra seats lining the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln Nov. 20, 39 bishops, more than 200 priests and numerous deacons, seminarians, religious sisters and lay persons welcomed Bishop James D. Conley to the Diocese of Lincoln.
Among the notable guests were the bishop’s mother, sister, and other family members, Archbishop Carlo Viganò, apostolic nuncio from the Holy See, Archbishop José Lopez of Los Angeles, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver and Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City, Bishop Conley’s longtime friend.
Bishops who were priests of the Diocese of Lincoln also attended, including Bishop Michael Jackels of the Diocese of Wichita — Bishop Conley’s home diocese, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix (who also was Bishop of Wichita, from 2001-2003), and Bishop Robert Vasa of Santa Rosa, Calif.
The Metropolitan Archbishop, Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, was the initial presider of the Installation Mass.
A long procession of seminarians and clergy, filing past the diocese’s 4th Degree Knights of Columbus honor guard with swords held aloft, was followed by the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher, a secular confraternity dedicated to providing for Christian communities in the Holy Land.
At last, it was time to welcome the ninth Bishop of Lincoln.
Upon knocking on the cathedral’s exterior doors seven times with a wooden mallet, Bishop Conley was greeted by Cathedral rector, Msgr. Robert Tucker, and the diocese’s College of Consultors, a team of advisors who assist the bishop.
Bishop Conley reverenced a crucifix and then blessed the consultors and other priests in the narthex, shaking hands all around before beginning the second part of the procession to the altar.
With the diocesan choir exuberantly leading the hymn, "Lift High the Cross," the bishop was led to the altar by the College of Consultors. Bishop William Dendinger of Grand Island, Archbishop Viganò, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, Bishop Emeritus of Lincoln, and Archbishop Lucas followed.
Bishop Bruskewitz had the honor of welcoming all to the Mass and introducing the apostolic nuncio, who read the papal bull from the Vatican announcing Bishop Conley’s appointment as the ninth bishop of Lincoln.
After the letter was officially shown to the College of Consultors and all of those gathered, and notarized by Father Daniel Rayer, chancellor of the diocese, it was time to seat Bishop Conley. He received the crosier and was led to the cathedra, or bishop’s chair, by Archbishops Viganò and Lucas.
Those in attendance welcomed the ninth bishop of Lincoln with a standing ovation.
Superiors from different religious orders residing in Lincoln then stepped forward to greet the bishop in person, followed by laypersons representing various Catholic organizations and institutions in the diocese.
Among them were students from the Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, each of the Catholic high schools in the diocese, and Villa Marie Home and School for Exceptional Children.
Bishop Conley shook hands with each person, exchanging pleasantries.
Mass proceeded with great joy, as all rose to sing the Gloria.
During his homily, Bishop Conley recounted his first two weeks in Lincoln. He was met with good-natured laughter as he referred to Husker football, Runza sandwiches, and kolaches, the Czech-inspired pastry popular throughout the diocese.
"…[W]ith those things behind me," he said, "I think it is fair to say that I am now a Nebraskan."
The bishop spoke warmly about his experiences in rural France and Kansas, which he paralleled with the Diocese of Lincoln.
"Those are the places where I learned to pray. Those are the places where I learned to hear the voice of the Lord. The rhythms of the rural life are at the heart of my own spiritual life. So I’m grateful to the Lord who has brought me here to Lincoln," he said.
As he continued with his homily, he focused on Christ.
"Our hearts must become like His," Bishop Conley said.
He then issued a series of calls to holiness, beginning with his brother bishops.
"…[I]f we are truly to build a culture of life, holiness must begin with us," he said.
Turning to his brother priests, the bishop assured them of his commitment to them as a spiritual father and asked that they continue to strive for holiness. "You were made for greatness," he said. "The Church needs holy priests now more than ever."
After similarly encouraging words to seminarians and consecrated women, Bishop Conley addressed the lay faithful. "In your daily lives, God has given you the opportunity to become holy… Your holiness can transform the world," he said.
Mass continued with the prayers of the people and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
During the presentation of the gifts, the bishop’s mother, Betty Conley of Overland Park, Kan., brought forth the bread, bending down to receive a brief embrace. Sister Kathryn Maney, M.S., Sister M. Donna Krzmarzick, I.S.S.M., and Sister Collette Bruskewitz, O.S.F. also brought gifts forward.
The Communion meditation hymn, "Lead Kindly Light," paid homage to one of Bishop Conley’s spiritual heroes, John Henry Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman penned the verses, including the meaningful lines, "Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith/Home to my God…" From the cathedra, the bishop sang along.
Mass ended with the Schola from Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton singing the 8th century Latin hymn, Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! ("Christ Conquers, Christ Rules, Christ Reigns").
As Bishop Conley left, blessing all in attendance, applause resounded throughout the Cathedral.
Following Mass, the bishops, abbots and priests gathered on the Cathedral’s front steps for a photo. It was an impressive gathering of holy men, all offering their prayers and support.
Bishop Conley stepped forward after the photo and began to sing, Salve Regina. Within seconds, the other bishops, priests and seminarians joined him, their voices reverberating off the façade of the 1965 structure in one final prayer for the Blessed Mother’s intercession as Bishop Conley began his service to the Diocese of Lincoln.
"…O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria!"
Video of the installation Mass is available to view online at http://www.catholictv.com/Bishop-James-Conley.aspx.