Bishop's Column

A beloved old friend returns to the Denver Archdiocese

As everyone knows by now, the Archdiocese of Denver was truly blessed last week with the appointment by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, of a new shepherd in the person of an old friend and former priest of Denver, Archbishop-designate Samuel Joseph Aquila.

On July 18, Archbishop Aquila will be installed as the fifth archbishop of Denver, a successor to Archbishop Charles Chaput, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, and the other great men who have served and led this diocese so faithfully over the years. But as I toured the archdiocese with him last week, I was struck by the number of people who remembered him as an old friend, who remembered him as “Father Sam.”

Since I came to Denver four years ago, people have shared with me many memories of their time with Archbishop Aquila.  Before his departure to Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput spoke of him fondly and often. And since I have known Archbishop Aquila as a friend, brother priest and bishop for more than 20 years, I understood why he is so beloved.  Last week, the reason why he is admired and remembered here in Denver became even clearer to me.

Last Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning he and I visited Guardian Angels School, Centro San Juan Diego, Samaritan House, Bishop Machebeuf High School and Mount Olivet Cemetery, where the archbishop prayed at the tombs of his predecessors.  There were some beautiful moments along that tour. One, in particular, stands out in my memory.

Our visit to Samaritan House came toward the end of a very long day.  The archbishop had been talking with reporters, priests and deacons, lay advisers and friends all day long.  At the moment I recall he was in the middle of a conversation about Samaritan House and its admirable plans for increasing its services to homeless families.  But as we talked with the administrators of Samaritan House, the archbishop was watching another group of people.  Eventually, he excused himself from our conversation and bounded over to a group of men sitting at a table.

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand to a group of homeless men, “I’m the new archbishop.”  The conversation we’d been having was important, but to Archbishop Aquila, it was just as important to speak with this group of homeless veterans spending time at Samaritan House—to learn about them, to know their names, their stories and their needs. Before he left them, he gave them a blessing.  When we got in the car, he told us how impressed he was with the good men he had met.

In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Bishops should dedicate themselves to their apostolic office as witness of Christ before all men. They should not only look after those who already follow the Prince of Pastors but should also wholeheartedly devote themselves to those who have strayed in any way from the path of truth or are ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and his saving mercy until finally all men walk ‘in all goodness and justice and truth.’”

Archbishop Aquila is a vibrant witness of Jesus Christ—before all.  He is a pastor, a teacher, an evangelist—and for many folks in Denver, an old friend.  Please join me in praying for his homecoming and for the success of his ministry in the Archdiocese of Denver. 

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