Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bench Gift #1: A New Dodge

And so, folks, Rome's traditional Year-End gifting to the Stateside bench is underway.

At Roman Noon today, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Ronald Gilmore of Dodge City, naming Fr John Brungardt, heretofore chancellor of the diocese of Wichita, as his successor.

A full-time parish priest alongside his duties in the larger Curia to the east of Dodge, the 52 year-old bishop-elect joins a rising episcopal duo with Wichita roots: the Denver auxiliary James Conley -- a convert, cult figure, and veteran of the Congregation for Bishops -- and the current bishop of Northwestern Kansas, Salina's Paul Coakley, a onetime spiritual director at Mount St Mary's in Emmitsburg... and, indeed, the long-tipped frontrunner to succeed the retiring Archbishop Eusebius Beltran in Oklahoma City (at 16 months past the latter's 75th birthday, now the longest-pending nod on the US docket).

Ordained in 1998, Brungardt (right) was a physics teacher in two Wichita high schools for over a decade before entering the seminary; he has a doctorate in science education. Assigned as a religion teacher after his ordination, he went on to pastor four parishes, and has served as Chancellor since 2005, with special responsibility for Hispanics, who've come to comprise a sizable chunk of the Dodge City church over recent years.

At least in part, Gilmore's early departure is likely a result of the 68 year-old prelate's struggle with alcoholism, which he disclosed in August 2009 before taking a three-month leave for what, on his return, he termed "a fixing time." While reports at the time indicated that the bishop submitted his resignation from the helm of the 60,000-member Kansas church in tandem with his treatment, the Holy See apparently judged it unnecessary to trigger an immediate vacancy and let the customary succession process for a retiring diocesan play out.

On a historic note, one thing that's eluded the Dodge City bishops is longevity. Since its 1951 spinoff from Wichita, the diocese encompassing the Southwestern quarter of Jayhawk Country has seen three of its five ordinaries take early retirement while still in their 60s, and the other two transferred elsewhere.

In keeping with the norms of the canons, the bishop-elect must be ordained and installed within four months of this morning's appointment. And whenever they come, the rites will be the first handover to take place in Dodge City's Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe (above), which was dedicated in 2000 and will host this morning's presser.

SVILUPPO: In his statement, Gilmore cited the "burden" of the episcopacy as the rationale behind his resignation:
Sometimes being a bishop feels like a blessing. Sometimes being a bishop feels like a cursing. For me, being a Bishop has always felt like a burden. It has been the sarcina episcopatus that St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, frequently felt in his 5th century North Africa. He would rather have studied, but he had to preach and to teach. He would rather have prayed, but he had to sanctify through the sacraments. He would rather have worked with his hands, but he had to work with his people. Sarcina, he called it, a bundle to carry, a burden to bear.

It has been my privilege to have borne that sacred burden with exceedingly fine priests and exceedingly good people in these nearly 13 years I have been with you. I was doing something similar for nearly 17 years in the Diocese of Wichita before I came here. While I shall be forever grateful for both those experiences, they have taken their toll.

It became increasingly clear to me over the last two years that the Diocese needed fresh eyes, fresh hands, and a fresh heart. I have done all I know how to do, all my strength permitted me to do, all my weakness allowed me to do. The good priests and good people of this Diocese deserve better from their Bishop than what I was giving them.
PHOTO: Timothy Tray(1); Southwest Kansas Register(2)