Bishop O’Connell On His Recovery, the Synod, and More

oconnellI had a chance to interview the Most Reverend David O’Connell, Bishop of Trenton, about his recovery from an emergency amputation, his Lent, the synod, and his diocese. An excerpt:

Has [your recovery] given this Lent any added meaning?

It’s something that has been part of my own movement into Lent. I’m conscious of this disability, and that it is requiring sacrifice on my part. The biggest sacrifice is the fact that I can’t get out and see my people. I’m here in the residence, and I do a lot of work from here, but this has been a real challenge. There’s something about confronting real challenges in life that does test your faith, and that’s what Lent is all about.

Lent is recognition of the challenges you have to face and the resolution that you make to overcome them to be better. In the course of my ministry and many years as a priest, I’ve can’t tell you how many people I’ve told, “Don’t lose faith, hope, don’t give up, don’t be afraid.”

Now this Lent and this experience has been my chance to listen to my own advice. God has been ever-present. I’ve had that sense very clearly in the crosses and also the successes each day. This is a Lent that I won’t soon forget.

We are drawn closer to the Lord because we become aware of our shared dependence. That’s something as human beings we don’t think about a whole lot. We are totally dependent on God and on others. When you don’t have a leg you can’t walk. You need people to get you out of bed, you need people to help you. I need people to teach me how to relearn how to take a step, stand up, sit down, walk up a stair. You don’t think about these things. I do feel that this experience has deepened my realization of dependency, and that maybe isn’t the worst thing.

Read the whole thing at the National Catholic Register.

Bishop O’Connell is my bishop, and I’m glad to see him healing so well.

When is a Catholic School NOT a Catholic School?

Answer: when it’s a “School in the Catholic tradition.” And when your bishop already told you he doesn’t want another school in his diocese.

Trinity Hall is supposedly opening its doors in September, but it doesn’t seem to have a campus yet, just a location somewhere in Monmouth County, New Jersey. The problem is, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Diocese of Trenton, already said he wasn’t interested in another private Catholic school in his diocese.

Today we received this release from the bishop:

I was approached early in my tenure as Diocesan Bishop to give permission to build an “all-girls Catholic High School” in Monmouth County. This was not the first time such a request was made of the Diocese although it was the first time I was asked.

After multiple conversations with those parties interested and very broad consultation among the principals, pastors and others concerned with Catholic education in the Diocese, I invited the interested parties to conduct a feasibility study which I then shared and discussed with those I had previously consulted. That the school be “Catholic” was not high on the list of priorities of those who responded in the survey and did not seem to be a compelling factor in its establishment. That such a school would harm enrollment in currently existing Catholic schools was a concern of mine.

The Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires the consent of the “competent ecclesiastical authority (that is, the Diocesan Bishop)” for a school to bear the title “Catholic school.” I did not give such consent or permission and so informed those interested in establishing the school. I was told by numerous individuals within the Diocese that those seeking to establish this new school were going to do so regardless of my consent or permission. And so they have.

The school’s founders are using the expression “in the Catholic tradition” to describe Trinity Hall. That is not the same thing as being a “Catholic school” and I simply want to make clear that this new institution is not affiliated with the Diocese of Trenton or our Office of Catholic Education.

I have been directly involved in works of Catholic education all my life as a priest. That individuals have the freedom to establish a school of whatever kind is not something that I question. People have that right and I bear them no ill will. That they call it “Catholic,” however, is subject to my consent according to Church Law and I have not given it. Catholics in the Diocese have the right to know that and I have the responsibility to tell them.

Bishop O’Connell is my bishop, and I like him a lot. He’s orthodox, smart, and no-nonsense. He’s also the former president of Catholic University, so his experience with education is extensive. Given what I know of Catholic education in this region (I’ve written about the subject for the National Catholic Register), I can understand why he didn’t want a high-end private school for girls with $16K+ a year in tuition. Its lack of oversight and approval from the bishop should be a concern for Catholic families considering it.

Requiem Æternam: Bishop John C. Reiss, Trenton

Here in the diocese of Trenton today, we are mourning the loss of retired bishop John Reiss,who passed away yesterday at the age of 89. Some excerpts from the diocesan obituary:

John Charles Reiss was born May 13, 1922, in Red Bank, one of 11 children of Alfred and Sophia Telljohann Reiss. Of his five brothers and five sisters, one sister also pursued a vocation to religious life as a Sister of Mercy.

The future bishop studied two years for the priesthood in The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., entering Immaculate Conception Seminary, Darlington, in 1941. His teacher in dogmatic theology at the university was Msgr. George W. Ahr who, several years later, became the seventh Bishop of Trenton.

Bishop Reiss was ordained a priest May 31, 1947, in old St. Mary’s Cathedral, Trenton, by Bishop William A. Griffin. The newly ordained Father Reiss’ first assignment was as curate (assistant pastor) in Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, where one of his duties was ministering to inmates in Trenton State Prison. In April 1949, he was transferred to Holy Spirit Parish, Perth Amboy, and, later, to St. Anthony Parish, Trenton.

Father Reiss returned to Catholic University in 1950 to earn a doctoral degree in canon law. Three years later, in 1953, he was appointed secretary to Bishop George W. Ahr and master of ceremonies, a position he held for the next 10 years.

On Oct. 25, 1967, Msgr. Reiss was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Trenton by Pope Paul VI. He was consecrated a bishop Dec. 12, 1967, in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral by Bishop Ahr.

On Feb. 5, 1969, Bishop Reiss was transferred from pastor of St. Francis Parish, Trenton, to pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield. At the same time he was named episcopal vicar for Middlesex County and vicar general of the diocese in charge of spiritual matters and continued as Officialis of the diocese. For the next 11 years, Bishop Reiss assisted Bishop Ahr in Episcopal ceremonies and by administering with Confirmation in ceremonies throughout the eight-county diocese.

In 1980, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop Reiss the eighth Bishop of Trenton, succeeding Bishop Ahr, who headed the diocese for 30 years. Bishop Reiss was installed as April 22, taking as his motto the words of his patron, St. John the Evangelist, found in the apostle’s first epistle, “Let Us Love One Another” (Jn 4:7).

Requiem Æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetuae luceat eis. Requiescant in pace.