News was 'quite a shock'
The news came as quite a shock. I was sitting in my room one very peaceful morning, working on homily preparation, when my phone rang. It was the Apostolic Nuncio (the pope's representative to the United States). He informed me that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed me the Archbishop of San Francisco.
I didn't know what to say. Of course, I knew I could not say, "no." If obedience means anything it means accepting willingly whatever pastoral office one's legitimate superior wishes to assign to one. And, of course, I am deeply humbled that the Holy Father would place such great trust in me as to charge me with such an important duty.
My first thought, though, was of the untimeliness of this move and how difficult it will be to leave Oakland. After three years of making the rounds of our diocese, meeting with and getting to know our priests and lay faithful, religious and deacons throughout the diocese, of meeting with them to analyze, strategize and plan for the future, I really felt that I had finally landed in the East Bay and was in a position to pursue some long-term strategic goals.
I will most especially never forget my parish pastoral visits. They were exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Yes, a demanding schedule, but the tremendous outpouring of hospitality gave me the energy I needed. I saw how much our people love their parish and how alive they are in ministries and good works among their fellow parishioners and in the wider community.
This all makes it abundantly clear to me — and I wish to assure you of this — that Oakland is not a stepping-stone diocese, some sort of training camp for grooming future archbishops. Oakland is blessed with many wonderful resources, and most especially its people. On other occasions I have written about the great legacy of creativity and pastoral innovation that marks our diocese, most recently in the 50th-anniversary feature edition of The Catholic Voice.
The appointment of a bishop to this diocese always looks to the good of the diocese, without considering where he can be moved after a few years. Every time a bishop is named, though, there is a unique set of circumstances, often beyond the particular diocese, that have to be taken into consideration. Those in a position to make a recommendation such as this to the Holy Father see the broader picture of the needs of the Church. We might not see that full picture on our local level, but it is something I can understand well because it is very similar to the decisions a bishop makes with regard to the greater good of the diocese in assigning parish pastors.
This is not the first time I have undergone such an untimely move in pastoral assignments, but it is the most drastic. However, as I told the priests in my letter to them, every time this has happened, the Lord has later made it clear to me how it all fits into the working out of His will. Of course, the insight only comes with hindsight, and so we must trust that this is the case now.
Yes, the broader picture looks to the greater good of the Church. But there is a perspective even beyond this. In the grander scheme of things, God, whose ways are inscrutable, is working out His purposes through us, His limited human instruments.
We are people of faith. We have to trust that this is so, and that Oakland will be blessed because of it.
As the shock begins to dissipate, I find myself beginning to feel the excitement of taking on this new pastoral challenge, although with no less sadness in having to leave Oakland at this time. Happily, though, I will be close by, just across the Bay, and I will always have a special concern for the pastoral care of the Church in the East Bay.
Thank you for all you have taught me about what it takes to be a diocesan bishop. I pray that, through what I have learned from you, the Lord will bless the people of San Francisco in my new ministry among them. May He continue to do the same for you.