June 4, 2010
Statement of Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.,
on His Appointment as Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton
Bishop Smith, Father Carroll, members of the diocesan staff, members of the media and friends. No, I don’t think I’ll ever be made a monsignor. But the Holy Father has given me a great gift and grace in appointing me coadjutor bishop of this wonderful Diocese of Trenton. A coadjutor bishop has the right of succession but I heard the distinction made this way. An auxiliary bishop comes to work at the Chancery each morning and greets his bishop by saying, “Good morning, your Excellency. What great pastoral work would you have me do today?” A coadjutor bishop with the right of succession, however, comes to work at the Chancery each morning and greets his bishop by saying, “Good morning, your Excellency, how are you feeling today?”
Thank God, Bishop Smith is feeling great these days and I’ll have plenty of time to learn from him about this place that he has led so well for the past 13 plus years.
I am, indeed, grateful to our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI for choosing me to serve the people of God of the Diocese of Trenton as bishop. I have met him numerous times over the years, most recently in March of this year, and I feel a deep bond of respect, affection and loyalty to him.
I want to express appreciation to the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Sambi, the Holy Father’s personal representative to our country and someone I have had the privilege to know during the past five years. It is his responsibility to recommend candidates for the episcopacy in our country and this day would not have been possible without his support.
Bishop Smith has been nothing but joyful and encouraging to me since we first learned the news two weeks ago and I want to thank him for that and for all he has done for us in the Diocese of Trenton.
I say “us” because I am no stranger to the diocese. I grew up only a few miles from here in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, with beautiful, loving parents and family. I can’t count how many times I passed that bridge with the words written “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.” I went to high school in Princeton, which is part of the Trenton diocese. Bishop Ahr frequently attended ceremonies there. The Congregation of the Mission or Vincentians — my religious community — has served in this diocese since 1913 so Trenton has been a second home to me. I am grateful that my Vincentian provincial superior and dear friend, Father Michael Carroll, is here with me today. Special thanks to you and all my confreres.
I mentioned my family earlier. I could not begin to thank my parents enough for all they have given me. My father has gone home to God but I am sure he is watching over me with pride today. And my dear mother, soon to turn 84, has been a source of constant love and incredible support throughout my life — even though I never became a monsignor! I have three great brothers as well who fill out the family picture.
I have taken as my episcopal motto a phrase from St. Mark’s Gospel (10:45), “ministrare non ministrari,” words from Jesus’ own lips when he said “I have come to serve and not to be served, to give my life as ransom for the many.” My wonderful staff and colleagues at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., will tell you that these words are not simply a quotation for me. They are an obsession. When I was ordained a priest 28 years ago last Saturday, this Gospel passage was the text used at the ordination Mass. They struck me profoundly as a good theme for a priest’s life, especially a Vincentian priest.
Here we are, at the conclusion of our Church’s “Year for Priests.” All of us know that this year and the years before it have contained some dark and difficult moments for bishops and priests. All of us know that some of us have stumbled in the darkness at times. We can never forget nor apologize enough for the harm done to those who have suffered so much because of our failures and sins. But darkness always gives way to light, night always gives way to morning, clouds and fog always give way to the brightness of a new day. Jesus Christ must always be for us that bright light, that new day, that hope for tomorrow.
In his meeting with the bishops of Portugal in early May, our Holy Father stated that
“No priest is sufficiently equipped to carry out his mission alone and as it were single-handed. He can only do so by joining forces with other priests, under the leadership of those who govern the Church” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 7). This is not a matter of turning back to the past, nor of a simple return to our origins, but rather of a recovery of the fervor of the origins, of the joy of the initial Christian experience, and of walking beside Christ like the disciples of Emmaus on the day of Easter, allowing his word to warm our hearts and his “broken bread” to open our eyes to the contemplation of his face. Only in this way will the fire of charity blaze strongly enough to impel every Christian to become a source of light and life in the Church and among all men and women.
Those words are very much on my mind and in my heart as I accept this appointment as bishop. “To serve and not to be served.” “To become a source of light and life in the Church among all men and women.” This inspiration and aspiration is what I hope will characterize my ministry among you.
Please God, I will be ordained a bishop at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption in Trenton at 2 p.m. on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. I have asked Bishop Smith to be my consecrator and Archbishop Myers of Newark and Archbishop Wuerl of Washington to assist him.
On Tuesday evening this week, I had dinner with Archbishop Wuerl. He gave me a bishop’s pectoral cross to wear around my neck. It is a beautiful gift that bears upon it the image of “Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.” Today, I ask our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Grace, and St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of my religious congregation who is called, “Lux Cleri, light of the clergy,” to help me carry this image not merely around my neck but also upon my shoulders and in my heart, as I prepare to serve the priests, deacons, religious women and men and the faithful of this great Diocese of Trenton as its shepherd, after the heart of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and the light of the world. Thank you for being here today.