A shepherd for 25 years

First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
First slide
Previous Next

The silver jubilee for a Catholic priest is a celebrated milestone. It usually marks the halfway point of the priest's ordained ministry and provides an opportunity for him to reflect on the many blessings he has received along the way.
It's even more amazing for a bishop to reach the 25th anniversary of his episcopal ordination.
Bishop Paul S. Loverde has spent more than half of his priestly ministry as a bishop. Ordained a priest for the Diocese of Norwich, Conn., Dec. 18, 1965, he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., April 12, 1988. He was installed as the 11th bishop of Ogdensburg, N.Y., Jan. 17, 1994, and installed as Arlington's third bishop March 25, 1999.
In a recent wide-ranging interview, Bishop Loverde reflected on the hand of divine providence that led him to St. Peter's Square for Pope Benedict's final general audience, his first impressions of the new Holy Father and what he hopes to accomplish in Arlington before he submits his letter of resignation to the pope at the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Divine providence
Bishop Loverde led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Rome in February. The group arrived in Rome Feb. 26, the night before Pope Benedict's final general audience.
"For me it was a sheer blessing to be there and be part of this historic moment, not only in the life of our now emeritus Holy Father, but in the life of the church," Bishop Loverde said. "I've been privileged to be at a number of general audiences but this had such a deep meaning to it. It was his final one as a pope."
Bishop Loverde said the pope's message was filled with confidence, hope and love for the church.
The pope exuded a sense of serenity that he made the right decision to resign his papacy, said the bishop.
"For him, the church needed a leader that could manage the complexity of the world he was facing and his health would not allow him to do that," he said. "It was just a wonderful message and a wonderful moment to be there."
The bishop said it was a moving experience for him as well as for the more than 100 bishops and cardinals in attendance.
"I wasn't sobbing, but I had tears in my eyes as I watched him from afar," he said.
"I did feel like divine providence was at work," he said. "The Knights of the Holy Sepulchre were the sponsors of this pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with Rome at the end."
The pilgrimage dates were set last fall and the group had tickets for the general audience in St. Peter's Square.
"Before the pope arrived, they announced the various groups that were there, and they announced our group publicly," Bishop Loverde said. "I just felt it was divine providence that we should be there at such a historic and momentous time in church history."

Pope Francis
Although he has not met Pope Francis, Bishop Loverde said he was touched by the pope's immediate prayer for our past Holy Father, "followed by the moving moment in which he asked us to pray for him.
"It's indicative of how real he is and how aware he is of the need we all have for the Lord's presence in our lives, particularly for one now who has assumed such responsibility," the bishop said. "He knows that he will do it with the Lord's transforming help and he asked us to be part of that. It was very beautiful."
Bishop Loverde said he also was touched by the name he chose - Francis.
"What came to mind was the inner voice that St. Francis of Assisi heard when he went to the church of San Damiano and heard the Lord say to him, 'Francis, build up my church, repair my church.' He first thought it meant the actual church, but later realized it wasn't that building, but the living church, the body of Christ.
"I see that in his choice of his name Pope Francis wants to spend his Petrine ministry building up the body of Christ, to make it stronger.
"He's very involved with the poor, very much concerned with their welfare," the bishop said. "Also, he's very staunch about moral living and where the church is on the dignity of the human person and marriage."
Bishop Loverde said the Jesuit charism is to assist the Holy Father in renewing the church. "That's what St. Ignatius wanted. That's part of the richness he brings, to bring that motivation as a loyal son of St. Ignatius, to renew the church and make it stronger. I think that's a beautiful gift he brings."
Pope Francis also has an awareness of the plight of immigrants and poor people, the bishop said. "His father was an immigrant. He grew up in a working-class family. Those are gifts he already brings, but he'll bring them to another stage, another level."
The pope is deeply caring, "yet we'll find him very firm and very direct, which is a wonderful combination," the bishop said. "I think it's always wonderful to combine kindness and firmness. When one can blend those two qualities together, it's a great gift. I look forward to his presence and his leadership as our pope."

A premature birth
Bishop Loverde has given public witness to the fact that he was born two months premature in 1940 and weighed only three pounds. It is an event that has shaped his priestly and episcopal ministry over the years.
As he grew older he began to realize what a gift God had given him, when, from a medical standpoint, he probably should not have survived.
"In 1940, most little ones did not survive," the bishop said. "But I survived and so did my mother, who during the first week had gone temporarily blind and that was due to the toxicity in her system.
"I think, God had a plan because I should not have lived, but I did," the bishop said with a smile, "and I'm no longer three pounds."
"I do see life as a gift from God to me," he said. "It has sharpened my awareness of how precious life is and how much we need to protect it, appreciate it and defend it."
The bishop shared the story of a young man he knows who is gifted in terms of what he is able to do for the church, despite the fact that he is severely handicapped.
"He is extremely intelligent, but his disability lies in speaking and hearing," the bishop said. "His parents had been told to have an abortion because they knew he would have this disability. But look at his great service. We would be lost. We would be deprived of his great gift."
Bishop Loverde said the older he gets, the more he realizes how precious life is and how it is our responsibility to protect and defend it.
The bishop said that since the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, life has become cheapened in many people's eyes.
"I'm convinced that many of the tragedies that we see now that involve terrible violence and killing , result ultimately from a profound disrespect for life at its beginning through abortion, " he said.

The different dioceses
Bishop Loverde has divided his 25 years of episcopal service between Hartford, Ogdensburg and Arlington. Each is unique in its own way, while sharing some common attributes as well.
"I'll make a comparison first between my home diocese, which is Norwich, and Ogdensburg," he said. "The similarity lies in the fact that both of those dioceses are heavily rural. Parishes are rather small, and the economy is demanding. There are not many affluent communities, most of them are made of up blue-collar workers.
"In all three dioceses, the spiritual needs of people are basically the same, a hunger, even when it's not understood that way, for what only God can do within, and that is to satisfy our hearts," he said. "You see it in each of those dioceses even though the demographics were very different."
The Archdiocese of Hartford had four or five major cities, including the state capital. "There are urban communities, suburban communities and some rural."
Ogdensburg was mostly rural with few large cities.
"Arlington is a combination," the bishop said. "We have lots of suburban areas and we have some rural areas, for example the Shenandoah Valley and the Northern Neck.
"In Hartford, you had defined communities of very poor people," he said. "In Arlington, we have more of the hidden poor rather than the visible poor. But they are here and need our assistance as well."
Bishop Loverde said he likes to compare Arlington and Ogdensburg from one particular viewpoint. When he was appointed Arlington's bishop in January 1999, he started reviewing diocesan statistics. One thing caught his eye.
"As I was going through it I saw that the largest parish in 1999 was All Saints in Manassas," he said. "It still is the largest parish, but in 1999 it had 20,000 registered parishioners. I remember commenting to Brother David (the bishop's former secretary), 'Brother, I am going to a diocese where one parish has 20,000 registered Catholics. We live in the city of Ogdensburg where the entire city population is 11,000. So I am going to a diocese where one parish is almost twice the population of the see city. I need to get my hands around that. It's quite a thing.'"
When he arrived in Arlington he had to face some realities that did not exist in Ogdensburg, namely Northern Virginia's rapid growth.
"The growth meant new parishes and new schools, which early on resulted in a feasibility study, which led to a capital campaign," he said. "Those were factors that were not present in Ogdensburg. In fact, Ogdensburg at that time, and regrettably more now, has decreased. They face the more painful reality of decreasing parishes, decreasing schools. In fact, while I was there I closed two parishes."

The duties of a bishop
"My priestly duties (as a bishop) in terms of baptisms and weddings are infrequent," Bishop Loverde said. "I've been privileged to baptize several young people here in the diocese. Sometimes they have been the children of people employed at the Chancery. Several have been friends of mine who live here."
When the bishop first arrived in the diocese in 1999 he said he already had several friends living here because he assisted at Holy Family Church in Dale City and Sacred Heart Mission in Hoadly on the weekends while he was studying at Catholic University in Washington from 1979 to 1981.
"There's another act of divine providence," he said. "I couldn't imagine in a million years that I would ever come back here in any capacity, let alone as a bishop."
For obvious reasons, the priest has a much more "grassroots connection" to the parish than a bishop, he said.
"As a priest in a parish you get to know families and you become more a part of the life of different families," the bishop said. "If you're blessed, if you're there long enough, you actually see the progression. You see families whose children are baptized and grow and you might be present at a confirmation or wedding.
"When you become a bishop that has to change necessarily," he said. "You're now head of a larger number of people. And yet in compensation, God blesses me in the sense that I love confirmations. Each confirmation for me is like the first time I ever did it. I'm talking almost 25 years of confirmations, with at least 35 per year. Beyond that, there is the great privilege of ordaining priests. While I miss baptisms and weddings, God has, in a sense, blessed me with some other beautiful ministerial experiences."

The Year of Faith
"Faith has always been such a central reality in our growth as disciples," Bishop Loverde said. "I've often preached about it and asked people to grow in their faith. The last couple of years, more and more I've been reflecting with people that faith is beginning and continuing a deep personal relationship with the Lord Jesus within the community of His disciples, the church."
The bishop said the Second Vatican Council mentioned that faith is the response of the total person to God revealing Himself in Jesus Christ, His Son.
"While faith is a personal response, it's not isolated," he said. "It's always within the community of the church."
He said there tends to be an attitude in today's society that says, 'I claim Christ, I believe in Christ, but I don't need the church.' That is contrary to the mind of Christ. Christ came to form the church, His mystical body. One cannot separate Christ from the church."
"We don't fall in love with rules and commandments," he said. "We fall in love with a person. But once I'm in love with the person, wouldn't I do everything to preserve that relationship? Isn't that what husbands and wives do? Isn't that what friends do? You preserve the relationship and you avoid what would weaken it."
He said that's exactly where rules and precepts come in. "It's not some capricious God who wants to see if we'll jump through some hoops. It's God who says, 'I love you. I want a relationship with you. Here's how you keep it. Of course, there is another dimension of faith, the ascent of the mind to the truths revealed by God. But that ascent is more readily given if there is a personal relationship with the same God."
Bishop Loverde said that newly ordained priests usually have a prayer card distributed at their ordination. The card that he had printed and gave out at the time of his ordination 47 years ago quoted Isaiah 63: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor."
"From the time I became a priest, the reality of evangelizing and proclaiming the good news was already there in my heart and mind and it has grown," he said.
"When I became the bishop of Ogdensburg, in my first address at my installation as bishop, I spoke about evangelization. I then repeated that when I came here (to Arlington)."

Close to retirement
Bishop Loverde turns 73 Sept. 3. Canon law requires him to submit his letter of resignation to the pope at age 75.
"Certainly to the degree that it is possible, I would like to have our people grow with me in our faith, that we will be more alive and fervent, more in love with the Lord Jesus," he said when asked what he would like to accomplish before retirement.
"I would like us be clearer witnesses to the Lord in our communities, in our interactions with society, which means to proclaim with even greater insistence the beauty of life, the reality of true marriage between a husband and wife, and the defense of religious liberty."
There are other more tangible goals as well.
"I'd like to see us continue to develop our resources so that we have a very well-funded church in terms of its temporal goods," the bishop said. "I'd like to see our tuition assistance endowment become even stronger. That means we need to have additional funds in it."
He would like to see the diocese continue to increase the number of vocations, both to the priesthood and religious life.
"I would like to see at least one or two more parishes established in places where we are experiencing growth," he said. "I also would want to be sure that our retired priests are well provided for. We do have a retirement home for them, and it's a great place to live. We are also working to more adequately finance the Priests' Pension Fund."
"It would be great if we could build a retirement home for our senior citizens in the future," he said. "This would certainly take some years to develop."

"I would like to see a new Catholic high school in the Loudoun County area. That still requires more funding and planning, but nonetheless, it's not forgotten."
"It's not so much a moment, but it's something that I come back to," he said, when asked if there is one moment during his past 25 years that stands out above all the others. "So often I return to the mystery of God's call for me, first as a priest. I can think of so many other men with me in seminary that in my judgment seemed far more gifted. They left to do others things because they discerned that that was God's will.
"I am to this day even more astounded by God's choice that I should become a bishop," he said. "While I admit that I have some gifts, I have seen so many more gifted priests. I've given up trying to figure out why God chose me, because that's a useless question. After all, I cannot enter God's mind. I remain with the wonder and mystery of His call. It always leads me to pray more fervently, and to ask people to pray for me more fervently, that I would respond faithfully to His choice. I am grateful to serve a diocese which, from its very beginning, has been imbued with a great sense of faith and loyalty to the church."
The bishop said he is humbled that the only son of working-class parents from a small town in Connecticut should end up a bishop and be called to serve the diocesan church in Arlington.
"So how is it that I ended up here?" the bishop said. "What a gift, and my response to such a gift can only be to say, 'Thank you, dear Lord, and help me to be more faithful.'"

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2013