Trenton welcomes new coadjutor

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TRENTON, N.J. - Upon learning in May that Pope Benedict XVI had selected him to become the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, it took then-Father David M. O'Connell only "about two seconds" to decide upon his episcopal motto.

And the words that the Vincentian priest chose - "ministrare non ministrari" ("to serve and not to be served") echoed loud and clear at the Mass in which he was ordained to the episcopacy by Trenton Bishop John M. Smith in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Trenton July 30.

Joining Bishop Smith as co-consecrators were Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark and Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington.

Bishop O'Connell talked about choosing his motto during his address to the overflow crowd that packed the cathedral and the many more who watched the Mass live on the Eternal Word Television Network and via webcast on the Diocese of Trenton's website.

Noting the "tremendous and awesome responsibility" that comes with the power of being a bishop, the 55-year-old prelate spoke of how he intends to use the authority given to him as a servant of the people of the diocese.

"A bishop serves his people by teaching truth, the truth that comes through the Gospel, the truth that comes through the church and all its teachings, the truth that lives among us a community of faith, for 'where two or three are gathered in my name,' Jesus promised us, 'there I am in the midst of them,'" Bishop O'Connell said.

"This is how a bishop serves," he continued. "Not by being served through compromise or taking the easy way out. Not by being served saying only what people want to hear or what makes them comfortable, striving to be popular."

A bishop also must serve by sanctifying his people through leading them into a personal relationship with Christ, Bishop O'Connell said.

"The bishop is called, it is said, to be a servant of the empty tomb, not of the status quo," Bishop O'Connell said. "He leads people to holiness by bearing witness to what the empty tomb means, and that is joy (and) hope."

By relying on the grace of God for guidance, he added, a bishop must lead by word and example in governing and shepherding their flock.

"To teach, to govern, to sanctify - this is what a bishop does for God's people," Bishop O'Connell said. "This is what a bishop does with God's people."

Raised in Langhorne, Pa., Bishop O'Connell attended high school in the Diocese of Trenton at the now-closed St. Joseph Preparatory High School in Princeton. He was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, in 1982.

After spending eight years at Vincentian-run St. John's University in Queens, N.Y., Bishop O'Connell spent the last 12 years as president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. He stepped down from the post in May and in was appointed coadjutor bishop of Trenton June 4.

He will automatically succeed Bishop Smith, who in June turned 75, the age at which bishops are required to turn in their resignation. Just when the pope will accept his resignation has not been determined.

The emotional two-and-a-half hour ordination liturgy for the coadjutor was concelebrated by four cardinals - including Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston and Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia - and more than 40 bishops and archbishops from around the country, many of whom became friends of Bishop O'Connell during his tenure at Catholic University.

The richly symbolic Mass also included a number of personal touches that reflected the life and ministry of Bishop O'Connell. He selected the two readings - one of which was proclaimed in Spanish by his brother Daniel and the other by longtime colleague Frank Persico, Bishop O'Connell's chief of staff at the university - and the same Gospel passage that was read at his ordination to the priesthood.

That passage contains the words of Jesus that Bishop O'Connell chose for his episcopal motto: "For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

In his homily Bishop Smith said that Bishop O'Connell is now called to model Christ's role as a servant and to continue the work of the apostles in tending to his flock.

"The title of bishop is one of service, not just honor," Bishop Smith said.

"As one chosen by the Father to rule over his family, be mindful always of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them, who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them."

Among those in attendance were the new bishop's mother, June, and several members of his extended family. Also filling the pews were Catholic University staff members, fellow Vincentian priests, and many of the friends that he has made in his 28 years of priestly ministry.

The Diocese of Trenton was represented by priests, deacons, religious and members of its 111 parishes.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2010