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Co-consecrators of new Wilmington bishop are joyful about his leadership

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Their work for the day behind them, the three bishops who consecrated Bishop William E. Koenig July 13 as the new head of the Diocese of Wilmington headed outside of St. Elizabeth Church to greet old friends in the afternoon sun.

Bishop John O. Barres of Rockville Centre, N.Y., was an especially popular figure as a line of people he knew from his days as a priest in Wilmington waited for a few minutes of his time.

Bishop Barres served in a number of roles in this diocese from his ordination in 1989 until he was elevated to the episcopacy in 2009 for the Diocese of Allentown, Penn.

Bishop Barres relished his return to the church where he served as an associate pastor from 1992 to 1996. He was honored to be a co-consecrator of a priest he knew well on Long Island, where Bishop Koenig was rector of St. Agnes Cathedral and, for the last year, vicar for clergy.

"It was so very powerful just so many memories of this incredible diocese, the incredible laypeople, the incredible religious and the incredible priests," Bishop Barres told The Dialog, Wilmington's diocesan newspaper.

"Just the joy about this great bishop, now Bishop William Koenig. I saw him very close, and we worked very closely together," he said. "He really inspired me, his incredible wisdom, the respect he has for every generation of priests. I learned a lot from Bishop Koenig. I'm just so happy he's here."

The principal celebrant, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, said he has ordained auxiliary bishops, and he has installed bishops in other dioceses, but he has never done both an ordination and installation before this. He said he was honored and joyful and has a great deal of confidence in the future of the Catholic Church.

"What a fine bishop Pope Francis and the Holy Spirit have given to the church," he said. "It was a wonderful honor and a joy."

The end of the state of emergency in Delaware at midnight July 13 meant there were no COVID-19 restrictions on attendance, nor were there any distancing requirements. Archbishop Lori was thrilled to see a full church.

"I think everyone is feeling a liberation and a happiness. An event like today simply confirms it that we are able to move ahead," he said.

Holding the ordination and installation with a fraction of the 900-plus inside St. Elizabeth Church would not have been the same, he said. He added that while he was grateful for the ability to make the Mass available online, it's not the same as having people in church.

"Livestreaming is important and very good, but there's nothing like being there in person," he said.

Now-retired Bishop W. Francis Malooly of Wilmington worked in church administration for 48 years, beginning as vicar of priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore when he was just 39 years old. As he concelebrated the ordination and installation Mass for his successor, thoughts of his decades of service entered his mind.

"I'm just sitting there thinking of all the church involvement over the years, and I'm really pleased. He's going to be outstanding," Bishop Malooly said of Bishop Koenig.

During the Mass, the new bishop said he had Bishop Malooly's phone number and wasn't afraid to use it if he has questions.

Bishop Malooly said he'll be available, but he reiterated his plans to stay in the background while Bishop Koenig gets to know the parishes and ministries of the Diocese of Wilmington.

Bishop Barres, who will mark the 12th anniversary of his episcopal ordination July 30, said a Mass such as the one at St. Elizabeth is noteworthy for "just the beauty of the Catholic episcopacy, the beauty of the priesthood, the beauty of our deacons. Also the entire people of God."

He was happy to see all of the parishes represented and thought about the evangelization that goes on in the Diocese of Wilmington under the leadership of the pastors and through the work of a lot of dedicated laypeople.

"It all kind of comes together at this historic moment, to give great thanks and gratitude to Bishop Malooly, but then crosses the bridge into this moment of church history and creative and innovative Catholic evangelization," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021