SPRINGFIELD – Incoming Bishop Mitchell Thomas Rozanski said that faith and communication would be the keys to a smooth transition for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.
Rozanski, currently an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Maryland, was announced by Pope Francis on June 19 and later introduced in Springfield as the successor for Bishop Timothy McDonnell and the diocese’s ninth bishop. Rozanski will be officially installed on Aug. 12 at St. Michael’s Cathedral.
“I look forward to working with you over these coming months and years and ask that God continue to unite us and bring us together as a church, and as Pope Francis speaks of so often in his talks, to be a people who truly live the joy of the Gospel and the love of God and to help others to do the same,” Rozanski said to the group of clergy and lay people in attendance.
The announcement at the Bishop John Marshall Center came after a nearly 18 month process. McDonnell submitted his letter of resignation on Dec. 23, 2012, his 75th birthday, in accordance with church law. According to the diocese, he plans to remain in Western Massachusetts in his retirement.
McDonnell was appointed as Bishop of Springfield on March 4, 2004, and installed April 1, 2004, after serving in the the Archdiocese of New York, New York.
Rozanski, who will be the diocese’s first bishop of Polish descent, was born in Baltimore on Aug. 6, 1958. He was ordained a priest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1984 and served as a priest, pastor and administrator in several parishes prior to his appointment as an auxiliary bishop by Saint Pope John Paul II in 2004, making him the youngest bishop in the country at that time.
McDonnell expressed great faith in Rozanski’s ability to lead the local Catholic community and pointed to a longstanding connection between the diocese and the Achdiocese of Maryland.
“Unfortunately, [Rozanski] is from south of the Mason Dixon Line,” McDonnell joked. “However, you should know at one time all of Massachusetts was part of the Diocese of Baltimore because when the country was first founded, Baltimore was the only Catholic diocese from the Canadian border to the Florida panhandle. It took them a long time to visit, but today they’ve more than made up for it.”
Rozanski said when he was asked by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States, if he would accept the assignment to Springfield, he did not hesitiate, putting his faith in God.
“Any assignment the church has given me as parish priest [or] as an auxiliary bishop, I have accepted because in faith we believe it is the will of God and God will always be with us in whatever task we are given,” he said. “So it is with gratitude to God for this wonderful vocation of priesthood that I come as the bishop of Springfield.”
Rozanski credited McDonnell with showing him tremendous hospitality upon his arrival in Springfield. He said he was able to take a guided tour of the City of Homes and the surrounding area with McDonnell, during which he found the outgoing bishop’s love of and dedication to the area “infectious.”
“I hope to take that along with me as I become the bishop of Springfield,” Rozanski said.
Rozinski told Reminder Publications he was aware of some of the economic challenges faced by people in the diocese’s geographical footprint as the region slowly recovers from recession. He said in addition to providing spiritual support to those who are struggling, he planned on being proactive in how the church addresses those needs.
“I see the church as a catalyst, not sitting back, but trying to take an active role and working with our political leaders to see how we can improve the situation,” he said. “I grew up in East Baltimore and we have also been hard hit by the economy and I know that jobs have really almost melted away in many places and I think we need to work together as the leaders of the community in order to bring jobs back to the community.”
Rozinski stressed collaboration between public officials and church leadership is essential to combat social issues such as crime and to bring forward positive initiatives.
“I think we’re called to be leaders in preaching the Gospel and that means forging partnerships for the good of the people with the leaders of the community and I think the church will be very, very active in doing that,” he said.
When asked during a question and answer period about education, Rozinski spoke highly of the need for quality Catholic education, but acknowledged a need to find creative solutions in order to keep the cost of that learning within people’s means.
He also told Reminder Publications that he had cursory knowledge of the situation surrounding Cathedral High School’s attempts to recover from the June 1, 2011, tornado that heavily damaged the school, and would spend the coming months becoming more educated on the subject.
On March 3, the diocese announced
the school would be rebuilt, along with St. Michael’s Academy’s middle school and preschool facilities, on its current Surrey Road site. Since the tornado, students have attended classes in a temporary home in the old Memorial School in Wilbraham