Harrisburg Diocese's new bishop draws inspiration from Saint Joseph, Pope Francis
HARRISBURG - The applause sounded like a soft downpour of rain while it echoed off the stained glass windows and high arches of Saint Patrick's Cathedral Wednesday afternoon.
As the newly-installed 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer accepted the long standing ovation from the packed church with a humble smile and quiet nods.
Minutes later, when the Pottsville native started his homily, Gainer, 66, said, "It feels very good -" but was cut off by chuckles and another long round of applause.
When the congregation quieted again, his full statement of "It feels very good to drop the title bishop-designate" was met with laughter.
The new bishop, who was named bishop-designate Jan. 24 following the May 2 death of Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, shared a mixture of humor and spirituality in his first message in his new role.
"While the song in my heart now will once again be the "Pennsylvania Polka," there will always be an echo of "My Old Kentucky Home" deep within me," said Gainer, who served most recently as the Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, Ky.
Immediately, he said, "To my brothers and sisters of the Harrisburg Diocese, we begin this new chapter in the life of our local church together in faith, in hope and in the love of God and Christ-like love for each other and for all others. Let us resolve to be firm and to grow in those virtues as we journey forward together."
Gainer focused on the inspiration of St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus.
"His inner awareness of God's prompting, his readiness to do God's will, his humble obedience to that will and his courage in the face of unexpected circumstances - all are qualities of mind and soul that you and I need to cultivate by God's grace at this moment and as our lives and ministries together unfold," he said.
St. Joseph, who is known as the "Just Man," provides a challenging example to all who strive to be faithful members of the Body of Christ, Gainer said.
Even at the hour of St. Joseph's greatest trial - when he thought Mary had committed adultery against him - he chose to quietly separate from her, until he was visited by angels who told him in a dream of Mary's position with God and His son, Gainer said.
St. Joseph also heeded the angelic warnings three more times, he added.
"Only a man inwardly watchful, spiritually awake, would be able to discern that these encounters in dreams were genuinely revelations of God's will," Gainer said. "Only someone who has a graced sensitivity for God and for the ways of God and receive God's message in that way."
Gainer also spoke of Pope Francis' message of love for all those entrusted to the bishops, the priests and the deacons - the poor, the defenseless, those in need of being welcomed and assisted, the whole flock of believers.
"I pledge today and always my life and my energy to fulfill this task in service to our local church," he said.
Through the intercession of St. Joseph, Gainer urged his listeners to "fascinate the world" with the love of Jesus Christ.
Following the two-hour ceremony, three local pastors - the Rev. Martin Moran, pastor of Divine Redeemer Parish in Mount Carmel; the Rev. Martin Kobos, pastor of Mother Cabrini Catholic Church in Shamokin, and the Rev. Stephen Frenier, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Coal Township and St. Patrick Church in Trevorton - expressed their joy of having a new bishop.
"We have completed the mourning of our Bishop McFadden, and now it's our Easter a little earlier with Bishop Gainer," Kobos said.
In the rhythm of beginnings and ends, Kobos said McFadden was called home a little too early in human terms, but the bigger purpose is having a new shepherd for the diocese.
"Even the angels are crying with joy," he said, referencing the light rain.
Kobos said Pope Francis and Gainer are both good shepherds among the people and are "perhaps cut from the same cloth."
Gainer has a "spirit like Francis," Frenier said.
Describing him as sincere and gentle, Frenier said he gets the impression Gainer is a man of service, caring, compassion and love.
"I was very impressed," he said.
Gainer has love for the whole area, Moran said.
As former executive director for the Catholic Campus Ministry Association in Cincinnati, Ohio, Moran worked closely with Gainer for five years. Gainer was the episcopal moderator who represented the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), an outreach for catholic college students from the campus ministry.
Moran and Gainer also served together on the USCCB Committee for Catholic Education, of which McFadden chaired.
Moran shook Gainer's hand and spoke with him briefly Wednesday morning.
Gwen Summers, a member of St. Francis Catholic Church on Market Street, Harrisburg, shook the hand of the new bishop moments before he exited the church.
"I'm glad we have a new bishop. I hear he's a wonderful man," she said.
About the bishop, diocese
Gainer was born Aug. 24, 1947, and attended Mary, Queen of Peace Grade School, Pottsville. He graduated from Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in June 1969 and a Masters of Divinity (summa cum laude) in June 1973, and attended the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, from 1984 to 1986, receiving the Licentiate Degree in Canon Law and a Diploma in Latin Letters in June 1986.
Gainer was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Allentown May 19, 1973, named a Prelate of Honor (Monsignor) by Pope John Paul II Aug. 20, 1991, named second bishop of Lexington by Pope John Paul II Dec. 2, 2002, and was ordained to the episcopacy by Archbishop of Louisville Thomas C. Kelly, and solemnly installed as Bishop of Lexington Feb. 22, 2003, with Bishops Edward Cullen and Joseph Kurtz serving as co-consecrators. Archbishop Kurtz is a native of Mahanoy City. Bishop Cullen is the former bishop of Allentown.
During his 30 years as a priest of the Allentown Diocese, he was an assistant pastor at the former St. Bernard's Church in Easton and St. Catharine of Siena Church in Reading and a campus minister at Lafayette College in Easton and at Kutztown University and Albright College in Reading. He was the Judicial Vicar of the diocese, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Whitehall, and the first Secretary of Catholic Life and Evangelization in the diocese.
For much of his priesthood, Gainer served in parish, campus ministry, marriages and family, and tribunal positions. As Secretary of Catholic Life and Evangelization for the Diocese of Allentown he supervised 14 diocesan offices and the promotion of the works of spiritual renewal and evangelization.
The Diocese of Harrisburg consists of 15 counties (Adams, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Snyder, Union and York) in central Pennsylvania with a Catholic population of almost 250,000 people. It was established in 1868, the same year the Diocese of Scranton was established.Father Martin Moran of Divine Redeemer Parish in Mount Carmel talks after the installation of Bishop Ronald W. Gainer at St. Patrick's
Father Martin Kobos of Mother Cabrini Church, Shamokin, waves as he exits St. Patrick's Cathedral in Harrisburg on Wednesday afternoon after the installation mass for Bishop