It’s an exciting and blessed time for the archdiocese as we await the episcopal ordinations of our two newest auxiliary bishops, Bishop-elect John Bonnici and Bishop-elect Joseph Espaillat.
Cardinal Dolan will perform the rites at a Mass of Ordination March 1 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the two New Yorkers will be ready to begin their service as bishops.
The appointments by Pope Francis were announced Jan. 25 by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States.
The pope has chosen wisely.
Both newly appointed bishops are accomplished and popular priests who can swing into action, so to speak, without a steep learning curve.
That’s a major plus, as far as we’re concerned.
Another plus is that they’re relatively young. Bishop-elect Bonnici is 57 and Bishop-elect Espaillat is 45, and they can look forward to many years of productive ministry.
Indeed, Bishop-elect Espaillat will be the youngest bishop in the United States and one of the youngest in the world. And as the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, he’ll also be the first archdiocesan bishop of Dominican heritage—making him a proud representative of the largest Hispanic group in our region.
Native New Yorkers who grew up in Manhattan, the two new bishops were “lifers,” as each of them say, in preparing for the priesthood.
They accepted their calling at an early age and entered Cathedral Prep, the archdiocesan high-school level program for boys considering the priesthood. While attending college, they resided at the archdiocese’s St. John Neuman Residence for young men planning to become priests, and from there Bishop-elect Espaillat went on to St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, and ordination, while Bishop-elect Bonnici completed his studies for the priesthood at Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
It’s a path to priesthood that was once standard practice, but as with so much else in the Church and life in general it has given way to new approaches.
Still, the new bishops are not what you’d call “old school.”
Bishop-elect Espaillat, for instance, is a talented rapper who launched a podcast and YouTube series called “Sainthood in the City,” and is known to many of his online followers as “Father J.”
Both of the new bishops have served as pastors in parishes of the archdiocese. Bishop Bonnici is currently pastor of two busy Larchmont parishes, St. Augustine and St. John and St. Paul; Bishop Espaillat’s latest assignment is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua in the South Bronx, a base from which he also leads archdiocesan Hispanic Charismatic Renewal and serves as spiritual director of youth ministry for the archdiocese.
They have deep experience at other levels of the archdiocese as well, with Bishop-elect Bonnici having served as director of the archdiocese’s Family Life/Respect Life Office, and Bishop-elect Espaillat a former director of archdiocesan youth ministry.
New York is a large and very active archdiocese, and will benefit greatly from the extra hands in the various responsibilities bishops have in the life of the Church, of which performing confirmations is perhaps the best known but hardly the only duty.
The two newest bishops will join three other active auxiliary bishops, Bishop Edmund Whalen, Bishop Gerardo Colacicco and Bishop Peter Byrne, and retired Bishop Gerald Walsh and Bishop John O’Hara, who continue to serve in retirement.
Other emeritus auxiliary bishops are Bishop Josu Iriondo, Bishop Dominick Lagonegro and Bishop John Jenik.
New York, with its large Catholic population and sprawling 10-county territory, can certainly use two more bishops.
We’re thankful that Pope Francis agrees, and has gifted the people of the archdiocese with two outstanding appointees, and we’re grateful for the assistance they’ll provide to our own archbishop, Cardinal Dolan.
Ordination to the episcopate is sometimes called “the fullness of the priesthood,” a term with which many lay Catholics may not be familiar. It means, simply, the highest level of holy orders one can reach, and the order with authority to ordain other deacons, priests and bishops, enabling the Church to live through the ages.
We congratulate Bishop-elect Bonnici and Bishop-elect Espaillat, and pray for them as they embark on this important new stage of their vocations.