Cathedral filled as bishops, priests and laity celebrate joyous occasionDETROIT — Driving along Chicago Boulevard toward the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Wednesday morning, one could tell it was going to be a blessed day for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Seminarians from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, just a mile away from the cathedral, were en route; some were joking and laughing as they walked, others praying a rosary. Approaching the cathedral’s steps, about 30 members of the Neocatechumenical Way were singing and dancing to herald the joyous occasion.
Inside the cathedral, the ordination Mass for Bishop Gerard W. Battersby and Bishop Robert J. Fisher was about to begin.
An invite-only congregation of friends, family and well-wishers packed the cathedral to the brims as a line of priests as far as the eye could see stretched out the doors of the vestibule and wrapped around the cathedral.
As the choir began singing the exultant hymn “O, God Beyond All Praising,” the procession began — more than 170 priests and 20 bishops in all, and at the end of it, the men who would become the newest auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Archbishop Vigneron was joined by co-consecrators Bishop John M. Quinn of the Diocese of Winona, Minn., a former Detroit auxiliary bishop who served as a member of the faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary during Bishops Battersby and Fisher’s time there; and by Archbishop Paul F. Russell, apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan and a longtime friend of Bishop Fisher.
Seated in choir were Cardinal Adam J. Maida — who was celebrating the 33rd anniversary of his own episcopal ordination that day — and Metropolitan Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Church in southeast Michigan.
As the ordination portion of the liturgy began, the bishops-elect were presented to Archbishop Vigneron by their attending priests — Fr. Scott Thibodeau for Bishop Battersby and Fr. Jim Bilot for Bishop Fisher — and recommended for ordination.
In keeping with tradition, Archbishop Vigneron asked, “Have you a mandate from the Apostolic See?”
After responding in the affirmative, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, then read the mandates from Pope Francis authorizing the consecrations of Bishops Battersby and Fisher.
Laughter rang from the pews after Archbishop Pierre mispronounced the name of Archbishop Vigneron, then caught himself, noting, “I shouldn’t forget; it’s a French name.”
Archbishop Vigneron began his homily by jokingly thanking Bishops Battersby and Fisher “that they finally did answer the nuncio’s telephone call” — a reference to both of the men’s reluctance at first to answer their phones when they didn’t recognize the number — and congratulated the new bishops and their families.
Archbishop Vigneron noted the many “signs” of an apostolic man in Scripture: driving out demons, speaking new languages, picking up serpents and drinking deadly things without harm.
“Perhaps you won’t do that literally,” the archbishop quipped, especially about the last one, “but it means being able to be invincible, not ever being conquered; to be powerful, not in your own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The archbishop noted the significance of the new bishops being ordained on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and challenged Bishops Battersby and Fisher to continue St. Paul’s legacy of dramatic personal conversion.
In the past, Archbishop Vigneron said, bishops of the Church had been called to serve in times of difficulty, persecution and unrest, but Bishop Fisher and Battersby would be called to serve in a different setting.
“Today, it is the time of the New Evangelization,” the archbishop said. “It is for this New Evangelization that the Holy Father has nominated you as bishops, to lead in this great effort to re-evangelize and reignite the spark of the Gospel, and to help people understand that the good news is the best news.”
“This is our work: to lead men and women to believe and be baptized so they can be saved,” he said.
The litany of the saints then followed — during which the bishops-elect lay prostrate before the altar while the names of the saints of ages past were sung, with the response from the congregation and the bishops, “Pray for us.” The litany concluded with an invocation to St. Robert Bellarmine — the name patron for Bishop Fisher — and Blessed Columba Marmion — to whom Bishop Battersby has special devotion.
Then, as Bishops Battersby and Fisher knelt in reverence, Archbishop Vigneron placed his hands upon their heads to ordain them, being followed by Archbishop Russell, Bishop Quinn and the rest of the bishops in attendance.
With the new bishops still kneeling, the archbishop then anointed their heads with holy Chrism oil and bestowed upon them the signs of their office: the Book of the Gospels, their episcopal rings, miters and croziers.
To a thunderous applause from the congregation, the new bishops were presented for the first time, and they processed through the cathedral to offer their first episcopal blessings.
Bishop Fisher, speaking on behalf of both new bishops, offered a litany of thanks to those who had helped with the ordination ceremony and to all those who had supported them.
“We are grateful for the gift of life and the gift of faith and the vocation that God has called us to,” Bishop Fisher said.
Bishop Fisher joked that he and Bishop Battersby were busy in November “ignoring phone calls from an unrecognized phone number in Washington, D.C.,” but were grateful they finally did pick up.
Bishop Fisher said he and Bishop Battersby accepted their new office “not as an honor, but as a constant opportunity to serve.”
After asking the congregation to pray for them, Bishop Fisher noted that Fr. Stephen Pullis, Archbishop Vigneron’s secretary, had advised him to keep his comments brief.
“While he didn’t say it in words, the gleam in his eye suggested they he might show me one of the many ways the hook of a crozier might be used,” Bishop Fisher said to laughter.
Bishops Battersby and Fisher will become regional moderators for the archdiocese’s South and Northeast regions, respectively. Bishop Fisher will continue to serve as pastor and rector of the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak until July 1, and Bishop Battersby will continue to serve as pastor of St. Mary of Redford Parish in Detroit until other provision is made.
Bishop Battersby and Bishop Fisher, being auxiliary bishops, were also appointed to what are known as “titular sees.” The tradition of titular sees stems from the fact that a bishop must be a bishop “of someplace” — because Archbishop Vigneron is the ordinary bishop of Detroit, auxiliary bishops are typically assigned historical “sees” as a title of honor. Bishop Fisher’s titular see is Forum Popilii, an ancient city in Italy, while Bishop Battersby’s titular see is Eguga, an ancient city in northern Africa. The former titular bishop of Eguga is now-Archbishop Michael J. Byrnes.
The ordination ceremony, taken from ancient ritual, underscored the unity of the episcopal college with the number of bishops in attendance, which included former Detroit auxiliary bishops such as Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford, Conn., and Bishop Walter Hurley, former bishop of Grand Rapids; and Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle.
After the ceremony, Bishops Battersby and Fisher were whisked away to a reception at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where well-wishers got their first chance to greet them and receive the new bishops’ first blessings.
Jeff and Theresa Mesch were among the first in line to receive a blessing from Bishop Battersby.
“We’ve had other friends who have been ordained priests, and we’ve always received their blessing. And afterward there just comes so many graces that come with it,” Theresa Mesch said.
Jeff Mesch, who was hired by Bishop Battersby as head of IT for Sacred Heart Major Seminary, added the new bishop is “a man of the people” and “just a treat to work with.”
Jeff Mesch echoed his wife, saying the first blessing of a new bishop is especially significant.
“A couple of kids have come as a result of a first blessing (in the past); it’s just amazing,” he said. “The Spirit is just so strong with stuff like this.”
For more stories about the ordination and background of the Archdiocese of Detroit’s new auxiliary bishops, Bishop Robert Fisher and Bishop Gerard Battersby, check out The Michigan Catholic’s special section.