Faithful pray for Cardinal Szoka as his galero raised to cathedral ceiling

Customary honor recognizes former Detroit archbishop’s life of faith and service

DETROIT — The raising of Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka’s galero was more than an opportunity to commemorate the service of one of Detroit’s former archbishops.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron watches along with Fr. Jim Grau as Cardinal Edmundo C. Szoka’s galero, a traditional hat worn by cardinals, is raised to the ceiling of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament during a special Mass on Aug. 18. (Dan Meloy | the Michigan Catholic)

It was a chance to pray for the soul of a dedicated servant, who through the saving power of the Eucharist is still connected to the faithful on earth, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said.

“I’m so happy God has brought all of us here this evening, friends and associates, all of us who hold the cardinal in dear memory,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “We’re here not only to honor him, but to continue to acknowledge our communion with him in the Eucharist and to pray for him.”

On Aug. 18, Cardinal Szoka’s galero, or cardinal’s “hat,” was raised to the ceiling of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the wing opposite the galeri that belong to Cardinals Edward A. Mooney and John F. Dearden.

Traditionally, the deceased cardinal’s galero was raised above the tomb of the cardinal to display that all earthly things come to pass and to invite the faithful to pray for the deceased servant of the Church.

“This is a kind of a traditional act, as you read from accounts, where the cardinal’s galero was placed about his tomb or placed above in the cardinal’s cathedral,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “Tonight we make this an occasion of prayer, which seemed the most appropriate for me. We take a moment to reflect on what it means that Cardinal Szoka was a cardinal. Certainly, all of us bishops are signs of communion with the bishop of Rome, but for a cardinal this connection is more intense. That our bishop was a cardinal shows that we are in communion with the Church in Rome, with Peter as our father.”

The Mass offered the faithful a chance to celebrate Cardinal Szoka’s contributions as archbishop of Detroit (1981-90) and for the universal Church.

U.S. Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka, pictured in a 2004 photo, died Aug. 20 at age 86 at Providence Park Hospital in Novi, Mich. Cardinal Szoka was archbishop of Detroit from 1981 until 1990, when he was brought to the Vatican to oversee the city state’s government under St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. He retired in 2006. (CNS photo/Giancarlo Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo) See OBIT-SZOKA Aug. 21, 2014.

Msgr. Todd Lajiness, rector of Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, was Cardinal Szoka’s priest-secretary during the cardinal’s episcopate in Rome and recalled spending close, personal moments with him.

“He and I were having a meal, and he looked right at me and said, ‘Todd, some of my best years, happiest years, was when I was a pastor,’” Msgr. Lajiness recalled. “‘I was close to the people,’ he said, ‘I was celebrating the sacraments.’ It was Cardinal Szoka’s deepest conviction of his identity that he was a pastor, even though he knew the Lord had gifted him with many talents, and the Church recognized those talents. But he always saw himself as a pastor, using those talents for the good of the Church.”

Following the celebration of the Eucharist, which Archbishop Vigneron said in his homily is not only a sign of solidarity with Christ but with all of those who preceded in death, including Cardinal Szoka, Archbishop Vigneron blessed Cardinal Szoka’s galero with incense before attaching it to a hook in order for it to be raised to the ceiling.

Cardinal Szoka’s family sat in the first pew of the cathedral, greeting Archbishop Vigneron and archbishop emeritus Cardinal Adam J. Maida after Mass and sharing stories about Cardinal Szoka.

“It’s a pretty big honor for our family every time we come to Detroit,” Mary Therese Sorensen, cousin of Cardinal Szoka, told The Michigan Catholic. “Now I’m sad, as this might be one of the last times we’ll have a Mass to honor him. We’ve been here several times for many occasions, and you feel closer to him through the Eucharist and during Mass, knowing that this was his cathedral. It’s really profound.”

With his galero now hanging from the cathedral ceiling, Sorensen adds it’s a proper way to symbolize the cardinal’s ever-present watchful eye over the archdiocese he served.

“We still feel Cardinal Szoka’s presence in the cathedral,” Sorensen said. “There are many things that happened as a result of when Cardinal Szoka was the archbishop here. His presence is all around us, and with this Mass and through the Eucharist, this will always be his home.”