Citing his ongoing health challenges, Cleveland Bishop Richard Lennon requested — and was granted — early retirement status by Pope Francis. Bishop Lennon’s retirement, which was announced first in Washington, D.C. by Papal Nuncio Archbishop Christophe Pierre, was effective Dec. 28.
The pope named Toledo Bishop Daniel Edward Thomas as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Cleveland. A Philadelphia native, Bishop Thomas, 57, was named Toledo bishop in 2014. (Read more about Bishop Thomas HERE.)
He will administer the affairs of the Cleveland diocese, in addition to serving as bishop of Toledo, until the pope names a new bishop for the Cleveland diocese. (Read the full press release HERE.) There are nearly 700,000 Catholics in the Cleveland diocese.
“I am humbled to have been asked by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to shepherd the flock of Northeast Ohio during this time of transition, until he names a new bishop for Cleveland,” Bishop Thomas said at a Dec. 28 press conference that was streamed live from diocesan offices in downtown Cleveland. “What a joy to offer Christmas greetings to everyone in the rural, suburban and urban areas of the eight counties of Northeast Ohio that make up the Diocese of Cleveland,” he said. “Please know how happy I am to greet you.” (Read Bishop Thomas’ full remarks HERE.)
In prepared remarks, Bishop Lennon, 69, said he came to the realization “that my health has declined to such an extent that I should resign as diocesan bishop.” Although he did not take questions at the press conference, he expressed his appreciation “for the diocesan priests and lay employees who have supported my ministry over the past 10 ½ years I have had the privilege of serving the people in the Diocese of Cleveland. I also wish to express my love for the faithful in the entire diocese, whom I will remember daily in my prayers. In your kindness, I ask that you pray for me.”
Bishop Thomas also thanked retired Auxiliary Bishop Roger Gries, who took on additional duties in recent weeks and months to represent Bishop Lennon at many events and Masses throughout the diocese. “At almost 80 years old, Bishop Roger just keeps on giving!” he said. Thanks also were extended to Abbot Gary Hoover of the Benedictine community of St. Andrew Abbey, Father Don Oleksiak and Father Michael Gurnick for assisting Bishop Lennon by celebrating liturgies and other events throughout the diocese.
Although Bishop Thomas admitted he has limited knowledge of the Cleveland diocese, he did reference the Cavs’ NBA championship, the Indians’ World Series appearance, the Republican National Convention and “what everybody’s buzzing about, the ‘Christmas miracle’ of the Browns’ first win in over a year. How appropriate that someone gave me one of these for Christmas,” he said, pulling out a Cleveland Browns knit hat.
It is unclear how long Bishop Thomas will serve as administrator of the diocese. He said Pope Francis, after meeting with his consultors, will make the final decision on a new bishop for the Diocese of Cleveland. Bishop Thomas said he will split his time between the two dioceses, but a schedule has not been arranged yet. He said he hopes to serve “as a conduit from the past to the future.”
He called Bishop Lennon’s decision to request early retirement “both a humble and courageous act, one that speaks volumes to his love for the local Church and his desire that the people of God receive the pastoral care they need. Please know, Bishop Lennon, that you can count on our prayers and support in the days, months and years ahead.”
After the press conference Bishop Thomas was principal celebrant at the noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Concelebrants included Bishops Lennon and Gries, as well as priest consultors.
Bishop Lennon, an Arlington, Massachusetts native, was ordained to the priesthood in May 1973. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Boston in September 2001 and served as apostolic administrator there from December 2002 to July 2003. He was installed as the 10th bishop of Cleveland on May 15, 2006.
Bishop Thomas was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in May 1985 and was appointed auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia in June 2006. He was installed as bishop of Toledo in October 2014.