“I woke up this morning as the fifth bishop of Greensburg (Pennsylvania) and I’ll go to bed tonight as the 12th bishop of Cleveland.”
Bishop Edward Malesic shared that thought prior to his 2 p.m. installation Mass today in the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. And, as his episcopal motto says, he is ready to “Serve the Lord with Gladness.”
Restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic meant attendance at the liturgy was strictly limited – by invitation only, but thousands watched the livestream of the Mass, which was presented by the Sisters of Charity Health System, whose ministries in Cleveland include St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, Regina Health Center, Light of Hearts Villa, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and Joseph’s Home.
Live coverage of the installation and Mass also was broadcast on the EWTN nationwide cable television network, and radio stations WCCR AM 1260 The Rock and WILB 1060, Living Bread Radio. The broadcast is archived on the diocesan website and can be watched on demand.
Attendees included members of the diocesan hierarchy including Father Don Oleksiak, who served as diocesan administrator for the past seven months; Archbishop Christophe Pierre, papal nuncio to the United States who represented Pope Francis; Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, metropolitan, Province of Cincinnati; Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez, who was the 11th bishop of Cleveland; Auxiliary Bishop emeritus Roger Gries; Bishop Martin Amos, retired bishop of Davenport, Iowa and a former priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland; members of the Diocese of Cleveland College of Consultors; representatives of religious men and women serving in the diocese; members of the diocesan staffs from the Cleveland and Greensburg dioceses; and priests from the Cleveland, Greensburg and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania dioceses.
The pandemic precluded the traditional outdoor procession of clergy into the cathedral. Instead, they processed inside to their assigned, socially distanced seats. Attendees were provided with red face masks in keeping with the liturgical color of the day for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.
Bishop Malesic was greeted in the back of the cathedral by Archbishop Schnurr who read a prayer and welcomed him to his new cathedral. He was presented with a crucifix by Father Sean Ralph, cathedral rector, and then he sprinkled holy water on those around him before processing to the altar.
Archbishop Schnurr welcomed all to the liturgy and introduced Archbishop Pierre, who made a few remarks and read the papal bull from Pope Francis – the official appointment of Bishop Malesic as bishop of Cleveland.
Accompanied by Father Oleksiak, the bishop showed the bull to the diocesan College of Consultors and Chancellor Vincent Gardiner, then walked through the cathedral showing the document to the rest of the clergy and congregation.
After that, the bishop was presented with his crosier – gift from the Diocese of Harrisburg, where he was ordained a priest in 1987 -- by Archbishop Schnurr and Archbishop Pierre and led to the cathedra where he was seated and officially became the new diocesan bishop.
Next, he was introduced to members of the College of Consultors, Presbyteral Council, deacons, religious men and women, lay ecclesial ministers, his staff and the lay faithful representing the diversity of the diocese. After that, the Mass resumed. The bishop used a chalice that was given to him by his parents as a gift when he was ordained.
“It is real joy to be with all of you, whether you are participating here in person, watching online or through EWTN,” Bishop Malesic said in his homily.
He recalled the phone call from the nuncio in July informing him that Pope Francis had appointed him bishop of Cleveland.
“I couldn’t help myself and I said, ‘It’s cold there.’ Anyone who knows me knows that I prefer palm trees over pine trees,” the bishop quipped. “But as a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ, trusting in his holy will for me, I said, ‘Yes.’ And I’m glad I did. I am happy to be here with all of you today as the 12thbishop of the Diocese of Cleveland and its eight counties in Northeastern Ohio.”
Bishop Malesic recalled attending Archbishop Perez’s installation three years ago in St. John’s Cathedral. “I remember the multiple choirs, the people in traditional clothes of their ethnic background, the packed church with all the clergy and representatives of each of the parishes, with members of the civic, business and ecumenical communities.”
He acknowledged he was “a bit jealous because that can’t be part of today’s celebration,” explaining that limitations imposed by the pandemic don’t permit it.
“But I look out on this socially distanced congregation and I know that the Holy Spirit is still filling every nook and cranny of this beautiful cathedral, the mother church of our diocese. And I also believe that the Holy Spirit is filling the hearts of every person watching this celebration from a distance in your homes and offices.”
He said it wasn’t possible to have a real farewell for Archbishop Perez because he had to leave quickly for Philadelphia. “You served this diocese so well and so faithfully. So, I want you to know that all of us here still love you, care for you, pray for you and are grateful for your uplifting ministry for 2½ years as our bishop.”
Remarking on his future, Bishop Malesic, 60, said he prays he gets to stay longer. “Fifteen years would be just fine. Archbishop Pierre, if you could pass that along to the Holy Father, I’d be appreciative,” he quipped, alluding to 75 -- the usual retirement age for bishops.
The bishop also expressed his appreciation for Father Oleksiak who served as diocesan administrator, noting how kind and welcoming he was. “Father, you have led this Church so faithfully and so well since February and I know it wasn’t always easy. We are all grateful for your hard work, pastoral sensitivity and love for the Diocese of Cleveland. Your work as our diocesan administrator is now finished; perhaps that is why you are the one who is smiling most in this cathedral today. Thank you.”
The bishop noted that his new position is somewhat of a homecoming on two levels: one because he spent six years as a seminarian at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus and two because his childhood parish, where he received the sacraments of initiation and celebrated his first Mass also was named St. John the Evangelist.
“It was in that same parish church – St John the Evangelist – as a college biology major, that God began to call me to the priesthood,” he said.
That reflection prompted him to urge young people to “Listen to your heart, the place where God speaks to you; listen carefully, because he is calling each of you by name. God has a plan for you. You are on this plant at this time for a reason. Don’t stop searching until you find God’s will for you. He is calling you to a life of holiness, to discipleship, to service and to do something special for him. Follow Jesus. He will show you the way.”
The bishop also shared a humorous story about another installation Mass he attended. The new bishop knocked on the cathedral door when the liturgy was to start and someone opened the door just a crack. The person told the bishop – with his microphone still on – “Bishop, we’re not ready for you yet.” And closed the door.
“Well, ready or not, I’m here. And thanks for opening the doors for me. Thanks for opening your hearts for me. I already feel so welcomed in this diocese which is rich in history, culture and faith,” he said.
However, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, Bishop Malesic asked the clergy and faithful to be patient with him because he is unable to start meeting people right away, which is frustrating for him.
“But trust me, there will be a time – soon, I hope – when we will be able to gather again in large crowds to meet each other, shake hands, see our unmasked faces, worship as one community in our churches with boisterous singing and be with each other again at our festivals. I want to visit each of our parishes as soon as possible,” he said, as well as the schools, seminaries, other ministries and religious communities.
He also reflected on the day’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, noting how central the cross is to our lives as Christians. It’s more than a wall decoration or jewelry. “In the cross, Jesus teaches us how to face our challenges with courage and hope. And boy, do we have challenges today,” he said.
It’s important to face those challenges, to admit them, carry them and keep focused on Jesus, who will lead us forward in our struggles. It’s also important to help others bear the burdens of life. “We are stronger when we work together than we are when we work separately,” he added.
Some of those crosses include COVID-19 and those lost to the disease, racism, prejudice, violence, abuse in the Church, abortion, poverty, urban blight, restrictions on religious freedom and individual crosses such as illness, addiction, loss of a relationship, unemployment and bullying. He also reflected on members of law enforcement -- especially those who lost their lives in the line of duty -- including Cleveland Police Detective James Skernivitz, and asked for prayers for them as they carry a heavy cross.
“Sometimes we get tired. Sometimes the people of the Church get tired. But now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to get up. Now is the time to go out into the world and proclaim that Jesus, God’s only son, humbled himself to become one of us and was obedient to God even unto death, a death on the cross,” the bishop said. “But God exalted him by raising him up and giving him a name above every other name at which every knee should bend and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
He urged all to be witnesses of the truth, to God’s love and to Jesus, our savior. “Let us be people who serve the Lord with gladness.” God’s plan for us is eternal live – that we all find salvation, which comes by “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and his saving cross.”