A sellout crowd packed the ballroom at Windows on the River in Cleveland Feb. 2 to hear Bishop Edward Malesic share his annual State of the Diocese report to the First Friday Club of Cleveland.
In addition, Sister Rita Mary Harwood, SND received the 2023 Bishop Roger Gries Heart of a Servant Award for her longtime work in the diocese with education, immigrants, refugees, the imprisoned, ethnic communities and more. Most recently, she served 27 years as head of the Parish Life Secretariat before retiring in 2021.
(See photo gallery above.)
In his introduction of Bishop Malesic, Auxiliary Bishop Michael Woost shared his background and borrowing a phrase from the diocesan shepherd, reminded him he is here for a reason. “The Lord has a plan. He (Bishop Malesic) asks us to serve the Lord with gladness,” Bishop Woost said, referring to the bishop’s episcopal motto. “And we are glad today.”
Bishop Malesic said life is a grace for him and he considers it a gift to be able to do the things he does. “I am blessed to be here and thankful that God has brought me here to serve you.”
He said parishes exist to worship God proclaim the good news of Jesus and serve others. “The same is true of our diocese. At the very core of who we are is our desire to worship God, our need to proclaim the truth as it has been revealed to us by God and to serve out of love as God has served us out of love.”
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the First Friday Club of Cleveland, the bishop said as he congratulated the group on his efforts to share the faith through evangelization and presentation of timely speakers addressing topics of interest to the faithful in Greater Cleveland.
He also congratulated Sister Rita Mary for her accomplishments and award before beginning his presentation. “She embodies the heart and soul of a servant leader,” he said.
Bishop Malesic noted it has been an eventful year in the eight-county diocese. He addressed several topics, including the recently launched Keeping the Faith initiative to strengthen elementary education, the ongoing Eucharistic Revival, the Synod on Synodality, the ordination of Bishop Woost, the state of the diocesan seminary and efforts of the diocesan Office for Human Life as it offers services to help women in need in the wake of last June’s Supreme Court decision that returned the question of abortion to the states.
Keeping the Faith, a yearslong initiative, has six primary focus areas:
- Catholic identity
- Academic excellence
- Leadership and talent
- Financing Catholic education
The plan is being shared with pastors, principals, teachers, administrators, parents and the faithful to ensure they understand it. Stakeholders will be invited to participate in virtual meetings beginning in the spring and in September, collaborative group meetings will be scheduled as the process of implementing the strategic plan begins.
“I am very excited about the Keeping the Faith initiative, which will help ensure that our schools are Catholic, viable, accessible and affordable for many years to come,” the bishop said.
Regarding the Eucharistic Revival, Bishop Malesic said it was shocking to learn that nearly 70% of the faithful do not believe that the Eucharist is the true presence of Christ. Because of this, bishops across the United States initiated a Eucharistic Revival last June.
The movement is meant to restore understanding of and devotion to this great mystery of our faith, he said, “That the bread and wine at the altar are consecrated by the priest to become the body and blood of Jesus.
“The goal of this three-year Eucharistic Revival is to help us reclaim the teaching of our Church about the Eucharist and propose the beauty of the Eucharist to those who have either abandoned the Eucharist or never encountered the person of Jesus in the Eucharist. Everyone is invited to be a part of renewing the Church by enkindling a living relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ present body, blood, soul and divinity in the great sacrament of the altar, the Eucharist,” the bishop said.
The first phase of the revival is at the diocesan level. During the second year, there are plans to celebrate Masses during the summer at minor league baseball stadiums including Crushers stadium in Avon and the Captains stadium in Mentor. An All Saints Day Mass is planned for high school students on Nov. 1 in Cleveland Public Hall.
The third year of the revival will be on a national level. The diocese expects to send a delegation of at least 250 people to the Eucharistic Revival Congress in June 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana, where they will join tens of thousands of Catholics from across the country.
The Synod on Synodality, launched in fall 2021, was a call to conversion for the Church to become more Christ-like in communion, participation and mission. It was a call to listen to one another and more importantly, to listen to the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us through his Church, Bishop Malesic said.
In the Cleveland Diocese, he said churches joined with churches across the country with an estimated 700,000 people participating in discussions about the Church – its past, present and future.
By the end of June, the bishop said the Vatican is expected to share with the world a working document summarizing “the hopes, dreams and aspirations of Catholics for the Church.” This information will be used in the discussion for future meetings of the bishops in Rome in October 2023 and 2024.
“We can say with great pride that we were part of the process and hopefully, those who participated in the process have grown in the understanding of what it means to walk together as a Church,” Bishop Malesic said.
“On Aug. 4, I had the high privilege of ordaining Michael Woost as auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Cleveland, the first time in 21 years that a son of the diocese was ordained in this role,” the bishop noted.
He said his advice to the new auxiliary bishop is to “Remain humble, be a man of prayer, have the salvation of souls always in mind, preach the Gospel, live the truth he proclaims, stand firm against the headwinds that seem to blow strongly against us, defend us against the culture of death, conquer hatred with love, be devoted to our people, walk among them and listen to them.”
Bishop Malesic said that Bishop Woost understands that “he was chosen by the Lord, taken from among the people and appointed to act on their behalf in those things that pertain to God. My fondest wish is that he will continue to lead and love all those God places in his care, and that he will keep watch over them as Jesus, the Good Shepherd does.”
Regarding the diocesan seminary, the bishop recapped his first visit to Borromeo and Saint Mary seminaries, noting there was a pressing need for improvements and updates. Funds raised through the Heart of a Shepherd campaign enabled a major renovation that transformed them into state-of-the-art facilities.
“These investments made in the seminary send a strong signal to everyone that we are here to stay. We teach our seminarians to have courage, strength and faith and we want to ensure that they have the best environment in which to pursue their priestly formation,” he added.
The bishop also pointed out as future shepherds are formed, “We must always remember that our faith teaches us to value every life from the moment of conception through natural death.” Reversing the Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022 leaves abortion rights decisions to elected officials in each state, he said, explaining this means the decisions made as individuals and as a community are closer to home.
The diocesan Office for Human Life shifted its focus – at the bishop’s request – to support mothers in need by making resources and services available to those dealing with untimely pregnancies in difficult circumstances. He also asked Catholic Charities, Diocese of Cleveland to work more closely with organizations like Zele’s Home, Womankind and pregnancy resource centers to support mothers in need both before and after they give birth so they understand that abortion is not their only choice.
“There are so many good things happening in our diocese. I’ve listed only a few,” Bishop Malesic said. He mentioned the work of Sister Jane Nesmith who recently joined the diocese to lead the Office of Black Catholic Ministries, assistance from the diocesan legal office, Catholic Community Foundation, Interfaith Office, Victims Response Office, Canonical Services staff, the diocesan archives, Finance Office and more.
“My focus is on keeping Christ at the center of all we do. Without him, we are nothing at all. I am proud to be a member of the Diocese of Cleveland and honored to be your bishop,” he added.
Patrick McCarthy is president of the First Friday Club of Cleveland. Gerry Schroer Jr. was chair for the Bishop’s Lunch. Click here for more information on the First Friday Club of Cleveland.