“Site” Watch: Bishop Flees Trenton For The ‘Burbs

New Jersey Catholics, having been approached for $1M to bolster Catholic education aren’t too happy with their new bishop for investing more than half that amount in a new suburban house. Less than two months into service, and there’s an appeal from the laity to the papal nuncio:

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the newly appointed Bishop of Trenton be asked to reconsider his decision to move to a semi-rural home on six acres in an exclusive neighborhood. He should choose instead to make his home in the City of Trenton where the Diocese’s bishops have lived and served for the past eighty-seven years. Purchased in 1924 for this specific purpose, 903 West State Street has a cross etched into its brick work, a magnificent private chapel, and a stately presence for all to see. In the spirit of Catherine of Siena, we ask that he return to his rightful place, among all of the people — black, white, brown, yellow, rich, poor, working-class, professional — to serve as a symbol of unity and beacon of hope for a city that he is now seeking to abandon for greener pastures. Let not “Lawrenceville with a Princeton address” (the house at 53 Carson Road) — be the Diocese of Trenton’s Babylonian captivity.

It’s not as if Bishop O’Connell is being asked to live in poverty by remaining at the old manse in the working class ‘h0od. Note the appeal to the saint who shamed Gregory IX for living in the south of France.

(Sigh)

Do you file it under bishops-who-don’t-get-it? Or is the old house really a dump with a cross carved into the brick? I’m not sure the climate is right almost anywhere for these kinds of moves. Granted, many Catholics would like to see some bishops in a nine-by-twelve room with a sink and a toilet for company. But these moves to suburban sites: what are these guys thinking? It’s a PR nightmare. It sets a poor example for the Gospel. Yes, they pointed out in Cincinnati the virtue of entertaining seminarians and clergy and other guests.  But some would counter that’s what you have a diocesan center for … or the homes of rich benefactors.

It’s lose-lose for the laity. If you have a good guy you’d want to gift with a nice home, the Congregation of Bishops is sure to bump him to a big city see. And if he’s a lifer in the present climate, there’s almost surely something wrong with him.

Rock reported last summer that his predessor thought him to be a man os “pastoral sensitivity.” On the job for six months, how do you think this move looks? Plus, the bishop’s a Vicentian. Is there a vow of poverty in the mix with that?

From his first letter as bishop last month (emphases my own):

At a time when money is tight and employment is not stable, I have nowhere else to turn but you. At a time when society and culture mock our most deeply held teachings and values, I have nowhere else to turn but you. At a time when the number of those available to lead and serve in our parishes and institutions are rapidly diminishing, I have nowhere else to turn but you. And in all these things and the many other burdens that weigh heavily upon us all, as your bishop I invite and ask you to join with me in turning to the Lord, especially during this Advent Season, in joyful expectation and daily prayer that our faith might be renewed, our hope strengthened and our charity increased and multiplied!

My sisters and brothers, I ask your prayer in these times of transition that I might be for you a good and faithful bishop, that my many imperfections and weaknesses might be minimized …

Anybody on the ground in Trenton with something to add?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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8 Responses to “Site” Watch: Bishop Flees Trenton For The ‘Burbs

  1. Liam says:

    Here’s an example of the Eleventh Worker.

    It would seem that the current W State Street residence is in need of repair. That will cost money – how much is unclear. And, presumably, the value of the current residence on the market is discountable by the cost of the repairs needed. What the net value of the current residence is therefore also unclear. We know the value of the residence being purchased; we don’t know whether the leafy climes of Lawrence would permit subdivision (probably would be expensive to deal with the objections of abutters, of course) to recoup some of that money.

    So, one wonders: what would happen if the diocese made the repair of the current residence an employment project, sourced locally?

  2. Liam says:

    PS: use Street View to see the current residence:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=903+W.+State+Street,+Trenton,&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&hl=en&biw=1784&bih=839&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=il

    Very nice.

    So, it needs work. See my above comment. Looks like it could serve several people as residents. Which it should.

  3. David D. says:

    50 years ago, this relocation might have been characterized as a move from a large, stately home in a good neighborhood to a cape in the middle of nowhere. Times have certainly changed.

  4. John Donaghy says:

    When he was name archbishop of San Salvador, Monseñor Oscar Romero was offered some nice places to live in. But he didn’t even live in the episcopal residence. He lived where he had stayed when he visited San Salvador for meetings, the sacristy of the chapel of the Divina Providencia cancer hospital. This was before he became known as the “voice of the voiceless.”

    Later the Carmelite sisters there finally persuaded him to live in a little three room house they built for him on the hospital grounds.

    And he was a diocesan clergy.

  5. Mark says:

    I am certainly disappointed in the bishop’s decision to leave the large house in Trenton. I certainly think it gives people the wrong impression. I grew up in the city of Trenton and attended Blessed Sacrament School and Church back in the early 1960’s. My family loved our Parish and supported it at that time. They decided to move in 1970 after our home was broken into several times and the neighborhood was starting to go “down-hill”. That was at a different time period when there was a “flight” from the city to rural areas. After attending one of the “nicest” suburban parishes during my early adulthood I decided to register at a Trenton city parish. I have to say this parish has fostered a real sense of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. At this past Sunday’s homily we were instructed to watch and listen to the bishop’s appeal and to give generously has I was prepared to do.

    As I prayed the remainder of the Mass and lifted my head to look at the fresco of Our crucified Lord as well as the beautiful fresco of his Resurrection above the high altar I heard a voice inside utter why have you abandoned those that have need of Me?

    I believe that as a shepard and representative of Christ’s Church on earth the bishop should reside in the place where is presence is so needed and work on fostering an appeal to re-open some of our city schools that have a very active parish similar to the one I belong to and call out to religious as well as lay members of the community to help staff these schools and offer all of God’s children especially those that need him the most a chance at a good Catholic education. I will continue to pray for this cause daily.

  6. Eb Hurley says:

    Picture of Trenton Residence on Facebook community page: “Keep the Catholic Bishop in Trenton!”

  7. Jimmy Mac says:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946139,00.html

    This man would probably be laughed out of USCCB meetings, catered dinners with top notch wines, and chauffered cars. And I’ll bet he’d be at least 50 pounds lighter than many of the “Princes of the Church” that I’ve seen photos of recently. Chubby cheeked Dolan, for example.

  8. matthewj says:

    While I hardly think it’s appropriate to make inappropriate comments about the weight of clerics, I do think the Time article is very touching. Bishops can inspire people in different ways and all bring different things to the table… We should try our best to see the positives – not ignore the negatives – but to remember that most of them are trying very hard.

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