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CURRENT ISSUE:  January 19, 2009
VOL. 47, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
 
St. Mary’s prof says Israeli attacks
increase support for Hamas in Gaza

 
Anointing of the sick to be offered
at Oakland cathedral on Feb. 7
Bishop Vigneron named to lead Detroit
 

Detroit’s new archbishop leaves Oakland
after six years of ministry)
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Archbishop-designate Allen Vigneron greets the media, priests, archdiocesan employees and Catholic school students Jan. 5 in Detroit after being named by Pope Benedict XVI to lead the Archdiocese of Detroit.
CNS PHOTO/LARRY A. PEPLIN/MICHIGAN CATHOLIC

Bishop Allen Vigneron had completed nearly six years as bishop of Oakland when he was appointed Archbishop of Detroit on Jan. 5. The legacy of his short tenure here includes a new cathedral and administrative offices, a diocesan pastoral plan, the ordination of 17 diocesan priests, major reorganization of diocesan departments, and pastoral statements on liturgy, education, immigration reform, and healing from clergy sex abuse.

“While I am very much at peace in being called to Detroit, I am very sad in being called away from Oakland,” he wrote in a letter to Chancery staff. “We were going to accomplish a lot this year, with God’s help. Now, it will be up to God to determine the way forward and its timing.”

Bishop Vigneron will be installed as Detroit’s 10th archbishop on Jan. 28 at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, becoming the chief leader of 1.4 million Catholics in six Michigan counties. He will continue to administer the Oakland Diocese until his installation.

According to Canon Law, the diocesan College of Consultors must meet within eight days of his installation to elect an administrator to handle the day-to-day business of the diocese until a new bishop is named by Pope Benedict XVI.

For the archbishop-designate, the appointment to Detroit is a homecoming. He grew up in Anchorville, Michigan, and attended Sacred Heart Seminary High School and College in Detroit. He was ordained to the priesthood there in 1975 and ordained as an auxiliary bishop for Detroit in 1996. He was appointed coadjutor bishop of Oakland on Jan. 10, 2003 and later that year succeeded Bishop John Cummins when he retired.

In a statement the day of his appointment to Detroit, Archbishop-designate Vigneron acknowledged there have been “significant challenges” during his years as chief pastor in Oakland. The two most visible were the building of the Cathedral of Christ the Light and shepherding the diocese as it continued to heal from sex abuse by priests who served in parishes in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
He visited 14 of those parishes to lead prayer services at which he named the offending priests who had served in the parish and offered an apology for the grave harm done to the victims.

“Bishop Vigneron’s commitment to the healing of survivors of sexual abuse is outstanding,” said Dominican Sister Glenn Anne McPhee, diocesan chancellor. In addition to the healing ceremonies, he continued “to support survivors and those who work with them in recovering from this difficult reality,” she said.

A visible symbol of that support is the healing garden on the grounds of the new cathedral. At the garden dedication on Oct. 11, 2008, Bishop Vigneron read the entrance plaque: “This Healing Garden, planned by survivors, is dedicated to those innocents sexually abused by members of the clergy. We remember, and wet affirm, never again.”

The cathedral complex itself is considered by many to be Bishop Vigneron’s most enduring accomplishment. Although plans for the cathedral were well underway when he arrived in Oakland, it was he who oversaw the decisions that turned the dream into a reality — from the purchase of the property at the corner of Harrison Street and Grand Avenue in December 2003 to the dedication of the completed complex on Sept. 25, 2008.

However, Father Paul Minnihan, cathedral provost, told The Voice he believes there is “something far more basic and true” about Bishop Vigneron’s legacy — “a witness of virtue.”

“He is a man rooted in a relationship with the Lord,” he said. “His prayer life governs all that he does. And, from that, I have come to appreciate that Allen Vigneron is a gentleman. He is gracious and kind, bringing the light of Christ into all of his relationships.”

Others who worked closely with Bishop Vigneron also praised him for a wide range of qualities as a pastoral leader. “He is a scholar who researches projects well, listens to different sides of a controversy or situation, and makes a good, speedy decision on a path to follow,” said Father Robert McCann, chair of both the Presbyteral Council and the Pastoral Leadership Placement Board.

Father McCann said Bishop Vigneron openly received all comments from the council, even “when they went against his original thought or plan. He willingly changed after hearing a convincing argument or a list of actual facts.”

Janet Cooke, outgoing chair of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, described the bishop as “very prayerful, very calm, and humble. There is something calming about being in his presence.”

The DPC and the Presbyteral Council crafted a new diocesan plan which Bishop Vigneron promulgated in April 2008, saying it would move the diocese “farther along the path of renewal charted for us by the Second Vatican Council.”

The plan set forth goals and action steps in sacramental renewal, faith formation and catechesis, pastoral leadership, youth and young adults, and stewardship.

It also stated the diocesan mission: To know Christ better and make Him better known. “Ever since that was adopted,” said Father McCann, “Bishop Vigneron has reminded every diocesan group he spoke to of that mission.”

The pastoral plan continues to be in effect as the cohesive force and vision for the diocese until a new bishop is appointed, said Carol Potter, outgoing director of the pastoral planning department. The plan will be subject to the new bishop’s review, she said, but in the interim she expects specifics of the plan to move forward.

The diocese’s social ministries also received strong support from Bishop Vigneron, who proposed to the Order of Malta the establishment of a free health clinic for the uninsured at the cathedral. The clinic opened Oct. 13. A legal clinic began offering pro-bono services at the cathedral last month.

Solomon Belette, CEO of Catholic Charities of the East Bay, applauded the bishop for these programs and his continued leadership in linking faith to the diocese’s social outreach. One example, said Belette, was the bishop’s presentation on immigration reform at CCEB’s annual public policy breakfast. “He spoke with a great deal of authority and conviction, clearly articulating the Church’s position,” Belette said.

Sensitivity to the pastoral needs of immigrants prompted Bishop Vigneron to spend a month in Mexico learning Spanish shortly after coming to the Oakland Diocese where 21 percent of the population is Latino. The diocese is one of the most ethnically diverse in the country, with 15 ethnic pastoral and cultural centers serving groups from Asian Indian to Vietnamese.

“All our ethnic communities appreciate Bishop Vigneron’s presence at their cultural celebrations,” said St. Joseph Sister Felicia Sarati, director of ethnic pastoral ministry. “His message to them was always to treasure their cultural religious heritage.”

Incorporating various cultural traditions into the worship, education, and outreach programs at the new cathedral is a hallmark of the cathedral’s pastoral plan, another of the initiatives proposed by Bishop Vigneron and completed by 15 diocesan and parish leaders in June. The plan outlines a broad spectrum of programs and services that will emanate from the cathedral.

Dominican Sister Rose Marie Hennessy, chair of the planning committee and principal of St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Oakland, said the plan helps make concrete the bishop’s vision of the “light of Christ extending to all corners of the diocese through the example and efforts of all involved and the formative aspects of the space itself.”

Changing demographics, especially in urban areas of the diocese, forced Bishop Vigneron to close five parish schools in the last four years — St. Augustine, St. Paschal and Sts. Cyril-Louis Bertrand in Oakland, St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley, and St. Barnabas in Alameda.

In 2006 he merged Oakland’s St. Andrew-St. Joseph Parish with St. Mary-St. Francis de Sales to form the new parish of Christ the Light at the cathedral. The diocese sold the St. Andrew-St. Joseph property to St. Mary’s Center and the church was razed last fall.

Last year St. Albert and St. Philip Neri parishes in Alameda began to function as a cluster parish and St. Alphonsus Liguori Parish in San Leandro closed.

One of the unfinished pieces of business left for Bishop Vigneron’s successor is managing and retiring the cathedral complex debt, currently estimated to be between $50 and $60 million.

The process to appoint a new bishop will begin soon, said Mike Brown, diocesan communications director. It will be led by Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the papal nuncio in the U.S. , and could take several months.

“We are sad to see Bishop Vigneron leave us,” said Father George Mockel, who has served at the bishop’s vicar general. “But we are thankful for the leadership he has provided and for the legacy he leaves behind, which certainly includes our glorious new Cathedral of Christ the Light.”

An invitation-only Mass and reception for Archbishop-designate Vigneron will take place at the Oakland cathedral on Feb. 6. Because of space limitations, only persons holding tickets will be admitted.

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