DETROIT — Driving along Chicago Boulevard toward the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament the morning of Jan. 25, one could tell it was going to be a blessed day for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Seminarians from Sacred Heart Major Seminary, just a mile from the cathedral, were en route; some were joking and laughing as they walked, others were praying a rosary. Approaching the cathedral’s steps, about 30 members of the Neocatechumenical Way were singing and dancing to herald the joyous occasion.
Inside an invite-only congregation of friends, family and well-wishers packed the cathedral to the brims as a line of priests as far as the eye could see stretched out the doors of the vestibule and wrapped around the cathedral.
The ordination Mass was about to begin for Bishops-designate Gerard W. Battersby and Robert J. Fisher.
As the choir began singing the exultant hymn “O, God Beyond All Praising,” the procession began — more than 170 priests and 20 bishops in all, and at the end of it, the men who would become the newest auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Detroit.
“The Gospel needs to be preached until the end of time because of the gift of life that Jesus Christ has conferred. And so by an unbroken chain we come to this day,” Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron, principal celebrant and consecrator for the liturgy, said during his homily.
“We bishops pass on this apostolic office that was passed to us to a new generation so the Gospel can be preached and men and women can be saved.”
Vigneron was joined by co-consecrators Bishop John M. Quinn of Winona, Minnesota, a former Detroit auxiliary bishop who was on the faculty at Sacred Heart Major Seminary during Battersby and Fisher’s time there; and by Archbishop Paul F. Russell, apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan and a longtime friend of Fisher.
Seated in choir were Cardinal Adam J. Maida — the retired archbishop of Detroit who was celebrating the 33rd anniversary of his own episcopal ordination that day — and Metropolitan Nicholas of the Greek Orthodox Church in southeast Michigan.
As the ordination portion of the liturgy began, the bishops-designate were presented to Vigneron by their attending priests — Father Scott Thibodeau for Battersby and Father Jim Bilot for Fisher — and recommended for ordination.
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, then read the mandates from Pope Francis authorizing the consecrations of Battersby and Fisher.
Laughter rang from the pews after the French-born Pierre mispronounced the name of Vigneron, then caught himself, noting, “I shouldn’t forget; it’s a French name.”
Vigneron began his homily by jokingly thanking Battersby and Fisher “that they finally did answer the nuncio’s telephone call” — a reference to both of the men’s reluctance at first to answer their phones when they didn’t recognize the number — and congratulated the new bishops and their families.
Vigneron shared his reflections on the role of a bishop in light of Scripture’s description of “an apostolic man.”
He noted the many “signs” of an apostolic man in Scripture: driving out demons, speaking new languages, picking up serpents and drinking deadly things without harm.
“Perhaps you won’t do that literally,” Vigneron quipped, especially about the last one, “but it means being able to be invincible, not ever being conquered; to be powerful, not in your own power, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
The archbishop noted the significance of the new bishops being ordained on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and challenged Battersby and Fisher to continue St. Paul’s legacy of dramatic personal conversion.
In the past, Vigneron said, bishops of the church had been called to serve in times of difficulty, persecution and unrest, but Fisher and Battersby would be called to serve in a different setting.
“Today, it is the time of the new evangelization,” the archbishop said. “It is for this new evangelization that the Holy Father has nominated you as bishops, to lead in this great effort to re-evangelize and reignite the spark of the Gospel, and to help people understand that the good news is the best news.”
“This is our work: to lead men and women to believe and be baptized so they can be saved,” he said.
After the homily, the ordination rite continued with the archbishop questioning Battersby and Fisher about their faithfulness to the church and the Gospel.
The litany of the saints then followed — during which the bishops-designate lay prostrate before the altar while the names of the saints of ages past were sung, with the response from the congregation and the bishops, “Pray for us.” The litany concluded with an invocation to St. Robert Bellarmine — the name patron for Fisher — and Blessed Columba Marmion — to whom Battersby has special devotion.
Then, as Battersby and Fisher knelt in reverence, Vigneron placed his hands upon their heads to ordain them, followed by Russell, Quinn and the rest of the bishops in attendance.
With the new bishops still kneeling, the archbishop then anointed their heads with holy chrism oil and bestowed upon them the signs of their office: the Book of the Gospels, their episcopal rings, miters and crosiers.
To a thunderous applause from the congregation, the new bishops were presented for the first time, and they processed through the cathedral to offer their first episcopal blessings.
Fisher, speaking on behalf of both new bishops, offered a litany of thanks to those who had helped with the ordination ceremony and to all those who had supported them.
“We are grateful for the gift of life and the gift of faith and the vocation that God has called us to,” Fisher said.
Fisher joked that he and Battersby were busy in November “ignoring phone calls from an unrecognized phone number in Washington, D.C.,” but were grateful they finally did pick up.
“We knew it wasn’t Donald or Hillary calling, but we didn’t realize it was Archbishop Christophe Pierre calling on behalf of Pope Francis with the news that we were being called to be bishops,” Fisher said. “We’re grateful for your presence here Archbishop Pierre, and we’re grateful to the Holy Father for his confidence in us.”
Fisher said he and Battersby accepted their new office “not as an honor, but as a constant opportunity to serve.”
After asking the congregation to pray for them, Fisher noted that Father Stephen Pullis, Vigneron’s secretary, had advised him to keep his comments brief.
“While he didn’t say it in words, the gleam in his eye suggested that he might show me one of the many ways the hook of a crosier might be used,” Fisher said to laughter.
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(Stechschulte is managing editor of The Michigan Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit.)