PEORIA, Illinois — While there was social distance between those present, every space inside St. Mary’s Cathedral was repeatedly filled with sounds of joyful praise, gratitude and boisterous applause July 23 at the episcopal ordination of Bishop Louis Tylka, Peoria’s new coadjutor.
“Admittedly, our gathering is smaller than normal circumstances allow, but I know many others are joining us virtually,” said Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, who served as principal celebrant, consecrator and homilist.
He was joined by about 20 other bishops — including Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the Vatican nuncio to the United States — and more than 100 priests from both the Diocese of Peoria and the coadjutor bishop’s native Archdiocese of Chicago.
The total assembly was about 250 people, the maximum allowed in the 1,000-capacity cathedral under the state’s present coronavirus guidelines. All were wearing cloth face coverings, with Cupich and Tylka adding plastic shields during some of the ordination rites or while distributing Communion.
Noting that “you are called to serve as a bishop in some very challenging times for society and the church,” including a global pandemic, Cupich urged Tylka to “remain undaunted” and to frequently keep in mind his early transformative encounters with Jesus as he strives to “Go Make Disciples,” his episcopal motto.
“I am filled with great joy and tremendous gratitude today,” Tylka said in remarks at the close of the Mass. “The great joy comes from knowing that the Holy Spirit continues to work in the church, gathering us all together to participate in this moment of grace for the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and in my own life.”
That joy was tempered this day by the absence of Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, who has guided the Diocese of Peoria for 18 years and who the 50-year-old Tylka will assist and eventually succeed. After the opening procession, it was announced that Jenky, 73, had been “unknowingly exposed to the coronavirus on several recent occasions in the course of his episcopal ministry.”
“Upon the advice of our health care partners, (Bishop Jenky) is under self-quarantine,” Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general of the Diocese of Peoria, told the assembly. “He is, of course, greatly saddened to be unable to be present at this important and historic event. In his name, I welcome all of you and I thank you for your presence here today.”
Jenky was remembered throughout the liturgy. Cupich said “we will be keeping Bishop Jenky in our prayer,” while Pierre praised Jenky’s “humility and courage” in asking for the help of a coadjutor bishop as he has encountered physical struggles in recent years.
“He has placed the love of his flock and the evangelizing mission of the church before his own interests, offering us a model of pastoral charity,” said Pierre. Telling Jenky “I know you are following us” via the livestreamed telecast, Pierre led the assembly in grateful applause for “his wonderful ministry.”
Pierre said Jenky and Tylka “will be stronger together as you bring the joy of the Gospel to this diocese and its people under the protection of Mary Immaculate.”
Tylka thanked Jenky for “his warm and gracious welcome to me, his dedication to this local church which he loves so deeply, and the reassurance he has offered me in this transition.”
The nearly two-hour liturgy included ancient rites, songs and readings in both English and Spanish, and even a few lighthearted moments.
In reading the papal bull, or official letter of appointment from Pope Francis, the French-born Pierre paused when he came to Tylka’s first name.
“I notice that you write Louis like in French ‘Louis,'” said the papal nuncio, pronouncing the first as “Lewis” and the second as “Louie.”
“That’s interesting,” he continued. “Louie Tylka. From now on we will call you like that,” said Pierre, emphasizing the French pronunciation. Laughter followed, including from Tylka’s family seated in the front pews with his father, also named Louis.
While a priest for 24 years in the Archdiocese of Chicago — the last six as pastor of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Tinley Park — Tylka liked to be called “Father Lou.” He is now happy to be greeted as “Bishop Lou.”
Part of the ordination rite was the laying on of hands by Cupich and co-consecrators Pierre and Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, standing in for Jenky. The gesture was then repeated by all bishops present, including another new prelate, Bishop Michael G. McGovern, who was ordained and installed as bishop of Belleville, Illinois, the previous day.
During the prayer of consecration, two deacons — Deacon Edward Pluchar of St. Julie Billiart Parish and Deacon Jim Heatwole of St. Mark Parish — held a Book of the Gospels over Tylka’s head.
The book once belonged to Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the media pioneer and sainthood candidate from the Diocese of Peoria whose remains are entombed in a side chapel of the cathedral; he was declared “venerable” in 2012.
The chalice of Archbishop John Lancaster Spalding, the first bishop of Peoria, was used in the liturgy.
Specially remembered during the Mass were Tylka’s mother, Norma, who died just as her son was entering the seminary, and his sister Mary Lou, who passed away from cancer in June.
“I know in my heart that today Mom and Mary Lou are smiling down upon us as they are very much with us today,” said Tylka. He called his family, which includes five sisters, “the greatest gift God has blessed me with.”
As he has said in beginning each of his priestly assignments, Tylka told his new diocese: “You’re not getting just me, you’re getting my family as well.”
Speaking briefly in Spanish, Tylka shared his joy and gratitude and asked for the help of the diocese’s Spanish-speaking population in teaching him to speak the language more fluently.
He thanked all who worked to make the celebration happen and had a special message for the priests of the Diocese of Peoria.
“From the moment I first received word of my appointment, you have all been in my prayers and in my heart,” he said. “Your warm welcome and the love and support you have already shown to me and my family, especially in the difficulty of my sister’s cancer battle and going home to God, has proven the goodness of God which I see in you.”
To the entire congregation, he said: “Together, walking the road of faith, recognizing the grace of Jesus walking with us, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, following the example of the Blessed Mother, let us take up anew our own mission the Lord has given us. Let us ‘Go Make Disciples!”
Dermody is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.