CHICAGO — St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s trust in divine providence flowed throughout her work with immigrants, schoolchildren and the poor and it should be an example to Chicago’s three new auxiliary bishops, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said in his homily at their episcopal ordination Mass.
The cardinal invoked the saint, best known as Mother Cabrini, because the Mass at Holy Name Cathedral was being celebrated on her feast day, Nov. 13. He ordained as auxiliaries Bishops Kevin M. Birmingham, Jeffrey S. Grob and Robert J. Lombardo, who were appointed Sept. 11 by Pope Francis.
With restrictions on the size of the congregation due to COVID-19, the two-hour Mass was attended by 20 bishops and archbishops, a few dozen priests, deacons and seminarians and a small number of friends and family of the newly ordained bishops. The Mass was livestreamed so those who couldn’t attend could watch the celebration.
Chicago Auxiliary Bishops John R. Manz and Joseph N. Perry served as co-consecrators during the Mass.
In his homily, Cupich reflected on the life and witness of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, who came to the United States in 1889 at the request of Pope Leo XIII. At the time of her death, she had founded 67 institutions around the world, including Columbus Hospital, Columbus Extension for the Poor and Assumption School, all in Chicago.
Mother Cabrini died in Chicago Dec. 22, 1917. That day she had been wrapping candy for Christmas gifts for poor children. There is a national shrine to her across from the city’s Lincoln Park Zoo.
While the cardinal delivered his homily, the three soon-to-be-ordained bishops sat in chairs at the base of the sanctuary steps listening to him.
“As we reflect on the word of God on this feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, whom Cardinal (Samuel) Stritch called the patron of Chicago, our attention is drawn to some core values and virtues that should shape all Christian lives and especially those of an ecclesial leader like a bishop,” Cupich said.
Jesus prayed that his disciples live in the world but not be of the world. This is a tension Mother Cabrini learned to live in, the cardinal said, and any earthly achievements she received meant nothing to her if she became disconnected with God.
“Her main goal was not buildings or programs. These were important only if they helped bring about the salvation of humanity, which, she noted, does not depend upon material success but on Jesus alone,” Cupich said.
When Pope Leo XIII sent Mother Cabrini to America instead of China, where she wanted to go, she trusted in the successor of Peter and God’s will. So must the new bishops, Cupich said.
“There is great freedom that comes in realizing that we’ve been sent, for it liberates us from the trap of seeking the approval of others who measure success by a different standard,” he said.
“Mother Cabrini, was, surely, as they say, a ‘mulier fortis’ (strong woman), but her dogged determination was not a matter of stubbornness, or perhaps I should say (not) only stubbornness,” he continued. “Rather, her tenacity was underpinned by an unwavering conviction and the eternal freedom of knowing that she was sent, that Jesus wanted her to succeed and Jesus wanted her happiness.”
“You have responded to the call of the church to serve as successors of the apostles,” he told the three bishop candidates ahead of the ordination rite. “And you have been called because you have been found worthy in the call of Christ to live as his disciples.”
“Look to this good disciple Frances Xavier Cabrini,” he advised, “to inspire you to live in the tension of remaining in the world but not being of the world, to cultivate the internal freedom that comes with being sent without the burden of succeeding on your own or making the success or failure in your ministry the gauge of your value or your worth in the eye of God.”
“And always place your trust in God’s divine providence knowing that the grace bestowed on you today through the laying on of hands has been given to us before time began,” he added. “Then take up the task of walking the streets of Chicago and its environs in her footsteps to care for God’s holy people.”
After the homily, the cardinal examined the bishop candidates for their fidelity to the church and its mission. Next, the men lay prostrate before the altar while the congregation knelt and cantors chanted the litany of the saints.
Then, the cardinal laid his hands upon the heads of the men and all of the bishops present followed suit. This is the same gesture the apostles used to express the outpouring of the Holy Spirit when they appointed their successors.
Next, the book of the Gospels was placed over the head of each new bishop and the cardinal prayed the prayer of consecration. Their heads were then anointed with sacred oil and each bishop was presented with the symbols of the office: crosier, miter, ring and a book of the Gospels. Lastly, Birmingham, Grob and Lombardo were greeted with the sign of peace by all of the bishops present.
Grob, 59, is vicar for canonical affairs and an expert on the rite of exorcism, and Birmingham, 49, is director of the archdiocese’s Department of Parish Vitality and Mission.
Lombardo, 63, a Franciscan Friar of the Renewal, runs a mission outreach to the poor on Chicago’s West Side. In 2005, he was invited to Chicago by Cardinal Francis E. George to minister to the poor.
At the end of Mass, when the new auxiliary bishops headed out into the congregation to bestow first blessings on the people, the congregation cheered and clapped while musicians and the choir performed “Holy God We Praise Thy Name.”
The cheers reached a crescendo when all three united at the back of the cathedral and processed up to the altar together. They processed alphabetically, as they appeared throughout the service, with Birmingham leading the way.
Lombardo stopped several times to greet people he knew and Grob stopped to hug his mother, Bonnie Grob, who was sitting in a pew at the front of the church. Then all three made their way back to the sanctuary.
Duriga is editor of the Chicago Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.