WASHINGTON, D.C. — The joyous strains of “Rendez Grace au Seigneur” (“Give Thanks to the Lord”) filled Ss. Peter and Paul Cathedral for the April 17 episcopal ordination of Bishop Jerome Feudjio and his installation as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“You expected me to be an accountant, but I decided to count the souls of the Lord,” Feudjio joked with his friends and family members who had traveled from Cameroon to be in attendance at the cathedral in Charlotte Amalie. The Mass livestreamed on the diocesan website.
Feudjio, who was vicar general and chancellor of the diocese with Pope Francis named him to head the diocese March 2, succeeds Bishop Herbert A. Bevard, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis last September after he fell ill and was hospitalized.
Now-Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory served as apostolic administrator until a new bishop was named. St. Thomas is a suffragan diocese of the Archdiocese of Washington.
The cathedral was filled for the 90-minute service with all attendees masked but not socially distanced.
The new bishop, 65, was born in the village of Fonakeukeu in western Cameroon, and his path to ordination as a priest included a degree in bookkeeping from St. John College of the Christian Brothers of Quebec.
His father died when he was 5, and in his brief homily, he recalled watching the family’s home burn as French troops moved through Dschang to find terrorists fighting French colonial rule. Cameroon achieved independence from France Jan. 1, 1960.
Catholic missionaries there “opened the door to us,” he said. “They offered schooling at an affordable cost. And more than that, they offered kindness and love.”
Feudjio was a postulant for the Congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart and attended the congregation’s seminary in Otele, Cameroon, and the major seminary of theology in Nkolbison in Yaounde, Cameroon.
In 1980, he found an American mentor in then-Father Sean P. O’Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan, now a cardinal and the archbishop of Boston. The prelate, who first offered Feudjio a place to stay at the San Francisco House for foreign seminarians, ordained him as a priest in 1990.
O’Malley himself is a former bishop of St. Thomas. In 1984, St. John Paul II named O’Malley to be coadjutor bishop of St. Thomas and a year later he became the bishop of the diocese, serving until 1992, when he was named bishop of Fall River, Massachusetts.
“Jesus is not some guru from the distant past, but our contemporary,” the cardinal said in his homily April 17. “As a man of faith, the bishop is called to be a man of prayer.”
“Jerome my brother, today you are being ordained, commissioned, to take care of the Lord’s flock,” he added.
Recalling Jesus’s ordination of Peter in the Gospel of John, O’Malley said, “Jerome will receive the same ordination and sharing in the apostle’s role. Without bishops, in the lineage of the apostles, there would be no priests, no magisterium, no possibility of forgiving sin.”
Feudjio thanked O’Malley for helping him “listen to the voice of the Lord, and to understand his will.”
He also recalled an occasion on which O’Malley asked him to drive in Washington: “I had never received a driver’s license. But he trusted me enough to ask me to drive him, and he was on my right as we took a sharp curve” before leaning in to grab the steering wheel.
Feudjio called the installation “a vivid affirmation of my proclamation of faith: To teach, to sanctify and to govern.”
Gregory presided over the formal installation, which also was attended by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, retired archbishop of Washington. The apostolic letter from Pope Francis appointing the new bishop was read by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the papal nuncio.
In an earlier statement, Gregory noted of Feudjio: “His long history of service and pastoral dedication to the people of this community of faith are well known and widely respected.”
Feudjio’s family members, in colorful Cameroonian garb, occasionally cheered. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone left in Cameroon today,” Pierre quipped.
Feudjio attended Oblate College, then part of the Washington Theological Consortium to complete his studies in philosophy and theology. In 1987, he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to make his temporary religious profession. He enrolled in graduate studies in the administration of justice program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.
O’Malley invited him to go to the St. Thomas Diocese to work as a campus minister at Ss. Peter and Paul School in 1988.
Established in 1977, the St. Thomas Diocese comprises the U.S. Virgin Islands of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. They have a combined population of about 110,000, about 30,000 of whom are Catholic.
The diocese has eight parishes and is served by 12 priests. The first bishop was a Redemptorist, Bishop Edward J. Harper, who headed the diocese from 1977 to 1985, when O’Malley automatically succeeded him.
Feudjio is the second priest of the diocese to be named its bishop.