By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS – Msgr. Herbert A. Bevard, a convert to Catholicism and a former pastor of St. Athanasius Parish in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, was ordained a bishop and installed as the fifth ordinary of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday, Sept. 3.

Five days after the ceremonies, Bishop Bevard was still beaming about his diocese and those he will shepherd there.
“They have welcomed me with open hearts and open arms,” Bishop Bevard said in a telephone interview Monday, Sept. 8.

“They certainly are people filled with faith, filled with joy,” he added. “They love the Church very, very much. I have a beautiful diocese.”

Bishop Bevard said he was thrilled with his ordination and installation ceremony. “The priests and the people certainly went out of their way to make it a beautiful Mass and a wonderful time.”

Approximately 50 parishioners from St. Athanasius attended their former pastor’s ordination and installation ceremonies.
Ruth Brown, Bishop Bevard’s secretary at St. Athanasius, was among those in attendance. “It’s a paradise” and one Bishop Bevard deserves all 365 days of the year, Brown said of her former boss’ new diocese.

Brown and Louise Frasier, the grand lady of St. Athanasius’ Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver Court 342, were two of the four offertory gift bearers.

“I couldn’t have been more honored,” Frasier said. “We’re going to carry on his legend [at St. Athanasius],” she said.
Her husband Gene, the charter grand knight of the Knights of Peter Claver at St. Athanasius, soon to be known as Bishop Bevard Council 342, was part of the entrance procession.

There were also representatives from several other parishes in the Archdiocese where Bishop Bevard once served as a parochial vicar, including the former St. Robert in Chester, St. Richard in Philadelphia and St. Anastasia in Newtown Square.

“The ceremony itself brought tears to my eyes,” said Eileen Ceraso of St. Richard Parish. “I’ll be talking about this for the rest of my life. It was important for me to see him accomplish this because we just love him so much. He’s just such a kind and humble man in every capacity. It was just amazing.”

David and Eileen Dickens, formerly of St. Robert Parish in Chester, were the other two gift bearers. David Dickens is the principal at Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor. Eileen Dickens is a teacher at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield.

Jack Carr, formerly of St. Robert Parish in Chester, also attended the ordination. “It was magnificent,” Carr said. “[Bishop Bevard is] just a terrific guy” and “a very holy priest.”

Because St. Thomas is a suffragan diocese to the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl was the principal celebrant and ordaining bishop.

“Today, the Church in her liturgical calendar celebrates St. Pope Gregory the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church,” Archbishop Wuerl said in his homily. “His life and work are not only an inspiration for each bishop, but have a particular message for us today.

“It was at Pope Gregory’s direction that Augustine was commissioned to go to Britain and proclaim the faith. He eventually became the first bishop and then Archbishop of Canterbury. He saw in the papal letter of appointment God’s will that he be for the British Isles a beacon of Christ’s Gospel. How appropriate that you, Bishop Bevard, come to these islands, sent by the successor of Gregory, to carry on the identical work – proclaim the Gospel and guide God’s holy people.”

Co-consecrators were Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz – one of Bishop Bevard’s classmates from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood – and Auxiliary Bishop Daniel E. Thomas of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

The three-hour ceremony, which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., was delayed about 15 minutes as rain from one of the last bands of Hurricane Hanna swept through.

Bishop Bevard was ordained in the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul in Charlotte Amalie, Virgin Islands, in the presence of the apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who was also a concelebrant; Cardinal Justin Rigali and, from the Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., the second bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas.

Among the more than 50 priests of the Philadelphia Archdiocese who also traveled to the Virgin Islands were Auxiliary Bishops Robert P. Maginnis, Joseph R. Cistone and Joseph P. McFadden as well as Retired Auxiliary Bishop Martin N. Lohmuller.

“I was just delighted that so many of them were so kind and generous to give up their time and go to the trouble and the expense to come here,” Bishop Bevard said. “The people of the islands are very impressed with the priests from Philadelphia, and of course most of all, with his Eminence the Cardinal and the bishops.”

As one of three insignia bearers, Father Joseph C. McLoone, pastor of St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Chester, presented Bishop Bevard with the Bishop’s ring.

Father McLoone also assisted Bishop Bevard in coordinating the ceremony’s details. The two were neighbors when Father McLoone was pastor of St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia and Bishop Bevard was pastor of St. Athanasius.

Father G. Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Worship, served as master of ceremonies. “The celebration was splendid,” Father Gill said. “It was a manifestation of the faith of the Church, and the faith of the Church alive and well in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.”

Assisting priests included Father Kevin J. Gallagher, a parochial vicar at Corpus Christi Parish in Lansdale and Father Zachary W. Navit, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Philadelphia.

An afternoon reception and an evening dinner followed the ceremony. Highlights of those gatherings included performances on the steel drums by students from a local high school. In addition, the Philadelphia priests honored Bishop Bevard at the dinner by singing “Domine Salvum Fac,” a Philadelphia tradition in which priests salute one of their own and wish him God’s blessing.

“I want to thank everybody again in Philadelphia for their great goodness to me … for their support, their generosity and their prayers,” Bishop Bevard said.

Catholics across the Archdiocese can say goodbye to Bishop Bevard in person at the 11 a.m. Mass he is celebrating Sunday, Sept. 14 at St. Athanasius Church.

Father Joseph F. Okonski, Bishop Bevard’s successor as pastor, is the concelebrant.

A reception will follow in the parish hall.

For more information, call St. Athanasius Parish at (215) 548-2700. The church’s address is Limekiln Pike and Walnut Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19138.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at (215) 587-2468 or