Bishop Ronald W. Gainer introduced himself as the 11th bishop of the Harrisburg Diocese and as a shepherd dedicated to the sanctification and ministry of his people.
In front of an enthusiastic crowd of diocesan employees and a host of local media gathered in Harrisburg for the Jan. 24 press conference, Bishop Gainer said he was eager to connect with the people of the diocese to learn about its strengths and challenges.
Accessibility, he said, has been a hallmark of his episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Lexington, where he has served as bishop since 2003. He hopes to maintain that trend in Harrisburg.
“I have a lot to learn about this local Church, about all of the people in these 15 counties, about the strengths and the areas of challenge,” said Bishop Gainer.
Referring to his appointment to Harrisburg as a homecoming – he was born in Pottsville, Pa., and served as a priest of the Diocese of Allentown for 29 years – Bishop Gainer said he planned to “hear with the ears and the heart of a hometown boy.”
Father Robert M. Gillelan Jr., diocesan administrator, made the announcement Jan. 24 that Pope Francis had named Bishop Gainer, 66, as bishop of the diocese. He will be installed on Wednesday, March 19, at St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
Introducing Bishop Gainer during the press conference, Father Gillelan reflected on Jan. 24 as the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, who was known as the “gentleman saint.”
“It seems appropriate then that today we officially welcome this Kentucky gentleman back to his native Pennsylvania,” he said.
Following a sustained standing ovation as he stepped to the podium, Bishop Gainer expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis and to Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, apostolic nuncio to the United States, for their trust in appointing him to the Diocese of Harrisburg.
“It is with great humility and true joy that I accept this as God at work through the authorities of our Catholic Church. I am humble and grateful,” he said.
He also offered thanks to the bishops of the Province of Philadelphia, including Archbishop Charles Chaput, for their confidence; to Father Gillelan for his leadership during the time of vacant see; and to the staff of the dioceses of Harrisburg and Lexington.
(Read Archbishop Chaput’s comments and Bishop Gainer’s ties to the Philadelphia region in this related story.)
“I want to certainly say that the people of the Diocese of Lexington and the faithful priests, religious, the laity received this Yankee with great love and affection, and I want to express gratitude to them for these 11 years of the privilege of being the second bishop of a very young mission diocese,” he said.
Established in 1988 from parts of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Covington, the Diocese of Lexington has 50 counties, 40 of which are in Appalachia.
“I welcome today this new time in the life of the Diocese of Harrisburg, and in my own life and in my ministry, and I trust, truly, that the bond of faith, the bond of love, the bond of joy that developed in 11 years in my stewardship and shepherding the Diocese of Lexington will take place here and will grow quickly to unite us together in our Savior, Jesus Christ,” said Bishop Gainer.
The appointment of Bishop Gainer as bishop of Harrisburg came nearly nine months after the death of Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died on May 2 of last year. In his address, Bishop Gainer took time to reflect on the late bishop, who had served the diocese for nearly three years.
“I want to recall with reverence and with deep respect and gratitude the memory of Bishop Joseph McFadden. His sudden passing was a sadness to all of us, and this local Church continues in its own way to grieve that sudden loss of your shepherd,” he said.
Bishop Gainer said he crossed paths with Bishop McFadden on numerous occasions. The two were members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education, which Bishop McFadden eventually chaired.
He also spoke of the prayer card distributed during Bishop McFadden’s funeral Mass. He has kept it next to his computer since May. “Every time I’ve gone to my computer, I’ve seen the smiling face of your shepherd looking at me and I’ve offered a prayer for his happy repose… . I continue to join with you in praying for Bishop McFadden,” he said.
Speaking about the priorities that were a constant in his ministry as Bishop of Lexington, Bishop Gainer pointed to Catholic schools, prison ministry and social justice.
“I know that Catholic schools are strong and numerous here,” he said.
He also spoke of an initiative in the Diocese of Lexington that focuses on the faith formation of Catholic school teachers and administrators.
On the subject of prison ministry, he noted that there are nine state and five federal prisons in the Diocese of Lexington, and that he has made it a priority to visit inmates there “to let them know that they are not invisible.”
Social justice has also been a focus of his ministry, especially in a diocese with poverty and unemployment. In the 40 Appalachian counties of the Diocese of Lexington, 74 percent of children live below the federal poverty line.
“Where there is inequality, where there are needs in a local community, we can’t close our eyes or look the other way,” Bishop Gainer remarked. “We can name those problems and muster energy to address them. What are the afflictions? Where is there injustice? Where is the good of society not being served?
“My vision of a diocese is that we are in service to where the rubber meets the road, we are in service to our parish communities, and we need to be able to be a resource, to give guidance where needed, and to help our parishes be the most vibrant communities of Catholic faith in service, worship and in teaching,” he said.
Concluding his statement during the press conference, Bishop Gainer quoted from a letter written in 1604 by St. Francis de Sales on how to be a good bishop:
“There is nothing impossible where there is love. Our Lord did not ask St. Peter whether he was learned or eloquent before saying, ‘Feed my sheep.’ He only asked, ‘Do you love me?’ True love of God and of souls is all that is needed. Your people await you. They are looking forward to seeing you, and also to be seen by you. Begin at once to do what you should always do. They will be edified as they see you often at the altar, offering the Holy Sacrifice for their salvation. They will be edified, too, if they see you, like their priests, earnest for the sanctification, preaching and ministering to them.”
“On March 19, I will begin with joy, with deep faith and love to do what I must do, what I will always do here in your midst: the ministry of sanctification, teaching and shepherding,” Bishop Gainer said.
Jen Reed is managing editor of The Catholic Witness, newspaper of the Diocese of Harrisburg.