‘I will always give thanks … for you’

By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Seven days before his installation as the sixth bishop of the Michigan Diocese of Saginaw, Bishop Joseph R. Cistone received a prayerful farewell from the faithful of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, where he has served as an auxiliary bishop for the past five years.

For the boy from Tacony who from age 5 knew he wanted to be a priest – and who grew up to devote 34 of his 60 years to the priesthood in Philadelphia – Bishop Cistone received a fitting farewell at evening prayer with Benediction celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

“I’m very honored by the people that came,” Bishop Cistone said after the vespers. “It was almost my whole priesthood there – from my very first assignment to here in the office building. It was wonderful to see so many people.”

And it was a rousing goodbye, as the congregation gave their beloved Bishop more than one standing ovation. Bishop Cistone was moved to tears several times during the service. “I tried to compose myself, but all those words stir up memories and thoughts and everything. It’s not just the words – it’s all the people and circumstances that are behind them, so it was very emotional.”

If one word could sum up the evening, it would be “gratitude,” he said.

Processing in and recessing out of the Cathedral for the last time as a Philadelphian, “I just thought, this is home.”

Bishop Cistone has served in the Archdiocese’s Office of the Vicar for Administration for the past 16 years, the last 11 as vicar general and vicar for administration of the Archdiocese.

n concluding remarks, Cardinal Rigali called the celebration “an evening of great thanksgiving to God” and commended Bishop Cistone for acknowledging “all that God has done in him and through him and for him.”

Bishop Cistone departs his home diocese to shepherd his own diocese during the universal Church’s celebration of the Year of the Priest. Cardinal Rigali said that in inaugurating the year, Pope Benedict XVI said, the priest is the love of the heart of Jesus.

“This evening, in these last words, I would like to say how deeply grateful we are for all the gifts, but in a very special way for this gift – the love of the heart of Jesus that was manifested in the priestly and episcopal ministry of Bishop Cistone,” Cardinal Rigali said.

He then cited three ways that Bishop Cistone brought the love of the heart of Jesus to others: through his collaboration with the Cardinal himself, in Bishop Cistone’s priestly and episcopal ministry to the people of the Archdiocese and to his brother priests.

“I know we’ve already expressed appreciation, but couldn’t we do it once more, for Bishop Cistone?” the Cardinal asked.

The congregation then clapped and stood in solidarity as they bid goodbye to the Bishop.

As The Catholic Standard & Times went to press immediately after the vespers service at the Cathedral, a farewell reception for Bishop Cistone was under way at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel across from the Archdiocesan Office Center at 17th and Race Streets.

Bishop Cistone, 60, will be installed as Bishop of Saginaw at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, at St. Stephen Church in Saginaw. The day also marks the fifth anniversary of his ordination as a bishop.

On Monday, July 27, the day before his installation, Bishop Cistone will celebrate Solemn Evening Prayer at 7:30 p.m. at the Cathedral of Mary of the Assumption in Saginaw.

He succeeds as Bishop of Saginaw Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who was installed as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis in June.

Bishop Cistone said he will call upon the Blessed Mother and Philadelphia’s SS. John Neumann and Katharine Drexel to intercede for him to Jesus Christ in shepherding the diocese of 119,000 Catholics in central Michigan, northwest of Detroit.

Bishop Cistone was finishing a finance council meeting at the Archdiocesan Office Center late Monday morning, May 4, when his secretary informed him the papal nuncio to the United States was on the telephone.

It was during that telephone call that he learned that Pope Benedict XVI had appointed him Bishop of Saginaw. He was introduced to his diocese at a news conference in Saginaw early Wednesday morning, May 20, the day his appointment was announced in Rome.

In addition to his duties as an administrator in the Archdiocese’s Office of the Vicar for Administration for the past 16 years, Bishop Cistone has served as Regional Bishop of the Philadelphia-South Vicariate and of Clusters 64 and 65 in the Delaware County Vicariate for the past five years.

He was dean of formation in the theology spanision of St. Charles Seminary from 1991 to 1993; associate to the vicar for administration from 1993 to 1994, assistant vicar for administration from 1994 to 1998 and, since 1998, vicar general and vicar for administration of the Archdiocese.

Standard correspondence to Bishop Cistone may be mailed to the Office of the Bishop, Chancery of the Diocese of Saginaw, 5800 Weiss St., Saginaw, MI 48603.

To view streamed coverage of Bishop Cistone’s installation as the sixth bishop of the Diocese of Saginaw at 2 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, visit the web site www.saginaw.org or check the web sites of the local television stations in Saginaw.

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