Statement from Bishop-elect David J. Bonnar
On the announcement of his appointment as the bishop of Youngstown
Thank you, Msgr. (Robert J.) Siffrin for the kind introduction and for your prayers and assistance over this last week. In the short time that I have known you, you have already become not only a trusted confidant but also a true brother. Thank you so much for your dedicated service to this diocese and for your leadership to me in this time of transition.
On Monday, Nov. 9, I received a phone call from Washington, D.C. When I said “Hello,” the gentleman identified himself as the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. He asked me if I was alone, which I was. And then he suggested that I might want to sit down. As I went to sit down, the archbishop said, “The Holy Father has appointed you to be the bishop of Youngstown.”
For a moment, I was utterly speechless. There was a deafening silence. And then the archbishop kept saying, “Hello? Hello?” I responded, “Hello.” And then I said, “Wow!” There were a few more “Wows!” and then I just said, “Archbishop, I have never had a call like this in my life.” And then he said, “Well you do accept, don’t you?” I paused, and with tears in my eyes, I said, “By the grace of God and with total humility, I accept this appointment.”
And then the good archbishop said, “Have you been to Youngstown?” I told him that my first priestly assignment was just across the border at St. Vitus Parish, New Castle. It was not uncommon at that time to cross the border to golf, shop or dine out with friends.
But that is not my only association with northeastern Ohio. My dad’s sister, Marjorie Burford, and her husband and family, lived for many years at Lake Milton. There used to be an amusement park there and my uncle was the mayor of the town. Their surviving daughter, Debbie Pentz, still resides in the area.
I also have done many private annual retreats at the Villa Maria Retreat and Conference Center, just at the edge of the Pennsylvania border in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, a stone’s throw from the Diocese of Youngstown.
I want to convey my sincere and humble gratitude to His Holiness, Pope Francis, for his trust and confidence in me. I pledge to him that I will work hard to know, love and serve this flock entrusted to me.
To Archbishop Christophe Pierre, thank you for your patience and humor. You told me that we need “happy bishops.” I promise you that I will strive every day to preach the joy of the Gospel and wear that joy in my heart.
To my current ordinary, Bishop David Zubik, there are no words that can adequately describe my sincere admiration and utmost respect for you. I have had the distinct privilege of working both with you and for you. You were the first person I could speak to after hearing this news. Since that moment, and following all of our subsequent conversations during this past week, along with your personal visit to pray with me on Sunday, you have been supportive beyond words, especially during a time in which I have found it hard to speak. You are a true brother and friend.
To His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who ordained me on July 23, 1988, in my home parish church and gave me the first of many assignments, I thank you for believing in me. I also want to thank the auxiliary bishops of Pittsburgh — Bishop William Winter and Bishop William Walterscheid — for your compelling witness as successors to the apostles. And to my fellow Pittsburgh brothers, His Eminence Cardinal Adam Maida, His Eminence Cardinal Daniel Dinardo, Archbishop Bernie Hebda, Bishop Thomas Tobin, Bishop Paul Bradley and Bishop Ed Burns, thank you for your example. I am honored to follow in your footsteps and become one of many Pittsburgh priests called to serve beyond Pittsburgh. I also am grateful to Bishop Kevin Rhoades, bishop of Fort Wayne and South Bend and chairman of the board for Our Sunday Visitor for his support in my role as editor of The Priest Magazine during the past four years.
I would be remiss if I did not pause to acknowledge my immediate predecessor, the late Bishop George Murry, who displayed time and again a true pastor’s heart. I hope to emulate his example. He was a true gift to the Church who left us too soon. I promise to build on his foundation. The only request I made for this day to Msgr. Siffrin is that we visit Bishop Murry’s grave, which we will soon do.
To Archbishop Dennis Schnurr, the metropolitan, and to my soon to be brother bishops of Ohio, thank you for your support. I look forward to collaborating with you for the good of the Church in Ohio.
And to my brother priests and deacons in Pittsburgh, I will always be proud to be one of you and ever grateful for your imprint on my heart. Thank you for your fraternal and prayerful support. Please pray for me and know that I will always pray for you.
To the priests, diocesan and religious, of this diocese, and all men and women vowed to consecrated life, I am thrilled to join you in serving this local Church. Please know you have my trust and respect. I cannot wait to meet you. I know that as a bishop I will be asked to be a teacher, but as I mentioned to Msgr. Siffrin days ago, the best teacher must always aspire to be a learned student. I desire to learn from you the faith, traditions, needs, strengths and challenges of this local Church.
To the diocesan staff and all those who work for the Church of Youngstown in any way, be it in the chancery office, in any of our parishes or Catholic schools, Catholic college or campus ministry programs, Catholic cemeteries or Catholic foundations, I am honored and humbled to be a collaborator with you in bringing the life of Jesus Christ to this corner of the world. We are all in this together!
To the seminarians and all those discerning a religious vocation, you have my prayers and support. Given the clamorous noise of the world, it is hard at times to effectively discern and hear the voice of God. As a former vocation director and rector, I will do my best to ensure a healthy environment for discernment and to support you in accord with God’s will. True peace comes from knowing God’s will.
To the faithful of this great diocese, I promise with all my heart to give you a shepherd’s care. While it is important that the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, the shepherd must always, as our Holy Father has noted, be in tune with the smell and the needs of the sheep. With God’s help, I will seek to always be there with you and for you, always in the name of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. And to any sheep who are hurting or feel lost in any way, I will be there for you. Above all, to any of our brothers or sisters who have been abused or hurt by the actions of any minister of the Church, especially a clergy member, I ask your forgiveness, and I pray for your healing.
To the religious leaders of all faiths and denominations, as well as all the leaders of the civic community, I am eager to collaborate with you for the good of our northeastern Ohio community. Together we can make a difference.
To all the people who live in the six counties of this diocese — Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark and Trumbull — whether you are Catholic or non-Catholic; believer or nonbeliever; whatever your ethnic origin or race; whether you are employed, unemployed or underemploye; a Browns fan, Bengals fan, Steelers fan, or no fan; I am here to be of service to you. You will always be in my prayers. I want nothing but the best for you and our community as a whole.
In 32 years as a priest, 25 spent in parish ministry, nearly 17 as a pastor in four different parishes, I have always worked hard to effect unity among God’s people. The work of forging this unity is all the more challenging given the world in which we live, which on many levels is fractured, splintered and divided. We need unity in our families, parishes, neighborhoods and communities. One by one, we can bring people together. I feel so passionate about this endeavor that I have chosen as my episcopal motto from John 17:21, the great priestly prayer of Jesus, the petition of Jesus, that all may be one. That is my prayer and my pledge as your next bishop. To do all in my power to bring about unity and oneness even in the face of differences and diversity. I was so blessed to do this work as a parish priest. Now it is my honor to lead this effort in our six counties as your next bishop. I ask for your prayers in this regard. But I also ask for you to be partners with me. We are all this together!
This oneness is something we all learn in the first classroom, the home. It is what it means to be a family. Our families are our first churches. My dear parents, George and Mary Bernadette, God rest their souls, drilled this oneness into us children from day one. This oneness was always centered in Jesus with family meals preceded by grace, Sunday Mass, Catholic education and love of neighbor. I thank God for both of them. Although they never were able to go to college, they were the first teachers and the best teachers I had. One of the best moments I ever shared with them came following my ordination to the diaconate in Rome when our diaconal class had an audience with the pope. What a joy to see the look on their faces when dad, a convert to the Faith, and mom got to meet the Holy Father. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
When I was ordained a priest, I remember being told that no one comes to the altar alone. There is a long line of people, fingerprints, if you will, that touch our lives as instruments of God’s grace. Well, although I made the 52-mile, 56-minute drive this morning to my new home alone, I stand here today with the realization that there are so many people who are part of me, for they have played an integral part in my story and will forever be emblazoned on my heart. It is not just my parents, but my siblings, Mary Linn, George, Cathy, Harry, and their spouses, Brian, Michele, Kenny and Jean, my nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers and parishioners, and, yes, even strangers. I am so appreciative of my home parish family of St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Virgin, Whitehall, and the elementary school in which I was formed in the Faith. I also want to thank the teachers that I had at South Hills Catholic High School and Seton LaSalle High School, as well as those who educated me at Duquesne University, Saint Paul Seminary, the North American College and the Pontifical Gregorian University. To the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Providence of God, the Sisters of Charity, the Christian Brothers, the Spiritan Community and the many lay men and women who served as my teachers, thank you for forming me. I also want to acknowledge the religious communities who have been collaborators in my ministry — namely, the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Divine Providence Sisters, the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Neuman Community, the Sisters of Mercy, the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer and the Holy Family Sisters of Nazareth. I also want to thank the Passionist Community of priests and brothers in Pittsburgh whose doors have always been open to me for spiritual direction and confession.
In a particular way, I want to thank my brother priests, deacons and lay ministers and staff with whom I have served with over the years in Pittsburgh. I want to thank the faithful of the following parishes and diocesan ministries, St. Vitus, New Castle; St. Rosalia, Greenfield; St. Thomas More, Bethel Park; Saint Paul Seminary, Westwood; St. Bartholomew, Penn Hills; the Diocese of Pittsburgh Clergy Office; St. Pius and Our Lady of Loretta, Brookline; St. Bernard, Mount Lebanon; and Our Lady of Grace, Scott Township. I also want to express my gratitude to what I often have referred to as my first pastorate, the Pittsburgh Steelers. What a joy it was serving you as chaplain. Most especially, I want to acknowledge the faithful of the new parish of St. Aidan, Wexford, in which, since July of this year, I have been so blessed to be your pastor and part of this exciting adventure of becoming one parish. We were just getting started. I have really fallen in love with you. I will miss you and the Wexford area. But you know what they say, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” I never thought I would be leaving so soon.
I want to thank the staff at Our Sunday Visitor, most notably my co-workers at The Priest magazine. I have enjoyed every minute working with you to realize our mission “to serve the Church,” most especially the priests of our country and beyond.
Finally, and most importantly, I want to thank Almighty God for calling me to the priesthood. Many years ago, when I was vocation director, thanks to the bequest of a Pittsburgh priest, I produced a TV commercial for priesthood that ran during NFL football games, the title of which was, “A priest: An ordinary man called to do extraordinary work.” I truly am an ordinary man, human and prone to weakness. I come from very humble beginnings. Nevertheless, by God’s design, I am now called to do his extraordinary work here in these six counties as the sixth bishop of Youngstown. I cannot wait to roll up my sleeves, get my lunch bucket and go to work. I am humbled and excited to become an Ohioan — one of you, with you and for you. Please be assured of my prayers for you daily. I hope you will do the same for me. Together, let us pray every day, “That all may be one!”
BISHOP-ELECT DAVID J. BONNAR will be installed bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown on Jan. 12.