SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — The new leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield said Thursday that one of his first tasks will be to break out the maps and the GPS to find his way around the unfamiliar region.
Pope Francis on Thursday named lifelong Baltimore-area resident Bishop Mitchell Thomas Rozanski the ninth leader of the diocese founded in 1870. The diocese encompasses the four westernmost counties in Massachusetts.
Rozanski, currently an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, succeeds Bishop Timothy McDonnell, who submitted his letter of resignation almost 18 months ago, on his 75th birthday as required by church law.
“I already feel at home because of your welcome,” Rozanski, 55, said at an introductory news conference. McDonnell had already taken him on a brief tour of the Springfield area, he said.
“They scoured the earth and found the right man to take my place,” McDonnell said, pointing out that western Massachusetts was once part of the Baltimore Archdiocese.
Rozanski takes over a diocese that includes the inner city of Springfield and its associated problems of violence and poverty, to the small rural towns of Franklin and Berkshire counties. The diocese has 230,000 Catholics in 81 parishes.
The area is dealing with an immigrant influx, a large Latino population, and struggling parochial schools.
“As a church, Jesus gives us the model and example of welcome,” Rozanski said of newcomers.
He served as the vicar for Hispanics in Baltimore.
As for schools, he stressed creativity and affordability.
He is also the first Polish-American bishop of the diocese, an area with a significant population of Polish descent.
Rozanski was ordained in 1984 and served as a parish priest for 20 years before being named bishop in 2004.
McDonnell took over in 2004 for Thomas Dupre, who cited health reasons for a sudden retirement but who had been indicted on child abuse charges dating to the 1970s. The district attorney did not pursue the case because the statute of limitations had expired.
Rozanski will be installed at a ceremony scheduled for Aug. 12 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield.
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