Congratulations, Bishop Coleman!

We at The Anchor congratulate our publisher, Bishop George W. Coleman, upon his retirement this fall. He will not truly enter into that new stage of his life until September 24, when his successor takes possession of the diocese, but we here at the paper wished to honor him this week in conjunction with the special Mass that he celebrated this past Tuesday at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, marking his 50 years as a priest and 11 years as bishop (those 11 are included in the 50, since “you are a priest forever” [Ps 104:4 and Heb 5:6 and 7:17] and the episcopacy is considered “the fullness of the priesthood” [Lumen Gentium 41, but the Church also taught this earlier]).

Although Bishop Coleman will be retired from administrative duties, his priestly and episcopal service to the Church will continue. Now he will be able to enjoy the ministry that Christ had given him, as a priest and as a successor of the Apostles, without having to deal with all of the minutiae that comes with having an ecclesiastical office. As we have heard from many retired priests of our diocese, this is a time in one’s life when one can feel even more so a priest, since one no longer has to act as a CEO.

One of Bishop Coleman’s concerns over these past 11 years has been the persecution of Christians throughout the world. He has repeatedly asked that we pray for them, offer up our sacrifices for them, and urge our government leaders to do what they can to alleviate their sufferings. When talking with the bishop about them, one can see his personal sadness and union in prayer with them. This will not stop come September 24. One of the ways in which we can honor the bishop is to join with him in carrying out his request that we truly see these people in such anguish as our brothers and sisters (Christ has told us that they are this) and do what we can to help them, Spiritually and materially.

As Linda Rodrigues tells us in her remembrance article in this edition, Bishop Coleman has also always been a man who called for justice, be it in terms of dealing with the horror of the sexual abuse of minors, be it in terms of how we treat undocumented immigrants, be it in terms of how we deal with questions of life and death. These have not been the easiest of years to be a bishop, having to deal with the aftermath of September 11 in the secular world and the aftermath of the abuse crisis in the ecclesial world, having to deal with a fragile economy for most of the time he was bishop and having to see how that fragility made the problems in the cities of our diocese become even more acute. To all of these situations Bishop Coleman has brought his prayerfulness and his deep love for God and neighbor. 

Last year in Sharing, the publication of the diocesan Catholic Charities Appeal, Bishop Coleman remarked on the election of Pope Francis to the Chair of St. Peter. He said, “He begins his mission as one known for his love of the poor, simplicity of life, and gentle good humor. He is a man of deep prayer.” Although our bishop was speaking about his new “boss,” these words could also be applied to himself (although, in humility, Bishop Coleman would not do such a thing). Many a person has spoken about the recollections the bishop has shared about his years as a priest, often throwing in funny anecdotes about his collaborators in the priesthood (always funny but never demeaning; his humor is more like Bob Newhart’s than Joan Rivers’).

Bishop Coleman took for his motto Domini sumus, which is the Latin for “We are the Lord’s,” a quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (14:8). The bishop picked this motto because of how it falls into a longer quote from St. Paul: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (14:7-8).

Back in 2003, when Bishop Coleman was ordained to the episcopacy, Msgr. John Moore wrote an editorial in which he explained the bishop’s motto and its implication for him and for all of us. “A Biblical commentary on this passage implies a restraining principle: Christian liberty is never license, but discharge of our responsibility to the Lord. In the whole of our experience, including death itself, we are related to the Lord. Not all people realize this, but the true believer does. That we are the Lord’s determines our life. God has accepted each of us, can we do less? If we live to honor the Lord, this will be reflected in our actions and words, especially in the way we treat one another. This indeed is Bishop Coleman’s mindset as he begins his leadership of the diocese.”

Bishop Coleman has strove to live out those words and to impress them upon us — that we need to live to honor the Lord, not ourselves. When we do this, we find true peace, because we are being what we are called to be — the Lord’s — His beloved children. Whatever we do as a member of the Church, it is not to be for our own aggrandizement or just to get our own way — if that were so, then we would be living for ourselves, but not for God. As Bishop Coleman enters into retirement, may God help him and all of us to always be “the Lord’s,” treasuring the great gift that this is.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts