Bishop Brandt celebrates a decade in diocese

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Even with a congregation diminished by the steady snowfall outside, hundreds of Greensburg Catholics celebrated Bishop Lawrence Brandt upon the 10th anniversary Sunday of his arrival as head of the diocese.

Anthems by organ, brass and choir accompanied the service, which began as Bishop Brandt processed in, wearing his miter and carrying his symbolic crozier, or shepherd's staff, behind priests and others. He passed through an honor guard of the Knights of Columbus, their ceremonial swords held aloft, and to his round-backed cathedra, or bishop's seat, modeled on one in a historic Roman church where he was ordained a priest decades ago. The service took place at Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, which was renovated during Bishop Brandt's tenure.

"I am truly blessed to be your bishop," he told congregation.

Bishop Brandt, a native of West Virginia with a long history of service as a Vatican diplomat and a chancellor and pastor in the Diocese of Erie, was ordained bishop of Greensburg 10 years ago on March 4, succeeding Bishop Anthony Bosco.

The anniversary Mass is one of two major milestones for him this month.

On March 27, he turns 75 years old, the age when bishops are required by church law to offer their resignations in writing to the pope.

The process of selecting a replacement can take months or even years.

Bishop Brandt used his homily to thank priests, religious sisters and brothers and lay people for several efforts over the past 10 years, from developing a strategic plan to funding a capital campaign to promoting new efforts at evangelization.

But he acknowledged that the past decade has had its challenges, particularly with the closing and consolidation of numerous parishes and schools due to declines and shifts in the Roman Catholic population, and to the decreasing and aging ranks of priests.

"All of this is very emotional," he said in an interview. "People relate to a parish or church like no other institution" and don't want to witness the closing of the place where they and their forebears were baptized, married and confirmed. But when a parish is no longer viable, change has to happen, he said.

"If we are who we say we are," he said in his homily, "then we must follow St. Paul's admonition and bear with those who have great difficulty accepting change, so that through our charity toward them the Holy Spirit can bring about them the necessary healing and peace in their hearts. I have already seen it begin to happen."

The diocese has just more than 150,000 Catholics in its four counties of Westmoreland, Armstrong, Indiana and Fayette.

The Rev. Larry J. Kulick, vicar general of the diocese, said the celebration was about both Bishop Brandt's personal service and what the office represents as the jurisdictional and teaching authority of the church.

"Your presence is a reminder of the presence of Christ and the unbroken chain of apostolic succession," Father Kulick said.

Citing Bishop Brandt's own motto, he added, "May we burn with the fire of love."

Monsignor Raymond Riffle, rector of the cathedral and director of Catholic Charities for the diocese, agreed.

He lauded Bishop Brandt for his "willingness to accept that office in times that are not always calm."

Although overflow seating had been set up in the fellowship hall below the cathedral, it was little needed on the stormy morning as the pews were a little more than half filled.

With the forecasts for a stormy Sunday, more parishioners than usual had come to Mass at the cathedral Saturday night, according to staff.

Peter Smith:, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.

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