Monessen native named bishop of Erie Diocese

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Monsignor Lawrence Persico, who held key administrative posts in the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg while pastoring a rural parish, has been named bishop of the Diocese of Erie.

"I know that I have a lot to learn, and I am eager to listen and to learn," Bishop-elect Persico, 61, said at a news conference. "I do not come to you with any preconceived plans. I come with only one agenda, and that is to share with you my faith in Jesus Christ."

His motto will be "Veritas in caritate" -- truth in charity -- a biblical quotation and the title of an encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI. He will take the oath of office at a vesper service Sept. 30 in St. Peter Cathedral, Erie. His ordination and installation will be held there Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m.

The Monessen native succeeds Bishop Donald Trautman, 76, who is a year past mandatory retirement age. The Erie diocese covers 13 counties and nearly 10,000 square miles. Bishop-elect Persico is the first priest born in the Diocese of Greensburg and ordained for its priesthood to be made a bishop, according to the diocese.

Bishop-elect Persico "is known as an insightful and pastorally sensitive priest who is solicitous above all for the good of souls and their living relationship to Jesus Christ," said Bishop Lawrence Brandt of Greensburg.

He attended St. Joseph Hall minor seminary in Greensburg and the Seminary of St. Pius X in Kentucky before earning his master of divinity from St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe. Ordained in 1977, he served three years at Immaculate Conception in Irwin before earning a canon law degree at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

In 1983 he became assistant chancellor of the diocese. In 1989 then-Bishop Anthony Bosco promoted him to chancellor.

Then-Father Persico worked so hard "that he made me feel guilty sometimes," Bishop Bosco said. "He helped me through some difficult times."

Father Persico offered good advice and comfort 20 years ago during a protest over a parish merger in the priest's hometown of Monessen, Bishop Bosco said.

"One of the things I liked about him was that he was honest," Bishop Bosco said, meaning he gave his best advice rather than saying only what he thought the bishop wanted to hear.

"He wasn't just a co-worker but a good friend, a good brother," Bishop Bosco said.

In 1998 Bishop Bosco made him pastor of St. James parish in New Alexandria. He's still there.

"Although he worked by the bishop, he never neglected us," said Betty Nemchik, the parish secretary. He didn't hurry off after daily Mass, but had coffee with his parishioners.

"He is very compassionate and very dedicated," she said, "He always has just the right words, as far as his homilies go. You can tell people are listening to him, not just staring off somewhere."

Bishop Brandt promoted him to vicar general, the most powerful position short of bishop. He became a monsignor in one of the last official acts of Pope John Paul II.

The Rev. Vincent Gigliotti, pastor of St. Anne parish in Rostraver, is a lifelong friend who cited his "wonderful, wry sense of humor."

"His approach with us priests is very fraternal. He is very kind and gentle," he said.

Hugh Dempsey, vice president of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation in Washington, D.C., is a former Greensburg resident who has raised funds for Catholic causes including the Vatican Museums. For many years Bishop-elect Persico was his contact in Greensburg.

"He is extremely detailed, very consistent in the best sense of the word," Mr. Dempsey said. "His word was his word in this day and age where words tend to sway in the breeze."


Ann Rodgers: or 412-263-1416.


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