(Photo by Jose Luis Aguirre/Catholic San Francisco)
Archbishop George Niederauer greets worshippers April 30 after entering St. Mary’s Cathedral to celebrate a Mass of thanksgiving for his 50 years as a priest.
2,000 attend Archbishop Niederauer’s jubilee Mass
May 2nd, 2012
By George Raine
13 brother bishops, 130 priests join celebration
Archbishop George Niederauer on April 30 celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on the occasion of his golden jubilee of ordination as a priest, and was honored by some 2,000 Catholic faithful at St. Mary’s Cathedral for a life of service.
Even as an honoree, however, the eighth archbishop of San Francisco still gave thanks: “Thanks to God for calling me to 50 years of service to him in his church to his people,” he said.
It was a cross section of the faithful of the archdiocese and beyond that came to honor Archbishop Niederauer: Religious women and men, the Orders of Malta and Holy Sepulcher, students from the archdiocese’s schools including all of the high schools, leaders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, 13 bishops, clergy of the Greek Orthodox Church, family and friends, deacons, more than 130 priests and other faithful.
They honored him, not only for his six years of service here, but for making service his hallmark for 50 years.
Indeed, if a handful of words can capture the essence of a priestly career, his fellow priests said, they are found in the archbishop’s own episcopal motto: “To Serve and To Give.”
The archbishop’s longtime friend, Cardinal William J. Levada, the former archbishop here and now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican, was the homilist. He recalled the scene April 30, 1962, at the Cathedral of Saint Vibiana in Los Angeles, when priest-to-be Niederauer answered the “call to humility” and prostrated himself on the floor as a sign of humility.
It was “to signify priestly service,” he said.
Archbishop Niederauer’s Gospel selection at the Mass – fittingly, said Cardinal Levada – was from Luke 22 which in part describes Jesus’ disciples getting into an argument about which of them should be regarded as the greatest. “Jesus tells them they are not to seek power, not to seek praise, but rather to be in the midst of his people … as a shepherd” and to serve, said Cardinal Levada.
Cardinal Levada gave a short history of Archbishop Niederauer’s 50 years of service, most notably his 27 years as a professor of English literature, as well as serving as spiritual director and rector, at St. John’s Seminary College in Camarillo, where he oversaw the formation of many future priests, and on to challenges in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, where he was bishop for 11 years, before heading the Archdiocese of San Francisco, where he was installed Feb. 15, 2006.
Cardinal Levada noted that both he and Archbishop Niederauer were ordained at a time when it fell on them to help usher the changes brought by the Second Vatican Council. They were “priests whose task it would be to guide the church through a difficult period of change in a way that let the face of Jesus appear more clearly than ever in a world more in need than ever of his sacred words and grace,” said Cardinal Levada.
Both are expected to retire in the near future, and Cardinal Levada found a poetic reference to the day they look forward to, from Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!’”
In interviews at a reception after Mass, several bishops spoke of Archbishop Niederauer’s contributions:
“The archbishop brought a clarity on the importance of priestly ministry, a strong emphasis on vocations and the families of our archdiocese, so that the people would have the shepherd they deserve,” said Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Daly of the Diocese of San Jose, and formerly a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
“His motto ‘To Serve and to Give’ is perfect because that is what he does,” said Bishop John C. Wester of the Diocese of Salt Lake City and also formerly of San Francisco. “He is a real servant of Christ. He loves people. He is good to people. He is a real pastor. He has been an inspiration to me in my own ministry as someone with a great heart,” said Bishop Wester.
“He has such great respect from the priests and that is very, very significant – when the priests recognize that and honor you,” said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton. “I think he brought a gift of wisdom” to the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said Bishop Blaire. “He brought an ability to communicate with a public which is very, very diverse, and he brought the ability to speak the Gospel very, very forthrightly.”
From May 4, 2012 issue of Catholic San Francisco.