From Westover to Elkton, Maryland and from Millsboro to Hockessin, Delaware, Bishop William E. Koenig rode the wave of energy from his July 13, 2021 installation to nearly every corner of the Diocese of Wilmington.
As the calendar rolls in mid-July, the Bishop has completed his first year as 10e bishop of the diocese. And if he hasn’t met everyone, it’s not because he hasn’t tried.
“I haven’t touched on them all,” the bishop said of the 56 parishes (75 places of worship) in the diocese. He estimates that he has visited more than half. He tried to make the most of his weekends for local trips.
“There haven’t been enough weekends,” Bishop said in an interview with The Dialog late last month. “I certainly had confirmations, but being there on a Sunday is a good opportunity to meet parishioners during this particular mass.”
Confirmations and scheduled school trips allowed the bishop to visit the 30 Catholic schools in the diocese. He made a game plan during each visit to the school, dividing the student body into three or four groups in order to have time facing each one. He enjoyed his time with the children.
“Some of them were very impressive in the way they talked about the stories of Jesus and different aspects of our faith, which made me realize the great gift of Catholic education and how our young people really form their faith. through it.”
From his first day of episcopal ordination and installation, the former priest of the diocese of Rockville Center (NY) said he was inspired by the welcome he received from the overflowing crowd who went to the Elizabeth’s Church in Wilmington. He said the reception had an impact on him and his guests, family and friends.
“They were overwhelmed by the reception they received,” he said. “And as I went to individual parishes, that was reinforced. And that goes for parishioners and just as much for priests.
His first year included many important milestones in the church, including the Synod on Synodality, the “Eucharistic Revival” and procession through Wilmington and the first “Monday of Reconciliation” he instituted during Holy Week. in the diocese when thousands of parishioners took advantage of the opportunity to go to confession during the same five-hour period in all the parishes of the diocese.
“One of the great pleasures was Holy Week here in Wilmington,” the bishop said. “Starting with Palm Sunday, but then Reconciliation Monday in which people responded. And the Chrism Mass was truly a beautiful gift. And then the opportunity to be in the Cathedral for the Triduum and to be the celebrant, the president of these liturgies, was certainly a great event. I appreciated the opportunity to do so.
“I was able to meet different groups of people. What is good with the synod is to meet various representatives of the parishes during informal sessions.
As the bishop methodically walks through the diocese, he said feedback from priests and parishioners has given him an idea of the challenges, and he has begun to think about a strategic approach to position the diocese for the future.
He knows this is just the beginning and said he expects the diocese to make an announcement soon outlining a plan to find a way forward.
“We have been looking to have someone to help us as priests and as a diocese both to really think about our needs, how we can best meet needs and bring the Gospel to others,” the minister said. ‘bishop. “And that would really involve people in the parishes, the clergy and the leadership of our diocese. And it could be a process that would take a few years. A great thing is to have someone – an organization – to help facilitate the process.
The bishop and other diocesan leaders have been focused on this process, he said, and are about to outline how they want to pursue the changes that will inevitably occur.
“One of the things I heard when meeting with the priests is that we have a large concentration of our parishes in the northern part of the diocese, in Wilmington, but a large part of the population has moved and is centered in the south,” the Bishop said. said Koenig. “So we need to look at how we can best deploy our staff and how can we best meet the needs of people who are across the diocese, both north and south. What happens in the south is that some of these priests have 10 masses. That’s a lot for two guys. What’s happening here (in the north) is that we have a lot of churches, so we need people in those churches, but we don’t have a lot of people coming to those individual masses.
The Diocese of Wilmington includes a large urban center, extensive suburban developments, a significant rural presence, and beach and resort towns.
“One of the things that is really interesting in the diocese is the diversity,” the bishop said. “Here you have the city of Wilmington, and you go south, and you have the farms and the beach. It’s a nice place to drive downhill in this area.”
It is also a geographical challenge.
“At this point, I look forward to next year as we delve a little deeper into the needs of our diocese,” he said. “To strategize on how it might be most effective to do this. I can’t wait to take the next step.
For many Catholics, this type of discussion and the obvious need for vocations leads them to think of one thing: to close/merge parishes.
“I think this is part of the study that we are looking to do,” Bishop Koenig said.
“How can we best respond to the needs of our diocese? In terms of personnel, in terms of evangelism, and that would involve all the parishes – the best way to do that.
Such a discussion is always accompanied by emotional thoughts about what will remain. The bishop is aware that the discussion of change brings a fresh start, but also shoots people who would like things to stay the same.
“It would be a process in which we would let the priests know, bring them together and present them with an image of what we want to do, but then we will go to the parishes and ask the parishioners to tell us what the needs are in your parish and explore -the down. Find out what their needs are and develop a plan based on their input. »
Amid all the work that awaits a new bishop, he also had a chance to get a sense of the place. He lives at the Bishop’s Residence, a house purchased by the diocese before his arrival a short distance from the chancery, and he has had the opportunity to enjoy the lighter side of life during visits through the parts of two states. He picked crabs on the east coast of Maryland and sampled a cheesesteak in New Castle County. He visited beach towns and, being a baseball fan, attended a Phillies game last season. He has been a Mets fan since childhood.
He was bumped from a scheduled appearance to throw out the first pitch at a Blue Rocks game in Wilmington.
Getting a call from a papal representative telling you that Pope Francis wants you to be bishop of a place you don’t know is an unusual part of the job. On the other hand, almost all the priests have had reassignments in their priesthood.
Is it the same?
“The main difference is that you come to a place where you have no idea where things are,” Bishop Koenig said. “As a priest you are assigned to a parish, you focus specifically on that parish. Now I have to learn the names of towns and parishes in those towns and the priests. There were two levels – meeting the parishioners – also, the committees and organizations that are part of our diocese. It’s a bit more in-depth when you’re working on different projects.
He’s had a taste of Italian gelato from Fusco in Wilmington (thumbs up!), but he’s still on the hunt for every New Yorker’s favorite morning specialty, a crispy, chewy New York bagel. He also didn’t know where to get his hair cut and was surprised to learn that many barbers needed an appointment. “I’m used to coming in,” he chuckled. He has since found a place.
Bishop Koenig made it a point to celebrate four Masses at Christmas, two on Christmas Eve and two on Christmas morning in four different parishes. He met grateful parishioners. “It was fun,” he said.
Are there aspects of the house that he misses?
“I miss the traffic very much,” the Long Island native said.
“The great thing about technology is that I can stay in touch with my family and friends. But it’s also half past two, so I can get up there. I had my classmates here and we went to Ocean City, and we had mass to celebrate our anniversary. I have to see the boardwalk. My Brooklyn classmates said, ‘This reminds you of Coney Island 50 years ago.’ »
He said people and processes were in place to keep up with growth in the region.
“I am very grateful for the call to come to this diocese and serve as a bishop here. I was very grateful to Bishop Malooly for his great support and for all the ways he really brought us to where we are today. I am grateful for the pastoral staff we have in our diocese and for the priests and laity who are so wonderful.
Bishop Koenig said he spent a lot of time listening during his first year of work.
“What I hear is great enthusiasm for our faith,” he said.
“But I also know that there are other people we want to reach, and that’s part of this three-year national eucharistic revival, not only to celebrate with the people who come, but also to attract people who don’t. not come. as usual.”