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Bishop Law of Missouri new Boston archbishop

By Jonathan Kaufman and James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 1/24/1984

oston's new Catholic archbishop -- formally named this morning -- will come to Boston Friday to meet leaders of the nation's third largest archdiocese.

Bishop Bernard Francis Law -- Harvard educated and active in the civil rights movement in Mississippi during the 1960s -- was appointed by the Vatican today to head the Catholic archdiocese of Boston, with 2 million members.

A one-sentence announcement was made in Rome followed by a brief announcement in Washington and a morning news conference in Boston.

His brief visit Friday will allow the archbishop-designate to meet with Boston's six auxiliary bishops and the board of consultors of the archdiocese, as well as hold a news conference, an archdiocesan spokesman said.

Bishop Thomas V. Daily, administrator of the Boston archdiocese, said Bishop Law would meet on March 22 with the priests of the archdiocese in Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End. There, he will present his credentials and formally become the archbishop of Boston.

His installation will take place at a Mass the following day, Friday, March 23, at the cathedral.

In a statement to the press issued this morning, Bishop Law said he was "most grateful to the Holy Father" for the appointment. "May the Lord grant me the holiness and wisdom necessary to serve this great archdiocese."

He thanked Bishop Daily for the "gracious welcome already extended to me.

"I look forward to working with the leaders of other Christian communities, Jewish religious leaders, and public officials of the Boston area as together we serve the common good."

As did his predecessor, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, who came to Boston in 1970 from Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Law comes from a mission diocese.

Since 1973, he has been bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in southern Missouri, where 48,000 Catholics are spread over 25,719 square miles.

And like the late cardinal, a native of the Azores, Bishop Law was also born outside the United States -- in Mexico, where his father was stationed as an Air Force officer.

The archbishop-elect was schooled in the Virgin Islands and the United States.

"He's a direct person, who can look you in the eye and be very candid," said Rev. Peter V. Conley of the 52-year-old churchman.

Fr. Conley, the communications officer of the Boston archdiocese, said Bishop Law is "enjoyable to be with and has a real sense of humor."

At the press conference today, at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Bishop Daily said the appointment of Bishop Law "is a sign of God working in the Church.. . . We've had our time of sorrow and mourning after the death of Cardinal Medeiros. Now is a time of resurrection and life."

Bishop Daily said that as a Harvard student, Bishop Law had thought of studying for the priesthood in Boston, but decided the needs of the church would be better served if he were ordained in a small diocese more in need of priests.

Nevertheless, Bishop Daily said, the bishop's "vision of the church is not confined to a small diocese.

"I can confidently say that he will be surrounded by the good people of the archdiocese -- people of profound faith who will love and revere him for what he is and will be for all of us."

Bishop Law will be the eighth archbishop of Boston, succeeding Cardinal Medeiros, who died last September at the age of 67.

Bishop Law said he would like to have Theodore Marier of the archdiocesan choir school direct the music for the Mass at which he will be installed. Bishop Law sang in Marier's choir while a student at Harvard, Bishop Daily said.

The following Sunday, the Feast of the Annunciation, the new archbishop is expected to meet with women's religious orders at the cathedral, Bishop Daily said.

In Missouri, church officials described the prelate as a "pastoral" bishop who regularly travels to local churches and at that time sets aside two to three hours to meet with individual parishioners.

"We're delighted and we're sad," said Marylyn Vydra, diocesan communications director in Springfield, Mo. "We're going to hate to see him go. He's very much loved around here."

Vydra said Bishop Law was on his way to Mass when the word was received from the Vatican and Washington. "It's going to be quite a big change," she said. "We're all very excited for him."

Bishop Law has some familiarity with this area having studied medieval history at Harvard in the early fifties. As a result of his youthful years in Central and South America, he speaks fluent Spanish.

He has been involved in a range of ecumenical issues, church officials said, including Vatican commissions on contacts with Protestants and Jews and on accepting married Episcopal priests who convert to Roman Catholicism.

While church officials yesterday would not confirm reports that Bishop Law was slated to become Boston's archbishop, the Springfield churchman had been known to be under consideration.

In l982, when Chicago's John Cardinal Cody died, Bishop Law was mentioned as a possible successor for that assignment that eventually went to then- Cincinnati Archbishop, now cardinal, John Bernardin.

Born in 1931 in Torreon, Mexico, Bishop Law was the son of an Air Force colonel who was stationed in Mexico and the Caribbean. He attended high school in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and came to Harvard in l948.

After graduating in l953, Bishop Law studied for the priesthood at St. Joseph's Seminary in Louisiana and at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio before being ordained in l961.

Sent to Natchez, Miss., during the height of the civil rights movement, Bishop Law took an activist role in support of civil rights, according to church officials, joining the Mississippi Leadership Conference and the Mississippi Human Relations Council.

As editor of the Natchez-Jackson diocesan newspaper, according to one Boston church official, Law was so outspoken on in support of civil rights that his life was threatened.

In l973, Bishop Law was made bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese, a geographically large diocese with 47,000 Catholics apread through a total population of almost 1 million.

"Even though we are so spread out, he has made Catholics feel they are part of the main, not separate Catholics scattered about a large area," said Vydra of the Springfield diocese.

Priests in Missouri say Bishop Law has developed a reputation for being intelligent, reasonable and popular.

"He emphasizes his care for people and their pastoral needs, not just the administrative questions," said a priest close to the bishop. "He's most concerned with people."

Beginning in l968, when he was sent to Washington, D.C. to serve as executive director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops'Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Bishop Law has become increasingly involved in Catholic contacts with Protestants and Jews.

He was named a consultant to the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews in l975 and in l976 was named a member of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, the group concerned with relations with other churches.

More recently, Bishop Law has been in charge of working with married Episcopal priests who have converted to Catholicism and wish to function as Catholic priests.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 1/24/1984.
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