Monday, May 15, 2017

For Wilton, The Ned Hat – Pope Taps Raleigh's "Top Gun" as Atlanta Aux.

For the better part of the last decade, one of the house's Raleigh ops has invariably plugged a local standout there with these words: "Ned Shlesinger is a saint."

To be sure, that judgment ultimately belongs to God. In the meantime, though, Ned is now a bishop – and as whoever replaced the "Taz" would need all the help he can get, having holiness locked up is a sound place to start.

In a rapid turnaround for the second deputy's slot in what's now a fold of 1.2 million, at Roman Noon this Monday the Pope poached Shlesinger, 56 (left) – who precisely no one calls by his given name of "Bernard" – from the eastern North Carolina ranks as auxiliary bishop of Atlanta, the move coming barely six months since Bishop David Talley was sent to reap the whirlwind in southern Louisiana.

Until now on loan as a spiritual director at St Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, the bishop-elect – the latest in a flood of auxiliaries rolling out nationwide over the course of this year – marks an early 70th birthday present for Archbishop Wilton Gregory, who reaches the milestone in December. Fluent in Spanish (a key trait given the Atlanta church's Hispanic plurality of membership), a veteran of the Air Force (where he made Captain and flew C-130s) and product of Virginia Tech and the North American College, the Pope's pick had been slated to head home to a parish over this summer, and reacted to Francis' change of plans this morning with one of several instances of bursting into tears.

While his response has been the opposite of ambition – no surprise to anyone who knows him, even just by reputation – that the figure described among his own as "the best priest of the diocese" has landed a hat fulfills the path charted for Shlesinger by his now-former boss, Bishop Michael Burbidge, who marked out today's pick by sending his onetime vocation director to the Overbrook house (read: Burbidge's Valhalla) after Shlesinger racked up a significant increase of seminarians in the diocesan post.

That said, the loss of one of the Triangle church's major clerics comes amid what's already been described as a chaotic vacancy following Burbidge's transfer to Arlington last fall, and as Raleigh prepares to open its new Cathedral of the Holy Name of Jesus (above) on July 26th. Though the prior occupant is slated to perform the liturgy dedicating his dream project for worship, it is credibly expected that the next Raleigh prelate will be appointed in advance of the rites, and then installed in the $41 million, 2,000-seat cathedral shortly after its formal launch.

Notably, today's nod marks the second time in recent weeks that – bucking the usual practice – an Anglo auxiliary has been parachuted into a sizable archdiocese from outside its presbyterate; the first was Bishop-elect Dan Mueggenborg, the former NAC vice-rector called in from Tulsa, who'll be ordained a second auxiliary of Seattle at month's end.

In both cases, the choices have long been in the pipeline and enjoy sterling reputations, but it likewise bears recalling how starting from scratch with a fully local search – and, ergo, finding someone who can clear the vetting – inevitably means a wait that can drag on for several years. On the other hand, however, it is the distinct reality in both spots that – with Atlanta and Seattle each having experienced exponential growth over the last two decades – the respective booms have been overwhelmingly fueled by the arrival of transplants from outside, clergy included. Even if it's not the general norm, then, in these particular instances auxiliary bishops who share that experience simply makes pastoral sense... and in today's case, indeed, there is a uniquely Wiltonian sense of history to it.

Given the schedules that need to be juggled, Shlesinger's ordination date remains to be determined; per the norms of the canons, it must take place within four months. In any event, today's move comes just ahead of Atlanta's major gathering of the year – the Eucharistic Congress, which sees a crowd of 30,000 take over the city's convention center through Corpus Christi weekend, comprising the church's largest annual gathering in the American South.

And here, featuring a new bishop as weepy as his new boss was downright giddy, the video of this morning's intro presser at Tara, albeit filmed sideways: