Requesting the inclusion of the poor, the blind and local cultural communities in the occasion, Carl Kemme became the 11th bishop of Wichita on Thursday in a Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Saying that Wichita has a “deserved reputation of being filled with faith-filled ... disciples of the Lord,” Cardinal Francis George of Chicago told a packed cathedral that Bishop Kemme continues in a line of “wonderful” bishops who have helped make it so.
Kemme replaces Michael Jackels, who was appointed archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa, last year.
Kemme requested that a blind man read at Vespers on the eve of his ordination, that first-communicants representing the African-American and Hispanic communities bring up his miter at the ordination Mass, that the oldest and youngest priests bring up his pastoral staff, and that lunch before the ordination be at the Lord’s Diner, which feeds the hungry.
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The ordination and installation drew about 950 invited guests, including Cardinal George, a mentor of Kemme’s who was part of the conclave that elected Pope Francis last year and who is ailing from cancer. More than 20 other bishops, scores of priests and representatives from all of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita’s parishes, which are spread across south-central and southeast Kansas, also attended.
Kemme, 53, was vicar general of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., when Pope Francis appointed him bishop of Wichita in February.
During the 2 1/2-hour Mass, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States – apostolic nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano – read from an apostolic letter from Pope Francis designating Kemme to be bishop of Wichita. In it, the pope called Kemme “beloved son ... whom we have come to know” as having “the virtues and qualities necessary for leading the people of God.”
The pope drew a chuckle from the congregation all the way from Rome with the mention of “the Sunflower State” in his letter.
Catholic schoolchildren and office staffs, who have been given the day off Friday by Kemme for a day of praise and thanksgiving to God, gathered around TVs to watch the 2 p.m. Mass on Thursday, which was televised and streamed live.
Vigano said that Kemme was called to be a father and “shepherd who will show the Church’s concern for all, believers and unbelievers alike, especially the poor and the less fortunate.”
The liturgy was in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Latin. The Litany of the Saints included the newly canonized popes St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.
Once Kemme was consecrated as bishop, he took his seat in the “cathedra” or bishop’s chair in the cathedral, and the usual affirming applause from the congregation was strong and prolonged, reflecting the year that the diocese has eagerly been awaiting a bishop. The living former bishops of Wichita – retired Eugene Gerber, Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Jackels – also received prolonged applause after Kemme thanked them in remarks toward the end of the Mass.
Kemme will offer a Mass at 9 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral that is open to the public.
At Vespers – an evening prayer service – on Wednesday night at the Cathedral, Kemme gave his first homily to his new flock and greeted civic leaders, including Mayor Carl Brewer, and other religious leaders of Wichita.
In his homily, Kemme told a packed Cathedral that he sees now that growing up on a farm gave him his first lessons in being a shepherd. He said when he was a boy, it seemed the cows and hogs took precedence over the people of the house. The family planned their lives around the animals’ needs, and Kemme had to be urged out of his comfortable bed in the morning by his mother to take care of them.
Kemme called on Catholics to “be faithful and obedient sheep,” not listening to the “confusing” voice of the culture. But harking to his motto of Humilitas (Latin for humility), he said he also wanted to learn from them.
“You will come first,” he said, inviting people to correct him if they perceive anything different.
“What a particular joy it will be to take my place among you ... to be with you in your life, to invite you to be with me in mine. ... We’re all in this together.”
Near the end of the ordination Mass, George spoke to the congregation at Kemme’s request, and said: “Your local church is now complete. Your mission is secure.”