Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski was installed this week as the tenth Archbishop of St. Louis, on the feast day of the city's namesake, Louis IX of France. The new archbishop challenged Catholics to put their faith into action and seek to meet the world face-to-face.
"Parishes are not built from behind desks. Communities are not built from behind desks. As a Church, evangelization does not happen from behind a desk," Rozanski, 61, said in his installation Mass homily Aug. 25.
Rozanski acknowledged that during the pandemic, most interactions have had to be mediated through the internet and screens.
"I yearn for that day when we can meet safely face-to-face, and not through our TVs. computers, and phones. While we are compelled to be our brother's keeper, and so must live within these necessary public safety parameters for the time being, let us nonetheless be visible and encounter people as best we can, to spread the joy of the Gospel."
Pope Francis in June appointed Rozanski to lead the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He succeeds Archbishop Robert Carlson, who presented his resignation to Pope Francis at the customary age of 75.
St. Louis is the largest archdiocese in Missouri, and is home to over half a million Catholics.
Rozanski expressed gratitude for his priesthood and gratitude to Pope Francis for choosing him to lead the archdiocese. The installation Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis was closed to the public because of the pandemic.
Referring to St. Louis by its popular nickname, "The Rome of the West"— so called because of its many grand Catholic churches— Rozanski pointed to the city's most well-known symbol, the Gateway Arch, as a symbol of hope and unity.
"How much that hope is needed in our country, and in our world, today,” he remarked.
The city's namesake, St. Louis, was holy "not because of the crown he wore, but because of the service he allowed it to give," Rozanski said.
"We are called to be a people of hope," he said, adding that each individual, as well as the Church as a whole, is called to practice love, putting it into action by seeking to meet with people face-to-face.
"We ourselves must be gateways to healing, to evangelization, to mercy, to compassion, to listening with the ears of Jesus," he said.
COVID-19 is not the only urgent cross facing us today, he said, referring to the "scars of systemic racism."
St. Louis has seen racially-charged protests in recent months, and historically has been a segregated city. Racial tension in the city has been heightened ever since the Aug. 2014 killing of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, MO police officer.
Rozanski referred to racism as "a man-made plague that isolates us from one another" and diminishes our God-given dignity.
A bishop must always foster a missionary attitude in his diocese, Rozanski said, which involves listening to all his people, not merely those who "would tell him what he wants to hear."
He called for Catholics to work on "bold and creative methods" of evangelization.
"Let us walk together on this journey of faith. I need your help, and I need your prayers," he said.
Rozanski had previously led the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts since 2014.
A Baltimore native, Rozanski was born in 1958, and attended Catholic schools in the city. He attended seminary at the Catholic University of America, and was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1984. He served in parish ministry, the archdiocesan curia, and with its seminary, and was named a monsignor in 2003.
St. John Paul II appointed Rozanski auxiliary bishop of Baltimore in 2004. He oversaw one of Baltimore archdiocese’s geographical vicariates while parishes were merged, and served as vicar for Hispanics. He was vocal in supporting Maryland’s DREAM act, allowing some undocumented immigrants to receive in-state college tuition.
At the time of his episcopal consecration, Rozanski was the youngest bishop in the United States. He went on to serve as chair of the U.S. bishops’ conference committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and as a consultant to the National Association for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities.
A Polish-American, Rozanski has co-chaired the Polish National Catholic – Roman Catholic Dialogue. The Polish National Catholic Church is a schismatic Church founded in the U.S. in the late 19th-century by Polish-American immigrants.
He is a member of the Knights of Columbus and a Knight Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Though Rozanski himself backed major changes in the Springfield diocese's handling of abuse, CNA has reported that one anonymous abuse victim has asked for a Church investigation into whether Rozanski was involved in covering up abuse by a former bishop of the diocese.
On June 24 of this year, the Springfield diocese released a 373-page report finding that an alleged victim’s claim he was molested by the late Bishop Christopher Weldon were “unequivocally credible,” despite Weldon not yet being listed on the Springfield diocese's list of clergy credibly accused of abuse.
The investigator, Judge Peter A. Velis, said his findings raise questions about whether there was an attempt to conceal the report's contents about Bishop Weldon from the review board or Bishop Rozanski.
In June, Rozanski apologized for the “chronic mishandling of the case, time and time again, since 2014.”
“At almost every instance, we have failed this courageous man who nonetheless persevered thanks in part to a reliable support network as well to a deep desire for a just response for the terrible abuse which he endured,” Rozanski said at a June press conference, one year after he commissioned the independent investigation into the matter.
In March 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Bishop Rozanski attempted to authorize a change to norms for the anointing of the sick, permitting a nurse, rather than a priest, to conduct the physical anointing. Only a priest can validly administer the sacrament.
Later that same week, the diocese told CNA it had rescinded that policy. Rozanski emailed Springfield priests that afternoon explaining that “After further discussion and review, I am rescinding my previous directive and temporarily suspending the Anointing of the Sick in all instances.”
The diocese reinstated the practice of the anointing of the sick in May.