Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bishop Christensen's Ordination: Grand event but still a family affair

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Dr. Robert Christensen of Colorado and his son, Bishop Peter F. Christensen, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul, Minn., during the luncheon preceding the ordination stand before a statue of an eagle in flight. It bears the inscription, "One in a Million." The elder Christensen built it for his son because there is "approximately one bishop for every one million" in the United States. The machine which created this work of art is also used by Christensen in his companies, TMJ Implants and Design Dynamics Internation, Inc., to assist oral surgeons involved in temporomandibular joint reconstructions.
(Catholic Herald photo by A.M. Kelley)


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In accordance with a decree handed down from Pope Benedict XVI, Peter F. Christensen became the 10th bishop of the Superior Diocese on Sept. 14.

It was a grand event in an awe-inspiring Renaissance setting: the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

The bishops, priests, deacons and seminarians who came to witness the ordination of the pastor of the Nativity of Our Lord processed to the altar accompanied by St. Paul's splendid choirs and brass band flourishes.

A luncheon and then a reception for many hundreds of people were hosted at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in St. Paul before and after the ordination. But in spite of the embellished surroundings and the solemnity of the occasion, the event was nothing if not a family affair, indeed a big extended family affair.

Christensen's relatives from all over the country were there as were Nativity parishioners who turned out en masse exuding happiness for their pastor and expressing a reluctance to say goodbye.

Before the ordination the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis hosted a luncheon for 700 at the hotel. Archbishop Harry Flynn mingled with visiting bishops, priests, well-wishers and Christensen family members. Nativity parishioner Gerry Moquin said something heard repeatedly throughout the day: "(The Superior Diocese) is getting a marvelous bishop. Fr. Peter--he's a good man."

Looking around at the dignitaries, Moquin objected when she realized her words were being noted.

"But I'm just an ordinary person," she said. "I'm just a parishioner. That's all I am."

This also seemed to be a recurring theme. Ordinary people defined the day.

From the nearly 100 volunteers recruited by Sr. Fran Donnelly, BVM, of the archdiocesan center for ministry, who seamlessly registered and guided the throng onto shuttle buses to and from the cathedral, to the students from the Nativity of Our Lord School who greeted and handed out programs at all the cathedral doors, to the new bishop himself, it was a day in which ordinary people seemed to feel as if they played some part.

Christensen had had a goodbye Mass with the students earlier in the week. The ordinand was their "Fr. Peter."

Shelby Robinson and Laura Hamilton, both 13 and both eighth graders, were two of these students. They said Christensen had explained the upcoming ceremony to them and the symbols that are part of a bishop's office: the ring, crosier, miter and pectoral cross.

Two other greeters, Shane Hennessey and Tommy Johnson, besides being students were also Christensen's altar servers at Nativity.

"Fr. Peter is just a really humble guy," Hennessey said. "And he's always there for you."

Later during the ceremony, Christensen acknowledged his Nativity students for greeting, ringing hand bells and also for the delivery of his custom-made crozier. It had been delayed and didn't come in until "8:30 this morning," he said. "Thanks for your prayers," he told them.

Michael Silhavy, the director of music for the archdiocese, said he started planning the music for the ordination with Christensen only a month ago and it has a very personal touch.

"He designed the cover of the worship guide," Silhavy said, "and he chose all the music."

It was a cross section of traditional chants and contemporary compositions. Among the selections were pieces by Michael Joncas, a teacher in the theology department at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul; James Biery, the music director at the cathedral; John Becker; David Haas; and John Becker.

"(Christensen) loves liturgy and music," Silhavy said. "I think it was fun for Bishop Peter to chose things that are nationally known but come from the parishes of this diocese. We're proud of the composers in this diocese."

Another ordinary person who had a large role to play in the day was Tom Kohler, the head maintenance man at the cathedral who's been on the job for 35 years. He said he expected about 2,500 to 2,800 people for the ordination and was as excited as anyone.

"It's an amazing place," he said. "Even after all of these years."

Brian McDonnell and his mother, Margaret McDonell, both parishioners from Nativity, attended the ordination. They said they had learned a lot from their pastor.

Brian said Christensen taught him to "put yourself into the Gospels, live the Gospels."

"We're happy and proud of him," he said. "He's a builder and a healer."

Affirming words were heard all day long.

Flynn said he was sending Christensen off to a "beautiful diocese," and Christensen talked about Jesus' first miracle at Cana, "a miracle of joy."

And during the sacred rite no one seemed to mind as the children from Nativity, seating themselves off to one side and in the rear of the cathedral, stood on the pews, their eyes fixed on their pastor as he assumed his new role.
Superior Catholic Herald


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