Bishop Niederauer: Never Afraid to Tackle the Sensitive Issues

Friday, Feb. 03, 2006

PARK CITY — When I was a youngster, many years ago, I was terrified of our parish priest. I remember how absolutely amazed I was that Fr. Stedman of Our Lady of the Cenacle in New York City could hear a whisper emanating from fifteen pews back when he was on the altar. He’d whirl around, point at me, and I’d spend the rest of the Mass on my knees in the center aisle. I still think that was the start of my knee problems. If anyone had told me I was to meet the Bishop, I’d have had apoplexy.

Move many miles from New York and speed the clock to just several years ago to the ballroom of one of the downtown Salt Lake City hotels.

At a celebration of the ordination anniversary of the late Msgr. John J. Hedderman Marilyn and I were seated at a table with the Monsignor, his family, Barbara Layden and the newly arrived Bishop George Niederauer. For a moment my thoughts went back to Fr. Stedman and I felt a twinge of uneasiness. Tom Barberi was the Master of Ceremonies and he began by saying that not many people knew that Msgr. Hedderman was a twin and had not seen his brother in 40 years. He went on to say that as a surprise his brother has been flown in from Ireland for this occasion. With that the doors in the back of the room flew open and in walked Frank Layden (a Msgr. Hedderman look-alike) dressed as a cardinal replete with mitre and Utah Jazz emblem-emblazoned stole. He had his staff in one hand and was blessing us all with the other as he approached the lectern. It seemed to me that in that first split second all eyes turned to Bishop Niederauer who was convulsed with laughter. The whole place then erupted, and I knew we had in our new Bishop a man of the people.

A year and a half ago I asked the bishop to watch a very powerful film about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He was so impressed he asked us (I’m a member of Utahns for a Just Peace in the Holy Land) to show the film in every parish in Utah. We have made progress but have a way to go. The film is one that he could have easily side-stepped because of the controversial nature of the subject, but he did not.

Marilyn and I recently met with the bishop and told him that our organization was trying to get some public relations help for the Palestinians. He agreed there was certainly a need. He commented, in effect, that there were a minority of crazies on both sides, but the vast majority of the people were just people. The people need to have their stories told. As usual, he was right on the mark.

There’s no doubt that Bishop Niederauer will have a very positive impact on the people of the San Francisco area. We wish him Godspeed.

Bill Melville

St. Mary of the Assumption Parish

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