Farewell, Bishop Niederauer

Friday, Feb. 03, 2006
Farewell, Bishop Niederauer + Enlarge
Bishop George Niederauer, preacher and teacher, takes his familiar stance in the pulpit of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. IC photo by Barbara S. Lee

by Msgr. Robert J. Bussen

pastor, Our Lady of the Assumption Parish

Park City

PARK CITY — Bishop Niederauer, in thanking you and in acknowledging my special affection for you, I must begin in another place at another time.

My mother’s sister, Rita, was my godmother. She was the wife of a poor farmer east of St. Louis near my mother’s home town. She was also a good and holy woman, a woman of deep faith who loved the scriptures.

As a military family my parents, brother and I moved often and never lived nearby. But visits to my parents’ home were always important – and a trip to Rita’s farm especially wonderful. When the family would gather, there was chaos – and lots of kids (I’m a boomer, after all). Despite it all, Aunt Rita always found time for me. Invariably she would pull me aside for a special talk. She’d check me out to make sure I was going to Mass, she’d make sure I knew my prayers. And then she’d open her great big Bible and share with me a Bible story.

I loved those moments. I remember as a child thinking "this was godmother stuff. I was her godchild and so, I was very special to her. Only I got to have these special chats. Because I was her godson." I grew up knowing that my faith was important to Aunt Rita. It mattered to her that I was a good Catholic. It was a special bond, the bond of a godmother for her godchild.

Only years later did it ever dawn on me that Aunt Rita had those special talks with all her children. It was her gift.

Over the past decade I have come to enjoy a very special friendship with our bishop. Through the years I have cherished the informal times we’ve spent together. I have enjoyed the confidence and trust he has placed in me in our private conversations. I have known that I could always be honest with him about how I felt. I have rested secure in the knowledge that my ministry, my life was important to him. I have known that it was not just the what I did for the church that mattered – I mattered to him. I was important to him. When I was in personal turmoil he brought me wisdom, balance, acceptance. In moments of great personal sadness he brought me comfort and consolation. He celebrated my moments of joy. I had no doubt that I was a very special person to him. I have basked in that light, grown as a man in that knowledge, and deepened my life in the spirit for these past many years.

So, when he was named Archbishop of San Francisco I was not surprised. This is was what did surprise me: the vast outpouring of affection for him that has been manifest these past weeks in our community – from his close friends who cherished their time with him, from the larger civic community with whom he often met, from the peoples of our parishes, many of whom know him only from his presence at Mass, and most of all from his priests with whom he served. You see, what I learned was that everyone of us individually felt that we were special, that we held a special place in his heart, that we were the apple of his eye, only us.

That Bishop Niederauer is your gift. Over these past years you have fixed your gaze upon each of us and held us in love. You have cared for each of us, not for what we do, but for who we are. You have been not just our bishop, you have been our trusted friend who has cherished us and held us close – each of us.

On behalf of your priests I congratulate you and with a heart both glad and heavy, send you forth. In you the people and priests of San Francisco will find great blessing.

Ad multos annos my friend.

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