Archbishop Leonard P. Blair installed for Archdiocese of Hartford before more than 2,000
Story and photos by Terence Hegarty
HARTFORD, Conn. – It was history in the making in the Cathedral of St. Joseph here Dec. 16 as Archbishop Leonard P. Blair was installed as the fifth archbishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford.
During a more than two-hour ceremony, that began at 2 p.m., the new archbishop took the reins from outgoing Hartford Archbishop Henry J. Mansell who is now officially retired.
Archbishop Mansell turned 76 this past October. Bishops are required to submit a letter of intent to retire upon their 75th birthday, but there is no firm timetable as to how long the Vatican may take to name a replacement. Archbishop Mansell was installed archbishop of Hartford December 18, 2003.
Archbishop Blair, who is 64 years-old, most recently served as bishop of the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio. He was installed there in 2003. He was born in Detroit, Mich., April 12, 1949 and was ordained a priest in 1976. He has an extensive pastoral background, serving as a parish priest, seminary professor, chancellor and vicar general of the Archdiocese of Detroit, and as auxiliary bishop of Detroit.
Cardinals, bishops, including Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, and many other dignitaries were in attendance for the Mass of Installation. While Archbishop Blair is the fifth archbishop, he is the 13th bishop of the diocese (the Diocese of Hartford was elevated to archdiocesan status in 1923).
The Diocese of Hartford was established in 1843 and today, as an archdiocese, has a total Catholic population of nearly 600,000. The archdiocese includes 213 parishes and serves all of the counties of Hartford, Litchfield and New Haven.
In his homily, Archbishop Blair spoke of the influence that Pope Francis has had on him as he reiterated the importance of evangelization. “What you have received as a gift, you must share as a gift,” he told the congregation.
He also emphasized the need for the Catholic Church to provide ministry to others. “So many young people are wounded,” he said, noting that a lack of spiritual care is often the cause.
With his installation, Archbishop Blair will now shepherd not only the more than a half-million laity, but the more than 400 priests, nearly 300 deacons and more than 600 men and women religious.
Donna Swols, a resident of Enfield, Conn., and a parishioner of St. Adalbert Parish there, told iobserve that she felt the need to be in attendance. “I think it was very important to be here to witness history in the making,” Swoles said. Speaking of the crowd and the ceremony overall, Swols said, “It restores your faith in your faith.”
“There’s so much work to be done. All of the faithful of the archdiocese, and of the world, need to go out and do the work of evangelization,” she said. “We need to work with others in bringing peace to the world.”
Hosting a press conference immediately following the installation Mass, Archbishop Blair told reporters that he was nervous upon entering the cathedral. “But, I prayed to God to give me the gift of the Holy Spirit, that what I would say and do would help people in their faith,” he said. “And I tell you honestly, kind of a great calm came over me when I came down the aisle.”
A reporter asked the archbishop what the faithful of the archdiocese can expect from him.
“I would hope that they would expect me to be diligent, dutiful in carrying out my responsibilities,” he replied, “that I would have an open ear and an open heart to their spiritual needs and struggles.”
Esther DeLucia, a parishioner from St. Augustine Parish in South Glastonbury, Conn., believes that the new archbishop will do that and more. “I expect that he will follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Mansell,” DeLucia said. “Both men are very humble servants of God.”
“I was very moved to come here today and see all of the people here and to meet and see our new archbishop,” said Timothy Roche, a member of the Church of the Nativity Parish in Bethlehem, Conn.
“Coming from a small parish, to come to our main cathedral here is absolutely marvelous. The ceremony was beautiful and very spiritual,” Roche told iobserve.
Archbishop Blair said that he is most looking forward to, “getting out there and just being introduced to this whole new world. People are very kind, very supportive. That’s great encouragement,” he said. “They’re eager and curious to see their new archbishop and I’m equally eager and curious to see them.”
For a video version of this story, tune into the Dec. 21 edition of “Real to Reel,” the Diocese of Springfield’s television newsmagazine that airs Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.