New archbishop to lead New Orleans' flock

New archbishop to lead New Orleans' flock
August 20, 2009
by Mary Forster
chron AP Texas News

EW ORLEANS — Rev. Gregory Aymond, a 59-year-old New Orleans native, was formally installed Thursday as the 14th archbishop overseeing the city's Roman Catholic community, which is still struggling to recover from damage done by Hurricane Katrina.

Aymond is the first New Orleans native to hold the post.

"This day is overwhelming," Aymond said after the 2 1/2 hour ceremony.

In an interview the day before the lavish ceremonies in the French Quarter's historic St. Louis Cathedral, Aymond said he expected to be emotional. "I was ordained a deacon, priest and bishop in that cathedral and now an archbishop."

Cardinals from Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston and 47 archbishops and bishops from around the country were at the ceremony, along with Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Greek Orthodox leaders.

Even though he has been away from the city for nine years, Aymond said it is still very much his home. He has family living in the area, including a sister in suburban Metairie.

Aymond will oversee the archdiocese's 382,000 members in 108 parishes. He was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to replace Archbishop Alfred Hughes, 76, who retired after more than seven years in the post.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope's representative in the United States, handed Aymond his shepherd's staff, the symbol of his office, making the appointment official, though the actual letter of appointment had not yet arrived from Rome.

Hughes, as well as Archbishops Francis Shulte and Philip Hannan, were at the ceremony.

"According to our research, we think New Orleans is the only archdiocese with four active archbishops," Aymond said.

Katrina in 2005 did more than $280 million in damage to church property. The city's Catholic community also has been touched by the same issues troubling other dioceses, including the aftermath of years of sex scandals and the unpopular consolidation of parishes and closing of churches for economic reasons.

In the past year Our Lady of Good Counsel, St. Henry, and St. Francis de Sales parishes were closed by Hughes.

Parishioners from Our Lady of Good counsel and St. Henry sued the archdiocese and briefly took over churches to try to preserve them after they were closed by Hughes. Police were finally called to remove them and two protesters were arrested.

"We're just praying he can bring some healing to us," Barbara Fortier, a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel, said of Aymond.

Aymond said he would reach out to those affected by the closures but said he had no plans to "second guess" the consolidation decisions made under Hughes.

"One of my priorities will be the healing of people who feel hurt by the closures," Aymond said. "But I know those decisions were made in prayerful contemplation."

Fortier, and Alden Hagardorn, one of the leaders of the protests at St. Henry's, said their groups had sent letters of welcome to Aymond.

"We're still hopeful, although we don't think it will be a fully functioning parish," Hagardorn said. "We understand times are tough, there's a priest shortage and changes have to be made. We don't think it has to be the death penalty and shut the church down altogether though."

In his homily, Aymond spoke of the challenges facing area Catholics and of the history they shared. New Orleans is the nation's second oldest archdiocese, behind Baltimore.

"God has been faithful to us for more than 200 years," Aymond said. "He has acted in our history and he will continue to do so."

Archdiocese spokeswoman Sarah Comiskey said the invitation-only ceremony included an estimated 1,200 to 1,300 guests. Because the seating capacity of the 158-year-old cathedral is about 1,000, overflow guests viewed the ceremony by video in nearby St. Mary's chapel on Chartres Street.

After completing his studies at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Aymond served as a parish priest and high school teacher. He was appointed to the faculty of the seminary in 1981. In 1986, he was appointed the seminary rector, a post he held for 14 years. He was ordained auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans on January 10, 1997, and he became the bishop of Austin in 2000.
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