Thursday, December 12, 2013

A new bishop is moving South: Welcome to Mississippi, Father Joe!

Bishop-elect Kopacz, left, is joined by Deacon Rusty Vincent (seminarian for the Diocese of Jackson) and Bishop Joseph Latino at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle in Jackson where Father Kopacz concelebrated Mass marking today's Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Earlier today, it was announced that Pope Francis has appointed a new bishop for our diocese. Father Joseph Kopacz, Ph.D., will become the eleventh bishop of the Diocese of Jackson. Bishop Latino had submitted his mandatory letter of resignation upon turning 75 last October.

Father Kopacz is a native of Dunmore, Pennsylvania. He was ordained a priest in the Diocese of Scranton in 1977 and has had quite a busy career of service to the Church since that time. In addition to a long career of parish-based ministry, Father Kopacz also served as a seminary faculty member and Formation Director, as Vicar for Priests, Vicar General and in a number of other positions in his home diocese. In taking over the Jackson Diocese, he will leave his current position as pastor of Most Holy Trinity parish in Mount Pocono, PA and he will make a biiig move south.

And oh what a move that will be... not just physically, but culturally.

"It's a whole new world," said Father Kopacz, when being introduced earlier today in his first visit to Jackson. "I'm here today, surprised by the Holy Spirit," he said. "It's like you're not even looking that way, it's like 'whack.'"

The Holy Spirit may have surprised Father Kopacz with his appointment as bishop in the capital city of Mississippi (nearly 1,200 miles away from his mid-Atlantic home), but all indications are that he's a ridiculously hard worker for the Lord. His CV as a priest shows that he's been entrusted with a myriad of varying ministries in his home diocese over the past 30+ years (only a fraction of which were mentioned in the second paragraph above).

Oh, and you want education? This man's got education: Master's Degrees in Latin, Theology and in Counseling and Psychology, as well as a Ph.D. If being well-educated is any indication of his episcopal abilities, the Diocese of Jackson is in for quite a treat.

More importantly, though, is the glowing praise of Father Kopacz by his now-former boss, Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton. In a reaction to the appointment, Bishop Bambera praised Father Kopacz's "many gifts and deep faith" and said that "the faithful of Most Holy Trinity Parish ... and countless others in the Diocese of Scranton will undoubtedly feel a certain sadness in losing the presence of such a dedicated pastor and friend, [but] we give thanks to God that he has chosen Father Kopacz to serve the broader Church and particularly our brothers and sisters in the Church of Jackson as bishop."

Bishop-elect Kopacz will be ordained to the episcopacy and installed as the eleventh bishop of Jackson during a Mass on Thursday, February, 6, 2014 at St. Peter the Apostle Cathedral in Jackson.

Needless to say, while we are saddened to mark the retirement of Bishop Latino and we are grateful to him for his tireless service to God and to our diocese, we are, at the same time, very excited to welcome Father Kopacz to Mississippi. We hope that he learns to love corn bread, sweet tea, and heaping helpings of Southern Fried Catholicism!