The Diocese of Joliet Celebrates a Mass of Appreciation for Bishop Emeritus Conlon
“This is going to be harder than I thought,” Bishop Emeritus R. Daniel Conlon said, looking at the people sitting in socially distant ways in the pews at the beginning of a Mass on Aug. 21 at the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet. Bishop Conlon was presiding at the Mass, which was in thanksgiving for his ministry as the chief shepherd of the diocese from 2011 until earlier this year.
At the Mass, Bishop Conlon talked about how he felt late last year, which led to a medical leave of absence that culminated in his decision to resign.
“Last fall,” he said, “I was dry bones. Lying in the wilderness. Emotionally and physically, I seemed to have been a spent force.”
In late December of 2019, Bishop Conlon asked Pope Francis for a medical leave of absence, which was granted. Then, in early May of 2020, Bishop Conlon resigned.
Bishop Richard Pates, the retired bishop from the Diocese of Des Moines, has been acting as the apostolic administrator since late December 2019. Meanwhile, Bishop Ronald Hicks, an auxiliary bishop from the Archdiocese of Chicago, has been named as the next bishop of the Diocese of Joliet, and his installation will occur on Sept. 29, 2020.
Earlier this year, as he sat alone in his home in January, February and March, Bishop Conlon celebrated Mass by himself, and he said he missed the Church, his spouse.
“I missed the priests, the deacons, the lay men and women of the Diocese of Joliet,” he said, adding that it was a blessing to be with God’s people again.
It is clear from his homily that Bishop Conlon wants to be a positive presence in the diocese as bishop emeritus. He offered a message of hope in tying the image of the dry bones’ reference to his health to the first reading from the Mass, which was from Ezekiel 37:1-14.
The passage illustrates how the Lord took the prophet Ezekiel to a valley full of dried bones. God then offers a series of commands for Ezekiel to prophesize over the bones. Each time he did so, the bones gradually started to come to life, first covered with sinews, flesh and skin and then in spirit.
“As the prophet Ezekiel reminds us in our first reading today, we can't put our bones back together, and we can't put flesh on them by ourselves,” Bishop Conlon said. “It is only the power of God and the Holy Spirit that accomplishes that miracle. … So we do have to turn to God no matter how dry our bones are.”
Bishop Conlon ended his homily by talking about an image shared at a recent retreat he attended with bishops from the region involving St. John after the brutal death of his dear friend, Jesus, on the cross, an image which moved him and might inspire others.
“John, despondent, dry bones, sitting at the table, his head bowed,” Bishop Conlon said.
But then the Blessed Mother approaches him, holding a plate of bread in one hand and cup of wine in the other.
Her presence is there, Bishop Conlon said, to help Saint John “rise beyond his depression, his weakness, his uncertainty, and respond to her, the Church.”
During the Mass, which was attended by 12 bishops from around the country, Bishop Pates shared his thanks for Bishop Conlon’s years of service as the chief shepherd of the diocese. He referred to three notes of appreciation that were in the evening’s worship aid.
One was from Father Franklin Duran, the pastor at St. Dominic’s Church in Bolingbrook, who wrote, “I am grateful to Bishop Daniel Conlon for showing us, through his vocation and leadership in our diocese, the unity within our Catholic Church. I saw this most especially when our shepherd came to our parish to install me as pastor, on his pastoral visit to our parish showing us his care, and most especially in confirming our youth.”
Bishop Pates also listed three things he said the diocese was grateful for: the pastoral letter that Bishop Conlon wrote in 2018 that encourages the diocese to become an evangelizing one, full of missionary disciples; the visits Bishop Conlon made over the years to all 118 parishes in the diocese, spending a weekend at each, “expressing his love for the people,” Bishop Pates said, “and being with them in a way that really planted the seed of the Church, his bride, his spouse, that he was out there really being with them”; and the purchase and completion of the Blanchette Catholic Center, where the chancery resides in Crest Hill.
Bishop Conlon will continue to live and minister in the Diocese of Joliet, where he says he feels truly at home.
“You will be invaluable to Bishop Hicks,” Bishop Pates said.