A quarter of a million Roman Catholics in western Massachusetts will be getting a new spiritual leader.
Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski was introduced Wednesday as the Archbishop-elect in St. Louis – a transition that will see him leave Springfield in August after six years as the leader of the diocese that encompasses the four western counties of Massachusetts.
Rozanski said he was told two weeks ago by the Vatican that he had been selected to replace Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who is retiring. His installation is scheduled on August 25th.
At a press conference, Rozanski spoke of the troubles facing the nation with a pandemic still claiming lives and the unrest over police brutality and racism.
"It is my hope that called to lead this church of St. Louis that God's grace will be in abundance in helping me to be part of that healing process and resolution to all the daunting issues we face," said Rozanski.
With 500,000 Catholics, the St. Louis Diocese is more than twice the size of the Springfield Diocese. There are 179 parishes and 24 Catholic high schools in the St. Louis Diocese. By comparison the Springfield Diocese has 81 parishes and two high schools.
Rozanski, who came to Springfield from his native Baltimore, said he was grateful for the six years he spent in western Massachusetts.
" Goodbyes are never easy, but we remain close in faith," said Rozanski.
When Rozanski arrived in 2014, it was a chaotic time in the diocese, recalled Springfield historian Frances Gagnon. Declining attendance had led to the closings of 60 churches throughout the region.
"There were parishes with people picketing the front door, there was quite a bit of that when he arrived here," said Gagnon.
Early in his tenure, Rozanski caused an uproar when he reversed a commitment by his predecessor to rebuild Cathedral High School which had been wrecked by the June 2011 tornado. Alumni, students, and parents protested.
Rozanski eventually merged Cathedral with Holyoke Catholic High School and built the new Pope Francis Preparatory School on the historic Cathedral site in Springfield.
A task force appointed by Rozanski developed a strategic plan for the future of Catholic education in the diocese.
Gagnon said Rozanski had a “practical and sensible” approach to leading the diocese.
"I think he has done quite a few important things and has done it without much fuss and fanfare," said Gagnon. "He is really a pretty modest guy."
Like every bishop, he grappled with the clergy sex abuse crisis. Told Wednesday that SNAP planned to protest his appointment in St. Louis, Rozanski recounted that in Springfield he had reached an agreement with prosecutors to report alleged abuse and hired a retired state judge to recommend ways the diocese can improve its response to victims.
"I know we can't seem to do things perfectly, but we are trying as best we can to be as transparent and as proacctive as we can," Rozanski said Wednesday.
A new bishop for Springfield will not be named by the time Rozanski leaves, according to Mark Dupont, the spokesman for the Springfield Diocese.
"The vacancy here in Springifield for bishop could last up to a year," said Dupont. An apostolic administrator will be appointed to oversee the day-to-day operations of the diocese until the new bishop is names.
Dupont said the staff of the diocesan offices are sad to see Rozanski leave.
"People in St Louis are very lucky," said Dupont. He said Rozanski is very"pastoral and thoughtful and cares deeply about the people he is there to serve."
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a statement congratulating Rozanski and praising him for being “very carrying, calming, and reassuring.”