By THERESA HANLEY
Special to The New Freeman
SAINT JOHN — On May 24th Bishop Robert Harris of the Diocese of Saint John celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on the occasion of his 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Saint John. It was May 24, 1969 when he was ordained to the priesthood at St. Patrick’s Basilica in Montreal.
Addressing the congregation, Bishop Harris warmly thanked all in attendance remarking that it has been both a grace and a privilege to serve them.
“This weekend I will have the pleasure to piece together the mosaic of my priestly life and service. You have been a part of my life for the past twelve years. Today I give thanks to the Lord for all of you and especially I thank the Lord for his fidelity over the years. As I look back, I give thanks for the past and your place in it.”
He stated that growing up in a Catholic family the faith was an integral part of his life. “The faith was part and parcel of the air we breathed.”
He first felt the stirrings of a call to the priesthood when he was eighteen and struggled with this concept: “I made a deal with God. If that is what you want you can have me. The ball is in your court. If you don’t want me let me know.”
He entered the seminary in 1965 and was ordained in St. Patrick’s Church in Montreal at the Vigil of Pentecost. He pointed out that the significance of our liturgy was not him but on the Lord Jesus who he described as his “significant Other”. “My relationship with God has deepened more and more over the years; I am more in love now than when I first started out.”
Bishop Harris commented on his love of serving the faithful in celebrating daily Mass, the sacraments, hearing confession and visiting the sick in the hospital.
“Each of these are opportunities for me to be with my beloved and to share with others. I have always thought of the priesthood not as my priesthood but rather as Jesus sharing his priesthood with me on a daily basis.”
He noted that in his preaching, his themes often centered on the Lord and pointed out recurring themes: God has loved you into being and you are his beloved sons and daughters. Describing God’s yearning for a relationship with us he commented: “Actually God thirsts for you. God looks upon us with love and says: ‘I thirst for you’”. He added that we carry the divine presence within us and our privilege was to radiate Christ.
Bishop Harris shared a poignant moment in his understanding of his vocation and in his understanding of God’s fidelity. He was forty years old and on retreat preparing to celebrate his 15th anniversary a priest.
He was struggling at the time. “It was a difficult time in the Church. I kept asking myself if I had made a mistake in choosing to become a priest.” On the last day of the retreat he meditated on the words of the day’s gospel (John 15; 12-17.) that proclaimed: “you did not choose me but I chose you.” “I thought: if Jesus chose me then I did not make a mistake. Then I asked Jesus: ‘Why did you choose me: I heard him say: ’because I love you. I actually heard him say: ‘I love you,’ I floated out of that retreat house. I have never looked back.”
He was ordained to the episcopate in 2002 and was named to the Diocese of Sault Ste-Marie as auxiliary bishop. Before his installment in Sault Ste.-Marie he was vice-chancellor for the Archdiocese of Montreal, vocations director for the English-speaking Catholic community, general coordinator of English-language pastoral services, director of Pastoral Formation and Internship Program with responsibility for English Seminarians in Formation, Grand Séminaire du Montréal and episcopal vicar for English-speaking Catholics.
Bishop Harris holds a licentiate in canon law from the Gregorian University in Rome. From 1975 to 1978 he was an Ecclesiastical lawyer at Montreal Regional Marriage Tribunal and from 1988 to 2002 was a Collegial judge at the Montreal Regional Marriage Tribunal. From 1989 to 1991 he was president of the Canadian Canon Law Society.
Bishop Harris served the Diocese of Sault Ste-Marie until May 8, 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI announced his appointment as bishop of Saint John, New Brunswick, making him the twelfth bishop of the Diocese of Saint John.
Monsignor Brian Sheehan, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Saint John gave a tribute to the Most Reverend J. Edward Troy, D.D., bishop emeritus who was present and is celebrating 60 years as a priest and 35 years as a bishop. He was consecrated bishop in 1984 and retired in 1987. Msgr. Sheehan stated, “He has great priestly and episcopal virtues. He always had great love for diocesan priests and the laity of the diocese. He is discreet, a prudent listener, a man of integrity and a devoted pastor. We honour you with full hearts. Thank you, Bishop Troy.”
SAINTJOHN — Bishop Robert Harris (right) of the Diocese of Saint John shakes the hand of Bishop J. Edward Troy, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Saint John. Bishop Harris was celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving in honour of his 50th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. Bishop Troy was also honoured for his 60th anniversary (May 28) of ordination to the priesthood, as well as his 35th year as a bishop. (Joanie Marks photo)
The choir of Divine Mercy School of Saint John gave a moving rendition of Ave Maria during the presentation of the Communion gifts. Graydon Nicholas sang the Hail Mary in Maliseet and drummed in lieu of bells during the Consecration. Music was provided by organist Richard Kidd along with the Cathedral choir accompanied by a string ensemble.
Bishop Harris thanked all those involved in the preparation of the occasion including a reception which followed immediately after the Liturgy.
Bishop Harris concluded: “Today is not my retirement mass. Today I celebrate my 50th as a priest. However, I will be celebrating my 75th birthday in September and as you know, my letter of resignation has been sent to the Holy Father and will be accepted when my successor is named. Please pray for the process of choosing the next bishop of Saint John, a process which has already begun.”
The celebrations for Bishop Harris were not just centered in Saint John but also in Montreal where he had been born in 1944 and received much of his education including a Bachelor’s degree from Loyola College and a licentiate in theology from the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. On Sunday, May 26, following the Saint John celebration, Bishop Harris celebrated his anniversary in the presence of family that included a brother and cousin along with their families, fellow students from Cardinal Newman and St. Pius X high schools in Montreal and fellow seminarians from the Grand Séminaire de Montreal.
Also present were parishioners from the various parishes in Montreal where he served that include: St. Thomas More Parish, (Curate-1969-1972); St. Edmund of Canterbury Parish (Curate-1972-1973); St. Raphael’s Parish (Pastor-1980-1982) and, St. Veronica’s Parish (Pastor-1982-1989). He was also joined by two bishops from the Father General of the Missionary of Charity Fathers and priest friends. He concelebrated with some of the priests that were seminarians when he worked as a formater at the Grand Séminaire.§