By Cathy Tilzey

Classical music filled the Cathedral of St. Helena the afternoon of June 4 and wafted outdoors as archbishops, bishops, priests, seminarians, deacons and servers processed around the church and up the main steps for the Mass of Installation for Bishop George Leo Thomas.

The papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, began the ceremony by reading the apostolic letter naming Bishop Thomas as the 10th Bishop of Helena.

Then Archbishop Montalvo and Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., escorted Bishop Thomas to the cathedra, the seat of the diocesan bishop. He was presented with the miter – a bishop’s distinctive headdress – and his crosier, or pastoral staff.

As the new Bishop of Helena sat down, smiling happily, the capacity crowd of more than 700 rose to their feet and applauded extensively.

The Liturgy of the Word followed, then Bishop Thomas’ homily. He began with a reference to John Steinbeck’s book “Travels with Charley, in Search of America,” in which the author wrote, “I am in love with Montana. For other states, I have admiration and respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana it is love.”

The bishop said, “His words capture exactly what I am feeling in my heart as I stand before you today.”

He talked about growing up in Anaconda, Harlem, Butte, where he graduated from Boys’ Central High School, and Helena, where he attended St. Helena Grade School in 1962.

His faith was tested in Helena when a fellow seventh grader died in a tragic accident. The boy’s death shook students’ childhood confidence in God, but also started a new relationship, a profound encounter with Christ and the Church, he related.

Young George Thomas began to see “with the eyes of the heart” rather than with physical eyes alone, he added.

Bishop Thomas spoke about Pope John Paul II’s October 2003 address to bishops of the world which captured the essence of the ministry of bishop. The address included a bishop’s threefold ministry of teaching, pastoral governance and sanctification.

“The beginning point of a bishop’s teaching ministry is a personal encounter with the living Lord, and a burning desire to share Christ’s life and love with all he meets,” he explained. As teachers, bishops hand on what they have received, the gospel.

The second ministry, pastoral governance, is rooted in the powerful image in the installation Mass’s gospel, which told of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. He quoted the Rite of Episcopal Ordination, which says “The title of Bishop is one of service, not of honor …”

He said he will spend a lot of time listening, and will rely on the counsel of priests, who are “a source of wisdom and an indispensable resource for the bishop,” and on the experience and perspective of the religious and laity.

The third ministry, sanctification, is rooted in baptism and strengthened by the sacraments. He described how baptism is the gateway to spiritual life, and that through it all people become adopted daughters and sons of the living God. “Eucharist is our communion with the living God,” he added.

“I will work tirelessly to live up to the Office of Bishop entrusted to me,” Bishop Thomas stated. “I promise to serve you faithfully, and love you as a shepherd, a brother and friend. My heart is filled with joy and enthusiasm, as we begin this journey of faith together.” (Click here for the full text of Bishop Thomas’ homily.)

For the Liturgy of the Eucharist, concelebrants were members of the College of Consultors – Monsignors Kevin O’Neill of Helena and Donald Shea of Bigfork; and Fathers Thomas Healy, SJ, and Matthew Huber of Missoula; Charles Roman of Whitefish, and Jeremiah Sullivan of Carroll College.

Behind them were Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Archbishop John G. Vlazny of Portland, Ore., and Archbishop Montalvo.

Seated in prominent places were the former bishops of Helena: retired Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle; Archbishop Elden F. Curtiss of Omaha, Neb; Archbishop Alex J. Brunett of Seattle, and Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis.

The congregation included President Thomas Trebon of Carroll College and three former presidents – Monsignor Anthony Brown of Butte, Frank Kerins of Helena and Father Stephen Rowan, interim president in the 2000-01 school year. The only former president unable to attend was Matthew Quinn, who lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Following the Mass, many of those at the installation spent several hours visiting, enjoying a buffet dinner and hearing the music of Gabriel Maricich of Seattle.

A vocal performance major at Catholic University of America, Maricich said Bishop Thomas chose the songs, which included “If Ever I Would Leave You” from the musical “Camelot.”


Published in The Montana Catholic, Vol. 20, No. 6, June 18, 2004.