Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington
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Bishop Christopher Coyne Addresses Vermont

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, newly appointed 10th Bishop of Burlington, gestures during a Dec. 22 press conference at diocesan headquarters in Burlington. Next to him is a portrait of the first Bishop of Burlington, Bishop Louis deGoesbriand.
(Photo by Cori Fugere Urban)

Pope Francis has named a Massachusetts native who has been serving as Auxiliary Bishop of Indianapolis as tenth Bishop of Burlington. 

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, 56, will be installed as pastor of Vermont’s 118,000 Catholics on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 2 p.m. during a Solemn Mass of Installation at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral in Burlington.

“I could not have wished for a better assignment,” he said at a Dec. 22 news conference at diocesan headquarters in South Burlington.

In his first Vermont public appearance, Bishop Coyne showed a deep sense of pastoral concern, fidelity to the Church, a desire to listen respectfully to the needs of laity and clergy of the statewide diocese, readiness to continue using current technology for outreach and a sense of humor.

When a reporter’s phone rang during the press conference, the bishop—who declared his devotion to Dunkin’ Donuts and the New England Patriots—was unflustered. “If it’s my mother, tell her I’ll call her back,” he said with a smile.

He expressed his appreciation to the people of the Indianapolis archdiocese, saying his four years there have “given you (Vermont Catholics) a better servant, pastor and man of the Church.”

As a regional bishop in Indiana, the Boston Celtics and Bruins fan also served as pastor of two parishes. He described a “healthy parish” as a busy place, busy with worship, social outreach, education and announcing Jesus Christ.

He has taken an approach of “respectful listening,” learning from the people what the Church is doing well and what it’s not doing well. He plans to take the same approach as Bishop of Burlington, traveling to parishes and institutions to meet with all who would like to speak to him, Catholic or not, and to begin a discernment process.

He hopes to foster healthy relationships with the state’s elected officials and ecumenical leaders.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne (right) stands with Monsignor John J. McDermott who has served as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Burlington since Jan. 3, 2014.
“We are grateful to Pope Francis for sending us Bishop Coyne, a shepherd with such a wealth of experience and a commitment to proclaiming joyfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Monsignor McDermott said.
(Photo by Cori Fugere Urban)

A man who has attended a tractor pull, given the invocation at automobile races, ate fried Twinkies and attended turkey shoots, he said he is ready to experience what Vermont has to offer, including skiing.

“Whether on the slopes or in a parish, I know I will take a spill and make mistakes,” he said, and when that happens, he asked for the help of Vermonters.

Acknowledging that he is not coming to Vermont with preconceived answers to what the Church needs to grow and flourish, he said he would be here “to serve as a faithful disciple and believer in Jesus Christ.”

The Catholic Church’s first blogging priest to become a bishop, Bishop Coyne is an internationally cited leader in the faith’s digital revolution.

He has kept a dedicated daily presence on both Facebook and Twitter to some 10,000 followers and has produced a regular podcast. The bishop’s outreach has been featured on NBC’s Today Show and in the nationally broadcast coverage of the Indianapolis 500, at which he delivered the pre-race invocation for the last three years.

Bishop Coyne said Facebook and Twitter are means to spread the Good News. A website, like a church, requires people to go to it, but with social media, he can reach out to people.

He said he hopes to “ramp up” digital media in the diocese, saying many elderly people—including his 86-year-old mother—use computers and related technology.

In November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops elected Bishop Coyne to a three-year term as the next chairman of the national Church’s communications efforts, beginning in 2015.

A former pastor of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Westwood, Mass., he was named auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis on Jan. 14, 2011, and was ordained a bishop on March 2, 2011.  He was appointed on Sept. 21, 2011, by Pope Benedict XVI as the Apostolic Administrator for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, a position he held until Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was installed on Dec. 3, 2012.

“We are grateful to Pope Francis for sending us Bishop Coyne, a shepherd with such a wealth of experience and a commitment to proclaiming joyfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Monsignor John J. McDermott, who has served as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Burlington since Jan. 3, 2014.

The middle of seven children born to a postal worker (William, now deceased) and parish secretary (Rita) in Woburn, Mass., Bishop Coyne graduated in 1976 from Woburn High School then attended the University of Lowell (now UMass-Lowell), graduating with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1980.

He has worked as a lifeguard at the YMCA, at Sears in the sporting goods department and as a musician. He worked full-time as a bartender before entering the seminary.

Bishop Christopher J. Coyne (left) speaks with Kevin Scully after a press conference introducing the bishop as the
next Bishop of Burlington.
Scully is the director of the Office of Safe Environments for the diocese.
(Photo by Cori Fugere Urban)

An avid skier and golfer who entered St. John Seminary in Brighton, Mass., in the fall of 1981, he was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston on June 7, 1986. He received his Doctorate in Sacred Liturgy from the Pontifical Athanaeum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome in 1994.

While ministering in parishes for most of his years in Massachusetts, Bishop Coyne spent 12 years as a professor of liturgy at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton and a number of years as the archdiocesan director of worship and later secretary for communications.

He wrote and hosted four television series for Boston Catholic Television, one of which, “Sacred Space,” was nominated for a regional Emmy award.

During a question-and-answer period with reporters at the diocesan headquarters, the former spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Boston responded to a question about the out-of-court handling of clergy sexual abuses cases, saying he thought the “way they were handled was very good.”

He said he is “ready to help and listen” to victims and their families and to “continue to move on in the good way we are now.” Policies to protect children are effective, he added.

Bishop Coyne—who said he hopes to empower more women to be in positions of leadership in the Church--encouraged efforts in evangelization and social outreach, saying “that’s what Catholics do; Catholics feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless.”

He distinguished between “maintenance” and “mission,” saying the former continues a status quo of what is happening in a parish; “mission means to go out.”

Asked about fostering vocations to the priesthood, he said it is important that families and parishes encourage men with an interest in such a vocation. He said priests who are happy in what they are doing play an especially important role in that.

Scheduled to preside at the Installation Mass as Metropolitan Archbishop of the Province of Boston is Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley O.F.M. Cap.; the pope’s ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, is scheduled to attend.

“While I will miss the great people of Indiana and all of my friends there, I am ready to commit myself fully to the work of the Catholic Church here in Vermont,” Bishop Coyne said.

By Cori Fugere Urban, Vermont Catholic staff writer.

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