From the Pastor: A New Bishop!
Last Monday morning brought some earlier than expected news that a new Bishop has been selected to replace our retiring bishop. Bishop Gregory Parkes, currently the Bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, will be installed as the fifth Bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese on Wednesday, January 4. That date is said to have been chosen because the bishops of the Southeast will be here on retreat at the Bethany Center, our Diocesan retreat house complex. As a result, there should be a good number of Bishops present at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle for the ceremony. Don’t get your hopes up on attending, though, since tickets will be required and will, I am sure, be meagerly rationed.
Just as, up until last week, everybody kept asking if I knew who the new bishop was going to be (as if I were part of the “inner circle” of clergy in the know!), so now everybody wants to know what I think of the new bishop. Here I have at least some little bit of knowledge, since we spent time together in the seminary, though he was about three years behind me. Yet all of my knowledge of him comes with some simple yet perhaps grand caveats, for I only knew him as a seminarian, not as a priest, and certainly not as a bishop. Believe you me, twenty to twenty five years is a long time and men can and do change over the decades. After ordination to the priesthood and getting out into the “real world” of the parish, there are many things a priest must learn that the seminary never taught. There are also, unfortunately, many things a priest must also un-learn from this seminary formation. Some priests do that better than others, and some do it more quickly than others. I assume that after he became a bishop, Bishop Parkes also had a similar experience of having to learn and unlearn what he had always thought a bishop was, how he was to lead, act, teach, manage, etc.
With all that being CYA material before I tell you what I think about how he will be as my/our Bishop, it is also apparent that there are some things that don’t change over the years. Intelligent men do not become intellectual dunces; gentle men do not become cruel; thoughtful men do not become inconsiderate; and so forth. Intelligence, gentleness, thoughtfulness: these are all characteristics of the seminarian Greg Parkes. I have no doubt that they are also the characteristics of Bishop Gregory Parkes. As you would expect for any man in the seminary, but which is not necessarily true, he was without a doubt a man of prayer, study, and integrity, a man you wouldn’t mind having as a friend or even as a family member. (His younger brother, the now-Father Stephen Parkes, was two years behind me, and was as excited as could be when his older brother followed in his footsteps and entered the seminary.) Greg was one of the good guys, a guy you could count on to do what he said, to help without being asked, and to obey without grumbling. As you can tell, he and I were very different!
Aside from just studying and praying, as seminarians we also played a lot of basketball. Greg did not play as often as I did but whenever he played, we were always on the opposite teams, as we were usually the two tallest ball players on the court. He was a lot taller than I and a lot more skilled at basketball than I, so I loved playing against him. Most of the guys were shorter and most of them were better athletes but my height gave me an unfair advantage over them. Against Greg, though, I had to use every bit of skill I possessed. He truly brought out the best in me on the court in a way that others simply could not. News reports keep referring to Bishop Parkes as a “gentle giant.” This was true even of seminarian Greg. Don’t get me wrong. He would push me around, toss me aside, steal the ball, run right over me and stuff my shots back into my face. I came away bruised and exhausted from games against him. But he would never intentionally foul or hurt anybody. He could have “killed” any of us without breaking a rule or breaking a sweat, yet he was there not to conquer but to win while keeping the game fun. It is a good combination (when you are not at the professional level, at least!).
So what do I think of the man who will soon be my/our bishop? I think he has the makings of a Saint. I will have absolutely no qualms about pledging my obedience to him and presenting you, my beloved flock, to him, as sheep willing to follow my/our new holy Shepherd all the way to Heaven.
With prayers for your holiness,
Fr. Edwin Palka