Each of the 10 bishops of the Diocese of Burlington has brought unique gifts to his episcopate. Here is a look at each.
1. Bishop deGoesbriand, the “founding bishop”
Bishop Louis deGoesbriand was the first bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, which was founded in 1853. When he died in 1899, he left behind a Church that had grown both in number of Catholics number of churches and Catholic schools; by 1891 there were eight academies and 16 parochial schools in the Diocese with seven congregations of women religious to staff them. Five priests had awaited his arrival, and the number of Vermont priests grew to 52 in 1892 thanks to his efforts to foster vocations in Vermont and recruit priests from France, Canada and Ireland. The number of churches increased from 10 to 78 during his episcopacy, and the number of Catholics grew from less than 20,000 to more than 46,000 – most Irish or French-speaking Canadians. “There is no nook, no corner, no hamlet, no village, no town, no city of this Diocese which has not been repeatedly blessed by his presence and his labors,” said a bishop during Bishop DeGoesbriand’s funeral.
2. Bishop John S. Michaud, the “builder bishop”
The first native-born priest ordained for the Diocese of Burlington, Bishop John S. Michaud, began his building initiatives in Newport, his first assignment after his 1873 ordination to the priesthood. St. Mary Star of the Sea Church was the first of many construction projects he would oversee in his life. In 1879 Bishop deGoesbriand summoned him back to Burlington to oversee the building of St. Joseph’s Providence Orphan Asylum. Later, he oversaw the building of St. Francis de Sales Church in Bennington before being named coadjutor bishop of the Diocese. His building efforts continued with Fanny Allen Hospital in Colchester and a hospital in St. Johnsbury. It was Bishop Michaud who advocated a bill passed by the Vermont Legislature to make the Diocese of Burlington a legal corporation. By the end of his tenure, there were 100 churches and missions serving 75,000 Catholics.
3. Bishop Joseph J. Rice, the “education bishop”
Through the turbulent years that included World War I, a Spanish influenza epidemic, anti Catholicism and The Great Depression, the third bishop of Burlington, Bishop Joseph J. Rice, oversaw the expansion of Catholic education as well as the opening of the deGoesbriand Hospital in Burlington, increased social services and the building of new churches in rural areas of the statewide Diocese. Several Catholic high schools opened during his episcopacy including Cathedral High School in Burlington. In 1925 the Sisters of Mercy opened Trinity College in Burlington. And during the war, the bishop educated his flock about the need for peace. “We are now face to face with the stern realities of war,” he said in a pastoral letter. “Let us now implore the God of mercy and goodness that the scourge of way may cease and that its dreadful but salutary lessons may teach mankind.”
4. Bishop Matthew F. Brady, the “short-term bishop”
The fourth bishop of Burlington was the first to be transferred out of the Diocese. Before Bishop Matthew F. Brady became bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Manchester, N.H., he used his six years in Vermont to reorganize Vermont Catholic Charities, organized a Diocesan Schools Office and organized the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. He had been a Navy chaplain during World War I, and after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, he offered his prayers and support for the “boys” overseas fighting World War II. He lent his support to the labor union movement. “Let it be clearly understood that the position of the Catholic Church…is unquestionably and unalterably on the side of the laboring man until such time as he does injustice to employers,” he once wrote. He died in Vermont during a congress of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine as the bishop of Manchester in 1959.
5. Bishop Edward F. Ryan, “champion of rural churches”
Among the accomplishments of the fifth bishop of Burlington, Bishop Edward F. Ryan, were the reorganizing of societies, establishment of a Vermont edition of the Our Sunday Visitor national Catholic newspaper, encouragement of the development of Catholic youth organizations, bringing religious congregations to Vermont and building more rural churches. A champion of the rural Church, he convened at Camp Holy Cross in Colchester the first Catholic Rural Life Institute in the eastern United States. “The future of the Church in Vermont, as well as in other states, lies not in the urban population but in the rural areas,” he said. At the time, the Diocese invested $300,000 in 14 mission churches and chapels in Vermont. In less than eight years he oversaw the building of 23 churches in rural areas. He also invited religious orders and priests from his native Massachusetts to Vermont to help staff rural parishes.
6. Bishop Robert F. Joyce, “Vatican II bishop”
Proctor native and sixth bishop of Burlington Bishop Robert F. Joyce participated in the Second Vatican Council -- convened by Pope John XXIII in 1962 -- and presided over the changes in the Church that resulted from it. Bishop Joyce attended every session of the council. Through his correspondence with his chancellor, Msgr. Louis Gelineau, he kept abreast of what was happening at home and continued to issue orders about the running of the diocese. When the council ended in 1965, he began implementing changes like the celebration of Mass in the vernacular. He celebrated the first television Mass, and Vermont became the third Diocese in the country to give the green light for the celebration of Saturday Vigil Masses. An advocate of interfaith dialogue, Bishop Joyce promoted the reception of the Diocese as an affiliate member of the Vermont Ecumenical Council and Bible Society. “All of the things which the Vatican Council recommended I have tried to establish,” he said. “I call myself a liberal in that measure. I am, however, strongly against changing anything the Church does not recommend.” During his tenure, Bishop Joyce also faced issues relating to the Vietnam War, declining enrollment in parish schools and legalized abortion.
7. Bishop John A. Marshall, “the quintessential teacher-bishop”
When Bishop John A. Marshall – once a Catholic high school headmaster in his native Massachusetts -- became seventh bishop of Burlington in 1972, the Church was still feeling the effects of the Second Vatican Council, and it was up to him to see that directives from Rome were implemented and Catholic lay roles and ministries were clarified. In addition, he addressed cultural changes that affected the Church and the Green Mountain State. He taught and spoke out repeatedly and vehemently against abortion, he opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, he championed traditional family values, and he endorsed ecumenical efforts. Other topics he addressed included capital punishment, sexuality, homosexuality, gay rights legislation and the availability of condoms to inmates in Vermont correctional centers. Vermont Catholics were concerned about a myriad of justice issues during the Marshall years: poverty, hunger, homelessness, refugee resettlement, the nuclear arms race and U.S. policy in Central American to name a few. “Only … trust that God loves us can cast out fear and make us strong enough to set aside defensiveness in order to work for peace, to set aside self interest to work for justice, to set aside anger to work for mercy,” he once said. Austere by nature, he taught simplicity of life by his example. He oversaw the sale of the grand brick bishop’s residence, and he moved his quarters to a small, simple apartment in the remodeled Bishop Brady Center, the diocesan headquarters located in a former orphanage in Burlington.
8. Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, the “respect life bishop”
Perhaps nothing defines Bishop Kenneth A. Angell’s respect-life attitude as well as his forgiveness of the terrorists whose actions on Sept. 11, 2001, took the lives of his brother and sister-on-law. He celebrated a Mass the next day for all the victims and said he forgave the perpetrators because as a Christian he was told to forgive so he did. Though not unique in his respect-life stand, the eighth bishop of Burlington was often called upon to speak up for the vulnerable. He stood firmly against mandated abortion coverage in health care, began a Diocesan respect life phone tree to procure lobbying of state and national leaders and dedicated himself to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ efforts to “Confront a Culture of Violence.” At his request, the Vermont Knights of Columbus circulated a petition to aid the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines. He opposed the death penalty and launched a fax campaign to protest the execution of a Vermont native on death row. Another concern he faced was the growing shortage of priests in Vermont; he was instrumental in establishing a House of (vocation) Discernment at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont and stressed the role of the laity in the life of the Church. In 1996 he oversaw the establishment of a Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Policy, and he dealt with the clergy abuse scandal.
9. Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, “bishop of authenticity”
The ninth bishop of Burlington, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano, faced unprecedented challenges as he dealt with the fallout of the priest sex abuse scandal, declining Mass attendance, fewer children in Catholic schools and an ever-increasing clergy shortage. But as he dealt with these issues, he remained steadfast in his devotion to authentic Church teaching. A strong and effective communicator, his priorities were to foster increased participation in the sacraments -- especially the Eucharist -- and to firmly uphold the teachings of the Church. He promulgated Guidelines for the Administration of the Sacraments in the Diocese of Burlington to guide both clergy and laity in the necessary preparations for and proper reception of the seven sacraments and oversaw the implementation of initiatives from Rome such as the Year of Faith and the implementation of a new translation of the Roman Missal. He invited outside priests to serve the Church in Vermont, advocated for the right to life of all persons and worked to uphold the dignity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. He oversaw programs to protect children and vulnerable adults and the closing and merger of parishes as well as the settlement of lawsuits dealing with allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
10. Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, “the blogging bishop”
A former auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Bishop Christopher J. Coyne already had become known as “the blogging bishop” when he arrived as the 10th bishop of Burlington. Adept at using all forms of social media to educate, inform and inspire, he has strengthened the communications efforts of the Diocese while also increasing staff to work in the areas of evangelization, catechesis, worship and youth and young adult ministry. He instituted the Diocese’s Year of Creation, an intentional, heightened focus on ecological justice featuring various events, initiatives and resources to better educate Vermont Catholics and others and encourage the embracing of Pope Francis’ message in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” Bishop Coyne has convened the first Diocesan synod since the 1960s to establish a pastoral plan for the immediate future of the Catholic Church in Vermont and to establish particular laws and policies to do so. Only two and half years into his leadership role, Bishop Coyne is laying the foundation for a stronger, more engaged Church in Vermont.
--Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.