STEUBENVILLE - The priest selected to lead nearly 40,000 Catholics in Eastern Ohio had to borrow a bishop's cross for his introductory press conference Tuesday.
"I have to learn how to dress as a bishop and to speak as a bishop. I still have a lot of work to do before I am ordained and installed as the bishop of the Diocese of Steubenville," 49-year-old Monsignor Jeffrey Marc Monforton told reporters.
"It came as a great surprise when the apostolic nuncio called me a week ago and said His Holiness wanted to appoint me as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Steubenville. He asked if I would accept the appointment and I said 'yes.' I did not go on the diocesan website for a couple hours. And I was asked to keep the appointment confidential until the announcement. I eventually spoke to my spiritual adviser and my confessor as well as Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit," Monforton related.
THE NEW BISHOP — Monsignor Jeffrey Marc Monforton, bishop designate for the Catholic Diocese of Steubenville, answered questions Tuesday during an introductory press conference at the Chancery offices. -- Dave Gossett
Monforton was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to become the fifth bishop of the 13-county diocese filling the one-year vacancy created when Bishop R. Daniel Conlon was appointed bishop of the Joliet, Ill., Catholic Diocese.
"I was taken aback by the phone call. I had a sleepless night after that call. But I am here today nervous and excited. I am putting everything into perspective and I am looking forward to my time here," Monforton continued.
Monforton's mother, Virginia Rose Ackerman Monforton, accompanied her son to Steubenville for his initial visit and press conference and said she is "very proud of her son."
"I believe this is a blessed day for the church and a joyous day for our family," she said.
The bishop designate spent Tuesday morning meeting with the Chancery staff and looking at his new office.
"I have to return to St. Andrew parish in Rochester, Mich. I was appointed pastor of the church just seven weeks ago and now I have to prepare to leave that assignment," he added.
Monforton was born in 1963 in Detroit and ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Detroit on June 25, 1994.
Monforton said no date or location has been set for his ordination and installation, but he is preparing to assess the issues facing the Eastern Ohio diocese.
"We are discussing the details and the protocols for the ceremony. I plan to have three bishops who will concelebrate the Mass, including Archbishop Vigneron, Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr of the Cincinnati Archdiocese and Cardinal Adam J. Maida," he explained.
"I don't have a motto as bishop designate but the guiding passage I have used as a priest is from St. John, 'The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep,'" Monforton said.
"There are a lot of options to study in this diocese. I will continue a healthy assessment of what has been proposed by Bishop R. Daniel Conlon. I want the church to be welcoming with a strong pastoral outreach. One of my hallmarks has always been education. I look at how we can work with younger children and how do we bolster older children in their faith," Monforton noted.
The bishop designate also will focus on getting to know Eastern Ohio and the people he will lead.
"I am not used to your valleys," he laughed. "In Detroit a valley is 12 to 15 feet deep. You have real valleys here. I have enjoyed the beauty here. The people in Steubenville have been very welcoming," said Monforton.
And his parishioners also will be learning about their new bishop, such as his love for hockey.
"I am a huge hockey fan. And I love the Red Wings. I know I am coming to the area that follows the Penguins and the Blue Jackets. But I am still a Red Wings fan," Monforton stated.
Monforton said he was familiar with Conlon's plans to build a new cathedral.
"There are pros and cons with any plan and that is something I will have to explore. I will not dismiss anything that has been discussed in the past," commented Monforton.
"In many ways the Detroit archdiocese is similar to the Steubenville diocese. In its heyday there were 2 million people living in Detroit. Now, there are less than 1 million people as the economy had an adverse effect on the city and people have moved away. The question we face is do we maintain, merge, cluster or close parishes. That is all part of the assessment," Monforton said.
"My first priority as bishop of Steubenville will be the salvation of souls. I also want to make sure our parishes are strong. And I want to look at our media. I want to broaden our approach. I have a smartphone but I don't have time for Facebook or Twitter. I also believe education is essential. I also believe there is a need for social outreach in the diocese," cited Monforton.
"The resources here are different. There is a longer drive time here. But I look forward to coming here," Monforton said.
Ralph Martin, director of graduate theology programs in New Evangelization at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, has known Monforton for the past several years.
"He was my boss for the past five years. I think he will be absolutely great for the diocese and the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is strong theologically, he is spiritual and pastoral. And he is a good administrator," said Martin who teaches summer classes at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
"During his administration at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, we saw the number of seminarians grow. In fact we had the largest graduating class this year since the 1970s," added Martin.
Auxiliary Bishop Michael Byrnes of the Detroit Archdiocese also worked for Monforton at the seminary and said his former boss was never afraid "to take on a project."
"He saw the need for more rooms because of the growing enrollment. He developed plans to renovate a very old building and then worked on obtaining donations for the project," said Byrnes.
"He had a practice of making the rounds of the seminary offices every Monday. And he would host a dinner with available priests periodically," Byrnes related.
The Rev. Terence Henry, TOR, president of Franciscan University of Steubenville, said he "shares the joy of the diocese and the faithful. I am looking forward to the installation and ordination of the new bishop. And Franciscan University is looking forward to helping our new bishop in any way we can.
"We are praying for his transition and look forward to establishing a wonderful relationship with our bishop. He is in our prayers," said Henry.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)