Since he was ordained three months ago, Bishop Elias R. Lorenzo, O.S.B., one of three new auxiliary bishops for the Archdiocese of Newark, has been getting to know the priests, deacons, religious and pastoral staffs in Union County, where he is assigned. The primary work of a bishop is building relationships, he said. One of the ways he’s been doing this is by celebrating Mass, confirmations, and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults at different parishes every weekend.
“I’m happy to do it because it gives me the chance to spend the day in a parish,” he said. “[In August] I was in Scotch Plains at Saint Bartholomew and I had three confirmations – the 11 am., 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. – and so I was able to have lunch with the priests and the staff. I was able to stay for supper and get to know people. There are one or two retired priests that also live there.”
Bishop Elias has also been getting to know parishioners after Mass but admitted it’s an odd greeting.
“You can’t shake hands,” he said. “You can just stand there and say hello and people walk by. You do the best you can in this environment. Many of them have positive comments: ‘Thank you for opening up our churches,’ and, ‘Thank you for letting us come back to Mass.’”
As Bishop Elias gets to know more of the priests of Union County, he said he finds they are “good and zealous.”
“They are as frustrated as we all are with Covid,” said Bishop Elias. “They want to be able to do pastoral work. And a lot of the protocols that we are all frustrated with – but know are essential and necessary – limits what they can do in their parishes. I think that level of frustration also reveals a good zeal in them for priestly ministry, pastoral ministry, of service to their people.”
Priests are also working harder than ever because of the pandemic, he said, and they are learning how to use technology and social media in new and useful ways.
“Parish life is changing quickly,” he said. “How we do catechetics is changing. How we reach couples for marriage prep is changing. How we welcome students and teachers to our school is changing. There’s a lot of hard work going on, and people are really generous and creative. They are creating new solutions and new ways of doing things. It’s wonderful on one level and inspiring to see that.”
Since being ordained, Bishop Elias took up residence in a small home on the property of Saint Teresa of Avila in Summit. You will often find him at the parish food pantry Wednesday mornings after Mass.
“You don’t think that Summit has poor, but the poor are everywhere,” he said. “So, I usually say the Wednesday morning Mass and then go over and greet people who are coming up, and I thank the volunteers.”
Bishop Elias said Summit is an ideal location to live because it’s a 20-minute drive to any parish in Union County. It’s also close to his Monastery – Saint Mary’s Abbey in Morristown.
“I do get to go home about once a week to have lunch or supper with the brethren, which is nice to reconnect with my community,” he said.
Prior to his appointment by Pope Francis in Newark, Bishop Elias had several roles in the monastery, including Director of Liturgy, Prior of the Abbey and Rector of Church. Since 2016, he was Abbot President of his order, the American Cassinese Congregation, which includes 25 monasteries and 23 schools throughout the world. He also served as president of the International Commission on Benedictine Education.
His work often involved traveling to these different monasteries and schools nearly every week. He stepped down from that role on April 15. Church leaders cannot hold two offices in the church simultaneously.
“I miss the visits to the houses and the visits with the brethren,” Bishop Elias said. “I certainly don’t miss being in Newark Airport every week. That’s not as glamourous as it sounds. The visits with the brethren and to share their life and to walk with them – that was the wonderful part about being the president.”
The broad governance work he oversaw as president of the schools and monasteries is valuable experience he can apply to his new position with the archdiocese.
“It can only be an advantage moving forward,” Bishop Elias said. “All of that personnel work will hopefully help in whatever problems surface in the lives of our priests and religious in Union County.”
While many aspects of his new role have come into focus, Bishop Elias, along with the other auxiliaries (Bishops Manuel A. Cruz, D.D., Michael A. Saporito, and Gregory J. Studerus) are working out the nuances of their roles. Bishop Elias said he and the other auxiliaries meet once a week with Cardinal Tobin, and they recently went on retreat together. The three new auxiliaries also went on a canonical retreat prior to their ordination.
“We’re getting to know each other,” Bishop Elias said. “We’re developing a working relationship.”
Auxiliary bishops support the archbishop in the pastoral care of the archdiocese. Each of them is assigned as a regional bishop of the parishes in a particular county. In the past, auxiliary bishops also served as pastors, but that has changed under Cardinal Joseph Tobin.
When he first introduced them in February, Cardinal Tobin referred to the auxiliary bishops as “the principal partners of the archbishop.” He said he wants them to be “free to know the people of their county in a particular way” and to experience “the problems and joys of working in the vineyard.”
He also said that because each of the auxiliary bishops has special gifts, there will be diocesan-wide responsibilities that they will assume.
One of Bishop Elias’ areas of interest is education, in which he has more than 30 years of experience in secondary school education and administration at a Catholic high school. He recently began connecting with school leaders in Union County.
“I offered them my support and congratulations for opening up the school year,” he said. “They’re working around the clock to figure out how to go about school. Where do kids sit? Where do they stand? Where do they have lunch? Teachers and principals are working harder now because of the pandemic.”
Bishop Elias is also very active on social media and has been using Twitter since 2013. He said he’s doing his part to spread some positivity on the platform.
“There’s a lot of negativity on social media,” he said. “Recently, you may have seen Bishop Robert Barron called out Catholic social media as being too toxic and too negative, and I agree with him on that. I think if I’m going to post things, I’m going to post things that hopefully inspire people.”
This might include a Biblical quote or a pious thought, he said. Maybe an insight.
“But not a critique,” he continued. “Nothing about the Democrats or the Republicans or the election. There are enough people arguing about that. I’m trying to use the platform in a positive way if that’s at all possible. I don’t know if it is. You won’t find me weighing in on political or social issues. It’s a vehicle to preach the gospel. And I’m trying to use that in that way if I can.”
Bishop Elias referenced the admonition from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, which states: “Say only such what is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”
This article is the first of a series featuring the four auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Newark.