LINCOLN, Neb. — Evangelization and the pastoral tending of souls are among the main goals for Bishop James Conley, who was named the ninth bishop of Lincoln by Pope Benedict.
“There is nothing more important for a bishop than the care of souls,” Bishop Conley told members of his new diocese at a Sept. 14 press conference.
With the support of the diocese, he said he has “one aim,” consisting of three parts: that all men and women will “come to know Jesus Christ,” that they “live in the abundance of his love” and in turn strive to “become holy, as our Father in heaven is holy.”
“I am dedicated above all else to this noble mission,” he said. “I am grateful to know that I can already count on your prayers and your collaboration.”
Bishop Conley will replace Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who has served the diocese for more than 20 years and submitted his resignation according to Church procedure upon reaching his 75th birthday in 2010.
“He has been a true champion of the Catholic faith, and he has been a personal hero of mine for years,” Bishop Conley said. “All of us owe him a great debt of gratitude.”
Bishop Bruskewitz assured Bishop Conley of his new diocese’s support in a Sept. 14 statement.
“We promise Bishop Conley our prayers and dedicated support in all his undertakings and apostolic labors here in southern Nebraska,” he said. “We cannot be happier about this appointment.”
Bishop Conley, whose installation will take place Nov. 20 at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, has chosen “heart speaks to heart,” from Blessed John Henry Newman, as his episcopal motto.
“I hope that as our hearts speak with one another,” he said, “all of us may encounter the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Conley, who was raised Presbyterian, has “a heart for evangelization,” he said, as he converted to Catholicism in college and even “had the privilege” of receiving his parents into the Church after he was ordained a priest.
As the Church nears the start of the Year of Faith, Bishop Conley said he is eager to begin his work in sharing the Catholic faith with non-Catholics, especially those who are “in their student years.”
Bishop Conley served as pastor of Wichita State University’s Newman Center, chaplain to the University of Dallas’ Rome campus and was an adjunct instructor of theology for Christendom College’s Rome campus.
He said he has already heard of the University of Nebraska Newman Center’s “stellar reputation” and is “filled with great joy” over what he called an “important apostolate.”
Lincoln, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary as a diocese, has long been known for its “steadfast defense of the unborn, civil and religious liberty, traditional marriage between a man and a woman, and strong family values,” Bishop Conley noted.
“I am not yet the bishop of Lincoln,” he said, “but I am already proud of the people of this great state.”
While looking forward to “forging the bonds of fraternity and friendship” with them, Bishop Conley said he is excited to know the priests of Lincoln “as brothers in the vineyard of the Lord.”
In closing, Bishop Conley thanked all those who have aided him throughout life, including Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, his family and, most especially, the Virgin Mary.
Bishop Conley dedicated his ministry to Mary under the title of "The Immaculate Conception," who is the patroness of the Diocese of Lincoln.
“She is our life, our sweetness and our hope,” he said. “Of course, I wish to consecrate my ministry here in Lincoln to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Men and women religious, whose “consecration serves the whole Church,” are a “sign of the universal vocation to holiness,” Bishop Conley said.
The Diocese of Lincoln is home to more than 95,000 Catholics in 136 parishes, has 150 priests and 141 women religious, and is home to one diocesan seminary, St. Gregory the Great, and one religious seminary, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Bishop Conley noted his history with the Diocese of Lincoln, pointing out that, while in Wichita, he served under Bishop Michael Jackels and Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who were “both men chosen as bishops from the ranks of the Lincoln presbyterate.”
He said he is also familiar with the legacies of Archbishop James Casey and Bishop J. Henry Tihen, both of whom served first as bishops in Lincoln and then Denver.