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St. Louis gets a new auxiliary bishop: Edward M. Rice

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 1, 2010 - Another St. Louis native will become a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. At noon Rome time today, the pope named Monsignor Edward M. Rice a bishop. He will serve in St. Louis, replacing the retiring Bishop Robert Hermann.

Though Rice will serve as an auxiliary bishop and rank under Archbishop Robert Carlson, in January he will become a full bishop with powers to confirm, and ordain deacons and bishops. He will have a full vote at the meetings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

For the past two and a half years, Rice has been the St. Louis Archdiocese's director of vocations, a key post. He is 50.

Bishop-elect Rice has long been a popular spiritual director for priests, seminarians, lay persons and various Catholic organizations in St. Louis. He is high on the list of popular priests for groups wanting a deeply spiritual preacher for a day of recollection.

His ordination as a bishop will be Jan. 13 at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, where he is likely to be joined by all nine of his siblings, their spouses and children. Neither of his parents is living. In a statement released this morning, Rice said: "I have a great love for the Church in St. Louis, and relying on the example and support of Bishop Hermann, who served so faithfully, I, too, look forward to serving them in this new capacity." Bishop Robert Hermann, 76, will retire on the same day.

Later, at the Cardinal Rigali Pastoral Center auditorium in Shrewsbury after Archbishop Carlson made the announcement to a full house of his family, archdiocesan employees, Rice said, "I'm from St. Louis, so it would give me great joy to be able to serve the church in St. Louis and make it stronger." Rice said he was humbled by the pope's appointment.

A People Person

He's said to be a people person. His strong spiritual direction background fits the mold of priests that Pope Benedict seems to be choosing for his new bishops -- many of them humble rather than so-called "careerists," always looking to move up.

"I am so happy. That is really joy to my ears that the church recognizes his abilities and is putting them into service," said Susan Sanner, a South St. Louis lay Catholic leader. "Father Rice is very outgoing, very willing to be of assistance. That's super for St. Louis."

He's a priest's priest. In July 2009 he gave a sermon at Cure de Ars Parish in Shrewsbury about a simple French priest many modern priests hold up as their role model: John Vianney, who served as the pastor, called a cure, in Ars.

"Pope Benedict XVI has declared this Year of the Priest, declaring St. John Vianney as patron saint of all the world's priests," Rice said. "Why should you care? One could assume this has nothing to do with marriage or family life or generous single life or religious. And to make that assumption I believe, is incorrect. Pope Benedict hopes to encourage spiritual perfection in priests."

No one was more excited about Rice's potential to help the archdiocese than one of his former teachers.

"Eddie's a real salt of the earth priest, a man of deep compassion for others, who has a real honest love for the people of God," said the Rev. Jim Swift, a Vincentian order priest, a former Kenrick rector and the chairman of the Jan. 27, 1999, Papal Mass at the then TWA Dome.

Embracing Diversity

Swift taught Rice in 1978 as a Kenrick freshman and later was his faculty colleague. Swift plans to dine tonight with Rice and Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville who is visiting his home town. Swift has seen Rice easily reach out to a great diversity of ages and viewpoints from conservatives to progressives in the church.

Rice also has taken steps to be able to reach out to Latinos, many of whom are not fluent enough to pray in English. Given that about one-third of U.S. Catholics today are Latino, a bishop must be able to say Mass in Spanish. Rice celebrates the Mass in that language at the seminary, where all students now must learn Spanish, and every Tuesdays at the 6:15 a.m. Mass at Holy Redeemer. A year ago when he took an immersion Spanish course for priests and deacons in San Antonio Rice was impressed that his high school Spanish flooded back and gave him a head start, he said at the announcement. He said that he still is working on being fluent.

Rice has spent most of his priesthood in St. Louis parishes while serving as a spiritual and formation mentor in charge of helping young men who want to be priests begin their years of preparation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in Shrewsbury.

Serving St. Louis

The answer to the pressing "St. Louis question" is St. Mary's High School, Class of 1978 where he returned to teach religion early in his early priesthood. He holds a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy, Cardinal Glennon College in St. Louis, Class of 1982 and a master of divinity degree from Kenrick Seminary.

He began his parish service as a transitional deacon at Immacolata Parish in Richmond Heights, a parish where many priests who would become bishops including Timothy Dolan, Michael Sheridan, Glennon Patrick Flavin and Edward O'Donnell also served. Archbishop John L. May ordained Rice a priest Jan. 3, 1987.

His first assignment, after ordination, was associate pastor of Our Lady of Presentation Parish in Overland in 1987. Until his post as vocations director, his only main multi-parish post was as dean, called vicar in many dioceses, of the parishes in the south city Deanery. He resided and helped out on weekends at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in south city, then was pastor of St. John the Baptist parish in south city. He lives at Holy Redeemer in Webster Groves, though most of his responsibilities are at Kenrick Seminary.

He will continue to reside at Holy Redeemer Parish to the delight of parishioner Hilda Berennecke and three other "6:15 a.m. Holy Redeemer daily Mass girls" and many parish grade students who attended the announcement.

In 2008 shortly after he became the archdiocese's director of vocations, he set up a series of Holy Hours to silently pray for vocations on the First Friday of each month.

He is popular with lay Catholic groups focused on spirituality. He serves as spiritual director of the Legion of 1000 Adorers, which gathers at the motherhouse of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Lemay. This Saturday, for example, he will celebrate Mass and give a lecture afterward to the Children of Mary Sodality, a 150 year-old adult women group that gathers at Villa Duchesne in Frontenac.

One of his good friends and Kenrick classmates from the class of 1982 is Abbot Elias Ray Dietz. A St. Louis native who now leads the Trappist's Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, best known among many Christian lay people as where the monk Thomas Merton served.

Rice grew up in south St. Louis and recalled fondly spending his New Year's Eves with his mother at a Holy Hour of silent prayer at St. John the Evangelist Church, across from Union Station. Their own parish, St. Cecilia in the Carondelet neighborhood of south St. Louis, did not have the midnight service. He has held New Year's Eve Holy Hours at Kenrick Seminary and at parishes where he has been assigned over the years.

Family Alert

Rice gave his family a heads-up on his news Tuesday night when he called them for a "family meeting" and then swore them to secrecy over a family favorite treat, Miss Hullings' chocolate split layer lake. A sister Mary Ann Rice Schuhwerk, used to work at the defunct cafeteria when she was in school and bring home the treat.

"We all know he's wonderful, no one works harder and we know his devotion to the church but it's great today to know that others realize that, too," said a younger sister Gigi Rice Hensen.

Schuhwerk, recalled that one Sunday when she was about 12 and Ed was about 8 they talked on the way home from church about her idea of Ed becoming a church pastor and she becoming the nun principal of its grade school.

At the announcement Rice said he put Schuhwerk's nun story into his homily at her wedding. Actually, he was a junior in high school surrounded by Marionist priests and brothers before he seriously considered becoming a priest, he said. He told the religious men that he'd never be able to teach. He laughed that his second priestly assignment was back at his alma mater teaching.

When he became vocations director he vowed to visit every grade school to talk about religious life. He is on schedule to fulfill that challenge by next spring. His visits from Dutzow to Monroe to the city increased his appreciation of the archdiocese, he said.In recent months he has hosted a Holy Hour the first Friday of each month at Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves.

He has had great devotion to the Sacred Heart and has in his vocations office a painting of the image of Jesus with his exposed heart a symbol of infinite love. His parents, the late John and Helen Madden Rice, received the painting as a wedding gift in 1952. When the bishop-elect was growing up, the painting hung over their living room mantel.

As a young bishop he will serve here for at least one year, likely several, helping Archbishop Robert Carlson in leading the archdiocese and in confirming the youth and adult converts. Most Catholics see their bishops when they are confirmed and when they attend confirmations.

An Irish Tradition

The pope naming Rice to follow the work of Bishop Hermann is a new twist on a long tradition in the St. Louis archdiocese that used to mean twinning one Irish-American auxiliary and one German-American auxiliary bishop. Now since the turn of the century, this area has had just one auxiliary, maybe switching between an Irish-American, then a German-American and now again an Irish-American.

That ethnic balance twinning was particularly apparent in 1997 when Irish-American Bishop Michael J. Sheridan and German-American Bishop Joseph F. Naumann were ordained bishops to serve here as auxiliaries in the same Mass at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica. Sheridan is now bishop of Colorado Springs and Naumann is archbishop of Kansas City, Kans. Since Bishop Timothy Dolan left St. Louis in 2002 to shepherd Milwaukee as its archbishop for seven years before becoming New York archbishop, the St. Louis Archdiocese has not had an Irish-American auxiliary bishop.

In its history, the archdiocese has had two African-American auxiliaries, Bishop Terry Steib, now leader of Memphis Catholics and Bishop Edward Braxton, now leader of the Belleville diocese. Unlike most St. Louis Auxiliary bishops neither of those two were St. Louis natives.

The bishop-elect's large, tightly knit St. Louis family includes siblings John, Mark, Mary Ann, James, Patrick, Vincent, Leo, Virginia, Helen, and his nieces and nephews. All but one of his siblings now live in the St. Louis area. They certainly will feel a bittersweet twinge at today's news. As a young bishop of 50, Rice eventually will be transferred away from St. Louis to shepherd a diocese of his own.

Patricia Rice has covered religion for many years. She is not related to Bishop-elect Rice. 

Patricia Rice is a freelance writer based in St. Louis who has covered religion for many years. She also writes about cultural issues, including opera.

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