By Debbie Hovanasian
LOWELL -- St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians "Faith, hope, love, abide these three." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Over Holy Week and today, Easter Sunday, Bishop Robert Hennessey, the newly appointed bishop for the Merrimack Region of the Archdiocese of Boston, presented during his sermons a different order: love, hope, faith.
"Holy Week reverses the traditional faith, hope and love. Holy Thursday is all about love, Good Friday is about hope, and Easter is about faith," he said. "At the conclusion of Holy Week, we are asked, do you believe, and we answer, I do. It's about faith in the Resurrection.
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Hennessey also stressed that after the cross, "there is always the Resurrection for those who believe. There's talk of Easter peace, but it's really more of a deep contentment as we unite our own crosses to His, knowing the ultimate victory has been won."
Easter Sunday, he adds, is the perfect time to truly contemplate the Resurrection.
"The Resurrection of the body, we say it every Sunday and we take it for granted. But Easter gives us the chance to really think about what happened to Jesus," he said during an interview earlier in the week.
Keeping up a busy schedule a month after moving to his new office next to St. Rita Church in Lowell, Hennessey celebrated Holy Thursday in Ipswich, Good Friday at St.
He's just beginning to learn the area that, geographically, is one of the largest in the archdiocese.
The expansive region, with lots of country roads and a lesser amount of city streets, is a big change for someone who was raised in South Boston, attended St. John Seminary in Boston for eight years, served as a pastor in East Boston for 12 years, and was formerly bishop of the Central Region, including Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brighton and Brookline. In all cases, neighborhood churches within blocks of each other dotted the landscape.
The Merrimack Region will take Hennessey as far west as Ashby, as far east as Ipswich, north to Amesbury and south to Wilmington, encompassing more than 30 communities.
"For me, that's the exciting part. It's so different from where I've been," he said. "I'll be spending a lot of time in the car, but the difference is this time the car will be moving."
His remedy to driving countless miles is audio books, he said. He's currently listening to Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Jesus."
Hennessey, who's approachable, humble and has a good sense of humor, plans to get out to the parishes and meet the parishioners. However, "one of my major responsibilities is our priests. I'll do what I can to take care of the priests, so they can take care of everyone else."
Local priests and parishioners "couldn't be more welcoming. And I've been told by the priests, all of them, that they really enjoy being in this area."
He looks forward to learning the area's history, especially Lowell's mill tours, and welcomes the chance to use his Spanish within the local Spanish-speaking communities. He honed the language while a St. James missionary for six years in Bolivia.
He credits a great-uncle, who was a priest, as well as the priests at St. Augustine Parish, where he grew up, for his vocation. There, he served as an altar boy and had the same pastor and the same three associate priests for all of his 18 years in the parish, he said.
Hennessey also credits his mother, Eileen, whom he lost when he was just 16, for his vocation. His late father, John, was a Boston police officer who raised Hennessey and his four siblings on his own after Eileen's death.
The family lived within view of Carson Beach in South Boston, "so even though we were not at all rich, I always thought we were," he said with a smile.
In high school, Hennessey attended Boston Latin and entered the seminary just after graduation. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1978 and later enrolled in studies at University of Notre Dame. In 2006, he was ordained a bishop, which in the Catholic Church is considered a successor to the apostles.
He's thrilled that Pope Francis appears to be sparking a renewal in the Catholic Church and looks forward to meeting him one day.
"I've had so many people tell me that they had left the Catholic Church, but because of Pope Francis, they are considering coming back," he said. "Any priest will tell you that they are hearing the same thing. He's a gift to us, a gift to the whole Catholic Church."
The "Pope Francis effect" may even draw some to attend Easter Sunday Mass today, a holiday that traditionally draws the largest number of attendees, he said. Of those who are drawn back, Hennessey believes that they will be "pleasantly surprised. It is our hope that they will like what they see, and will come back to stay."
Now into the busy Confirmation season, Hennessey looks forward to forging ahead in his new role as bishop to the Catholics of the Merrimack Region, he said.
"I have a lot to learn, but the priests and the parishioners are making it easy."