N.J. Catholics "Devastated" after Archbishop's Successor Moves West
By Jessica Mazzola
March 24, 2016
|Newark Archbishop John J. Myers and co-Adjutor Bernard Hebda hold a news conference at the Archdiocese of Newark's Archdiocesan Center in Newark . 9/24/13 (John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger)|
News that Archbishop Bernard Hebda has left New Jersey for good has left Catholics in the Garden State wondering who will eventually lead the state's largest Archdiocese.
"I was devastated," Fr. Alex Santora of Our Lady of Grace in Hoboken said of how he felt when he learned of Pope Francis's decision Thursday to appoint Hebda the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.
"I think I can speak for a lot of priests that I've talked to who feel that (Hebda) raised the expectations for what could be in our Archdiocese."
Hebda came to New Jersey in 2013, when Pope Francis named him Coadjutor Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, and successor to current Archbishop John J. Myers, who is expected to retire in July.
Hebda's personality and style, Santora said, instilled a "sense of excitement" amongst local clergy members about the impending "transition" to Hebda's leadership. "Now, that has been dashed."
Last year, while still serving in Newark, Hebda was appointed to also serve as Apostolic Administrator in the Twin Cities. Hebda was brought in amidst a sex scandal in Minnesota that saw the resignation of former Archbishop John Nienstedt. The appointment led to speculation that Hebda would not remain in Newark, though he assured local Catholics that the post was temporary.
"In his time here he visited many parishes and got to know many of the people and priests. He really endeared himself to us," Fr. Warren Hall said of Hebda.
Hall last year was reassigned from his post at Seton Hall University to Saints Peter and Paul Church in Hoboken and St. Lawrence Roman Catholic Church in Weehawken after he made a social media post in support of an LGBT movement. The archdiocese has said his reassignment was unrelated to the post.
"We were looking forward to a joyful new start in July and now that's not going to happen," Hall said of the understanding that Hebda would head the Archdiocese after Myers' 75th birthday in July. "It's disappointing."
New Jersey Catholics have started appealing to the Pope to appoint someone similar to Hebda to the church's top post in Newark. Susan Francesconi, an Englewood resident and Catholic blogger, tweeted to the pontiff to send help to Newark.
"This is a gain for St. Paul, but it is a loss for us," Francesconi said of Hebda's departure.