New Bishop

Bishop says he will pour out 'heart and life' for his new diocese in Nevada

Photo by Erik Gloerge

By Catholic News Service

LAS VEGAS (CNS) -- Bishop George L. Thomas told the congregation at his installation Mass May 15 that as the new bishop of Las Vegas, he will pour his "heart and life among you each and every day."

Pope Francis "has strongly admonished the clergy to leave the comfort of the sacristy and the security of the sanctuary in order to bring the Gospel to the peripheries, with special solicitude toward those who live and labor on the margins of society," he said.

"Communio" theology, he said, is about "never allowing ourselves, our parishes or our diocese to become self-enclosed, self-absorbed or self-congratulatory," Bishop Thomas said in his homily. "'Communio' theology calls us into deeper and meaningful communion with our Holy Father, union with the bishop and generous solicitude with our mission territories."

The 67-year-old bishop was installed during a three-hour Mass at the Shrine of the Most Holy Redeemer in Las Vegas. Named Feb. 28 to succeed Bishop Joseph A. Pepe, who headed the diocese for 17 years, Bishop Thomas comes to Las Vegas after nearly 14 years as the head of the Diocese of Helena, Montana.

Bishop Thomas also said he was grateful for the presence of ecumenical and interfaith leaders at the installation Mass and that he looked forward to "a long and fruitful relationship" with them.

"'Communio' theology causes us to yearn for greater unity with the ecumenical and interfaith communities," he continued, "always preferring dialogue over diatribe, invitation over invective, persuasion above polemic and accompaniment over alienation."

There are nearly 750,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Las Vegas, a Catholic population nearly 15 times the size of the Diocese of Helena.

"As I begin this new chapter in my life as bishop of Las Vegas, I come to you as brother, bishop, pastor and friend, eager to know you, eager to listen to you and eager to build upon the blessings you have received from our beloved Bishop Joseph Pepe," Bishop Thomas said.

"On a personal level, I know I will miss the Diocese of Helena terribly," said the prelate, who was born in Anaconda, Montana, and raised in nearby Butte. "However the Holy Father is asking bishops to have the hearts of missionary disciples."

"Therefore, I will pour out my heart and life among you each and every day, knowing that our burdens are lightened because we are walking together in the presence of the Lord, who, of course, is 'ever in our midst as one who serves.'"

Bishop Thomas comes to his new post with years spent in Helena working on an aggressive agenda of passing on the faith to youth, calling forth a new generation of ordained and lay leaders for the church, and accompanying the poor and marginalized.

"Catholic Extension collaborated closely with him during his 14 memorable years in Montana," said Joe Boland, who is vice president of mission at Catholic Extension. "He has much to show for his efforts, which should encourage all Las Vegas Catholics on his installation day and beyond."

Bishop Thomas has been a member of Catholic Extension's board of governors for the past eight years and a longtime recipient of Extension's support in the Diocese of Helena.

Based in Chicago, Catholic Extension raises and distributes funds to support U.S. mission dioceses, many of which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources.

According to Boland, under Bishop Thomas' leadership the Diocese of Helena "created one of the strongest and most comprehensive diocesan youth engagement programs, which is arguably a great model for other U.S. dioceses seeking inspiration for how to reach their young people."

"Bishop Thomas' legacy in Montana will be the multitudes of young Montanans who continue to flock to parishes, university campus ministries and the diocese's summer faith camp, Legendary Lodge," he added.

"Though he is stepping into a new diocese that is 15 times the size of the population of the diocese he came from in Helena, Montana, the job will not be too big for this pastorally seasoned and visionary bishop," Boland said.

Such efforts leave the diocese in good stead as the church prepares for the October Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment at the Vatican.

The Helena Diocese "is far ahead of the curve with regard to youth and young adult outreach," Boland said.

He ordained an average of one new priest per year during his tenure -- a major accomplishment for a rural diocese with a population of 44,000 Catholics.  Those ordained were mostly young Montana men, who began their vocational discernment in the youth programs Bishop Thomas promoted throughout his years there.

In addition, many young women and men are also serving as professional lay ministers in the church because of their involvement in diocesan and parish-based youth programs that Bishop Thomas nurtured.

Another hallmark of Bishop Thomas' ministry in Montana was his outreach to the marginalized, Boland said, especially illustrated by the diocese's ministry to Native American reservations, where high levels of unemployment and substance abuse have plagued those communities for generations. He was dedicated to assigning pastors to serve the poorest Native American parishes and missions.

Among those priests is Father Ed Kohler in Browning, Montana, who was recognized nationally for helping to establish a successful Catholic school for under-served Native children as well as a retreat program that addressed substance abuse.

"Bishop Thomas always felt at home in the Native American parishes. He not only loved the Native American community, but embraced their struggles and wounds," Boland said.

Bishop Thomas prepares to leave Montana for Las Vegas

Watch the Video

By Jacob Fuhrer - MTN News

Bishop George Thomas, a Montana native, is preparing for his departure from the Treasure State after nearly 16 years as the Bishop of Helena.

Born in Anaconda and raised in Butte, the bishop said he knew early on he was destined for the clergy.

“I said to my dad as early as the second grade, ‘I think I want to be a priest when I grow up' and I didn’t really waver from that idea,” Bishop Thomas said.

But the bishop’s father said he had to go college first, so he did. Bishop Thomas attended Carroll College and then the University of Washington earning both a masters and a doctoral degree.

However, Thomas said his eyes were originally on the priesthood.

“I thought I’d be a country priest with a little white picket fence around the church and a pickup truck and a dog around the back seat and it just didn’t ever pan out,” Bishop Thomas said.

Thomas was ordained bishop in Helena in 2004. During his tenure, he was recognized as an honorary member of the Blackfeet Nation and became the Chancellor of his alma mater at Carroll College.

He also oversaw difficult times in the church after accusations of sexual abuse of children in the diocese during the time period of the 1930s to the 1970s came to light.

Bishop Thomas said that it was the church’s responsibility to the victims to be open and honest about the whole process.

In 2015, the Diocese of Helena posted a list online of every employee accused while working there. All members of the diocese who where accused are now deceased.

“This has been a hidden problem,” the bishop said. “It has been put under the carpet too long. In my opinion, the only way to deal with these kind of things is bring them to the light. Healing can take place only in the light and presence of truth.”

The bishop’s willingness to address controversy will be helpful as he enters his new role in Las Vegas, a community he said still has a broken heart over the deadly shooting that has further pushed the conversation around gun control.

“The whole question around access to guns by minors or persons with mental health issues, all that has to be on the table again,” Bishop Thomas said.

Many will certainly look to the bishop for guidance in a diocese that is 15 times the size of Helena’s. The bishops said it will be hard to leave.

“It’s hard to leave family. This is a bittersweet time. Hard to leave all these communities. I love them to pieces. It just started to dawn on me that this is actually happening. So probably when i actually unpack boxes in Las Vegas, I’ll realize I have a new home and I’ll be a visitor when I come back to Montana.”

Bishop Thomas will serve as Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Helena until May 15th.

The diocese college of consultors, which is comprised of local priests, will then have eight days to appoint a diocesan administrator to serve until a new bishop is selected by Pope Francis.

POPE FRANCIS NAMES BISHOP OF LAS VEGAS

Most Reverend George Leo Thomas Ph.D.   

Pope Francis has named the Most Reverend George Leo Thomas as Bishop of Las Vegas, Nevada.  At the same time, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Joseph A. Pepe, who has reached the age of mandatory retirement.  Bishop Pepe has served as Bishop of Las Vegas for nearly 17 years. The announcement was made this morning by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States.

Bishop Thomas has served as Bishop of Helena for nearly 14 years. He will be installed as Bishop of Las Vegas on May 15, 2018. There are nearly 750,000 Catholics in the Diocese of Las Vegas, a Catholic population nearly 15 times the size of the Diocese of Helena.

George Leo Thomas was born in Anaconda, Montana, and raised in nearby Butte.  He is a graduate of the Diocese of Helena’s Carroll College.  His family relocated to Seattle, Wash., where he was ordained as a priest for the Archdiocese of Seattle on May 22, 1976.

During his tenure in the Archdiocese of Seattle Father Thomas served in four different parishes, chaired Catholic Charities-Seattle and the Archdiocesan Housing Authority, and was night chaplain for King County Jail for 13 years.  While in Seattle, Father Thomas served as Chancellor and Vicar General for three different Archbishops during a span of 17 years.  He holds two Masters’ Degrees and a PhD from the University of Washington.

He was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle on November 19, 1999, and ordained Bishop on January 28, 2000. Bishop Thomas was appointed as Bishop of Helena on March 23, 2004 and installed on June 4 that same year.

Youth, young adult, and campus ministry flourished under Bishop Thomas’ leadership.  He dedicated three new Churches, ordained 18 permanent deacons and 14 priests for the Diocese of Helena, and is distinguished for his pastoral presence to his priests and seminarians.  He helped bring new vigor and visibility to the Guatemala Mission, with its Clinica Maxeña and Asunción School. 

Bishop Thomas addressed the extraordinarily difficult clergy sexual abuse crisis through a unique model of pastoral care and mediation which was characterized by the Bankruptcy Judge as a “singular achievement” of the Judge’s 30 years on the bench.

In addition to serving on numerous boards and committees in the Diocese of Helena, Bishop Thomas is the Chancellor of Carroll College, a Board member of the Catholic Health Association and of the Catholic Extension Society of Chicago.  He also is a member of the Board of Trustees at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver, a Regent at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, and a Board member of the Catholic Mutual Society of America.  He is an honorary member of the Blackfeet Nation, a community he holds very dear to his heart.

 “It is difficult to leave Montana,” Bishop Thomas said.  “But, Pope Francis requests that each Bishop possess a generous missionary spirit.  In light of the Holy Father’s request and with humble thanks for the confidence he places in me, I joyfully accept this appointment.”

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