By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Ronald W. Gainer of Lexington, Ky., to be the 11th bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., home to a quarter of a million Catholics.
He succeeds the late Bishop Joseph P. McFadden, who died in May 2013, just three years after his installation.
In a statement on the Diocese of Lexington’s website, cdlex.org, Bishop Gainer expressed surprise at the unexpected appointment, which he learned about on Jan. 13.
“In the coming weeks there will be opportunities for me to express my sincere gratitude to all the faithful of the diocese and to say our good-byes,” he said in the statement.
“For now, I humbly ask for a remembrance in your daily prayers and at Mass, as together we face the challenges of this transition,” he said. “Pray especially for the faithful of the Harrisburg Diocese as I prepare to join them as their shepherd and know that I will continue to pray for the faithful of the Lexington Diocese.”
The installation will be March 19 at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Harrisburg, according to the Lexington Diocese’s website.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz hailed the appointment of Bishop Gainer and thanked him for his 11 years of service to the Diocese of Lexington.
“For the past 11 years, Bishop Gainer has served the faithful of the diocese of Lexington with great zeal. He has a truly pastoral heart, a keen intellect and an exceptional ability to administer well,” Archbishop Kurtz wrote in a statement released in Louisville by the chancery.
“The Diocese of Harrisburg will be well served by such a humble servant of the Lord Jesus,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz also said he’ll miss Bishop Gainer. The prelates have been friends for nearly 50 years. They attended seminary together and served as pastors of neighboring churches in their native Diocese of Allentown, Pa.
Bishop Gainer, a native of Pottsville, Pa., served as a pastor, campus minister, marriage and family minister and in the diocesan tribunal prior to his episcopal ordination, according to the Lexington Diocese’s website.
He was installed as the second Bishop of Lexington in February of 2003.
The Diocese of Lexington was established in 1988 from portions of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Covington. It is a geographically large diocese, covering more than 16,000 square miles and 50 counties — 40 of which are in Appalachia — according to its website. The diocese has 62 parishes and missions and is a spiritual home to about 45,000 Catholics who represent 3 percent of the area’s total population.
Bishop Gainer will be leading a much smaller diocese geographically in Pennsylvania, but he’ll be shepherding nearly five times more Catholics.
Harrisburg is the capital of Pennsylvania and its diocese has 89 parishes with more than 249,000 members, according to the diocesan website, hbgdiocese.org. It covers 15 counties in about 7,600 square miles.
Bishop Gainer has been active with the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, tracking issues facing the state’s legislators. Archbishop Kurtz said that experience will serve the bishop well as he begins to work with the Catholic conference in Pennsylvania’s capital city.
On the national level, he is a member of the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee and the Committee on Priorities and Plans. He has served as a regional chairman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and on its education, canonical affairs and church governance committees. He also has been a regional representative to the Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, and liaison with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate. He also is on the Sacred Heart School of Theology board of directors.
Bishop Gainer earned a divinity master’s degree at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia before going on to earn his licentiate in canon law and a diploma in Latin letters at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Following the Jan. 24 announcement of his new assignment, Bishop Gainer’s brother bishops in the Louisville province offered their congratulations and support.
Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Ky., expressed joy upon hearing of Bishop Gainer’s recent appointment.
“Bishop Gainer has served the Diocese of Lexington generously and with holiness. He has been an inspirational mentor to me since I was named to be a bishop and I will miss having him in the state,” Bishop Medley said in a statement.
Bishop Roger J. Foys of Covington, Ky., offered his “heartiest congratulations.”
“Bishop Gainer is without a doubt a great gift to the Diocese of Harrisburg as the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful will soon discover,” Bishop Foys said in a statement. “He is a true pastor with the heart of a shepherd. He will certainly be missed in our province and in the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.”
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.