He wants to visit every parish — and that’s 123 of them — in the diocese in his first year as bishop.
It’s a purposeful goal that most newly appointed bishops make every effort to meet. For Bishop Douglas Crosby there’s little doubt he won’t succeed.
“He’s very much a people person. He’s sociable and an extrovert,’’ said Msgr. Vincent Kerr of the Hamilton diocese. “That’s his style.’’
This week alone, he will have visited Waterloo Region three times, presiding over two confirmation ceremonies at St. Clement’s Catholic Church in Cambridge, where he confirmed about 80 Grade 7 and 8 students from St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s schools. He was also at St. Aloysius parish in Kitchener for confirmation on Friday.
Since Crosby officially took over the job on Nov. 8 after Bishop Anthony Tonnos retired, he has visited many parishes, including St. Louis and St. Agnes in Waterloo. Earlier this month, Crosby was in Kitchener, speaking to the Waterloo Region Catholic Schools Foundation at St. Mary’s Parish Hall.
“I’m exhausted,’’ jokes Kerr, who tags along with Crosby on his visits. “He has a busy schedule. He’s out every day. He doesn’t get to bed until midnight and he’s up at about 6:30 in the morning.’’
For practising Roman Catholics, he’s the Most Reverend.
The bishop’s title gives him authority, and parish priests from as far as Tobermory to Oakville and stretching through to the region look to him for guidance.
Catholics also revere him as the one to lead the diocese and the faithful.
At St. Clement’s Church this week, the bishop walked through the church dressed in his liturgical vestments with a mitre, a head covering, and a pastoral staff known as a crozier, which he received when was appointed bishop in Newfoundland-Labrador in 1997.
For many of the youth in the congregation, it was the first time meeting the bishop and it could be intimidating.
“So are you ready to answer questions?’’ he asked the group. Instead of eager students nodding their heads, there was silence.
“Don’t worry, I won’t ask you questions,’’ he reassured them. With ease, Crosby explained in simple terms the significance of the sacrament and what it meant for the students.
He told them he would lay his hands on them, signifying the Holy Spirit, and place aromatic oil on their foreheads.
“It will drip on the side of your face and run down your nose and if you have a Justin Bieber hairstyle, get ready for greasy hair,’’ he said as congregants chuckled.
On a serious note, Crosby reminded the students that they had gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit and it was their responsibility to share those gifts with others.
“Believe me, the world needs you. This community needs you,’’ he said. “Share your gifts and talents and then the world will be a great place. All kinds of good will spill out.’’
Rev. Phil Sherlock of St. Clement’s, who had dinner with the bishop before the confirmation ceremonies at his church, said the bishop comes across as “one of the folks,” making people feel relaxed when speaking to him.
When the bishop recently phoned Sherlock, he casually said “Doug Crosby” rather than his title.
“He’s very competent and has authority but he doesn’t show it. He’s down-to-earth,’’ Sherlock said, who added the bishop is anxious to return to St. Clement’s and visit the congregation at a Sunday service.
Crosby’s appointment to the Hamilton diocese was announced last September, a final decision made by Pope Benedict XVI. The apostolic nuncio, who is based in Ottawa, is the Pope’s representative in Canada and he makes suggestions to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, who then present the names to the pope.
Crosby was first appointed a bishop to Labrador City-Schefferville and then went to the diocese of St. George’s Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Crosby, who turns 62 next month, was ordained a priest in 1975 and served mostly in Eastern Canada, although often coming to the Hamilton diocese as a visiting bishop, assisting with confirmation ceremonies for the past eight years.
Born and raised in Marathon, Ont., a small town between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay, Crosby is the oldest of seven children who at first thought he was going to be a lawyer. He had his application ready for the University of Western Ontario in London but then decided he would give the priesthood a try, at least for a year.
He entered the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and never looked back.
As a new bishop, Crosby said he’s humbled to serve as the leader of the second-largest English-speaking diocese in the country. He expects an auxiliary bishop will be appointed within the year to assist him with his duties.
“When you are new, you take things for granted less. You are impressed,’’ he said of the many parishes he has visited.
“I’m wide-eyed about it all. I’m experiencing the church in a much larger kind of context,’’ Crosby said in an interview before the confirmation ceremony this week.
Crosby said it’s his responsibility to get to know parishioners in his diocese, and so far he’s been impressed.
“I’m inspired by the many, many good people I have met and the remarkable work that goes on in the diocese,’’ he said.
So far, Crosby has found Catholics in the Hamilton diocese to be loyal followers of their parishes.
“The practice of the faith is high in this diocese. It can always be better, but the churches are filled and the congregations seem to be lively and active,’’ he said.
And as for the priests who lead the parishes, Crosby praises them, too.
“There is a very good group of priests. The guys are pretty good. They work hard. Essentially they are very good to the people,’’ he said.
“If I can do anything to support that, that’s what I would like to do,’’ he said.
Crosby adds that he wants his diocese to know that he is happy as a priest and a bishop, a position he never thought he would hold.
“I have been very happy as a priest and as a bishop. It’s not that I haven’t had hard decisions to make, but fundamentally I’m a happy person,’’ he said.
“My faith is important to me. It gives me a firm foundation and a good vision about life and people,’’ he said.