WINSLOW — The new bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese in Portland visited St. John Regional Catholic School Friday morning, singing and chatting with students from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade.
Robert Deeley, 67, became the bishop for the diocese in February, after Pope Francis named him to the Roman Catholic church’s top post in Maine.
“Because if Pope Francis wants you to do it, you do it,” Deeley said, explaining to a second-grade class how he became bishop.
Mostly unfamiliar with Maine before moving to Falmouth this year — he was previously an auxiliary bishop of Boston — Deeley said he has traveled more than 9,000 miles across the state in the last 10 weeks, visiting schools and churches, and getting acquainted with the state’s church members. There are an estimated 193,000 registered Catholics in Maine, served by 55 parishes.
“It’s a beautiful state with many challenges,” Deeley said. “I think economically the state is very challenged, between the aging population and poverty. I think people need to be aware of that as a community in our dealings with each other.”
Deeley arrived at the private Winslow school a little after 9:30 a.m. Friday, where he was greeted by the song “This is the Day.” After a prayer, a representative from each grade gave Deeley a stack of shamrock wishes, green construction paper shaped into shamrocks with messages written by students.
“I wish you won’t have to work too hard as bishop,” Deeley read off one of the shamrocks. “That’s very nice.”
Deeley also made rounds to each classroom at the school of about 120 students.
The first room Deeley visited was Lucille Nassar’s second grade class, adorned with piÃ±atas and other Mexican decorations from a class project, as well as a rain forest set up in the corner.
“Be careful if you go in there, there’s a tiger,” said one of the second graders.
Deeley spent about five to 10 minutes in each classroom, telling the students why he was visiting and answering any questions.
“What will you be wearing at Communion?” a second-grader asked Deeley.
“I’ll try not to clash,” he said.
Having visited several schools throughout the state already, Deeley said working with the students helps keep him energized.
“How can being with kids not re-energize you? Being with the kids is great, but we do support educations as part of our mission,” he said. “We do education because we believe we’re created in the image and likeness of God and so therefore we need to maximize the potential of these children in terms of faith and engagement with the world.”
While Deeley is still getting used to Maine, he’s no stranger to New England. In 1973, Deeley was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Boston. After serving several posts through four decades in Boston, Pope Benedict XVI named Deeley the auxiliary bishop of Boston, a post he held until Pope Francis appointed him to his Portland post.
“I’m here to help organize and coordinate,” Deeley said. “I’ll spend a year getting to know the diocese and different things that are happening. Most important priority is to do all that we can to make sure people are able to receive the sacrament, and to encourage people who are not presently doing that to return to the church.”
Deeley is the 12th bishop for the Diocese of Portland, taking over for Richard Malone, who was appointed the bishop of Buffalo, N.Y., after 12 years in Maine.