The next bishop of Metuchen

The next bishop of Metuchen
Msgr. James F. Checchio, a priest of the Camden Diocese, speaks at a press conference March 8 announcing his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen. Bishop-designate Checchio grew up in Collingswood and served in South Jersey before spending a decade in Rome as rector of the Pontifical North American College. In Metuchen he replaces Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, who is retiring at the age of 75. Photo Diocese of Metuchen

Msgr. James F. Checchio, a priest of the Camden Diocese, speaks at a press conference March 8 announcing his appointment as bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen. Bishop-designate Checchio grew up in Collingswood and served in South Jersey before spending a decade in Rome as rector of the Pontifical North American College. In Metuchen he replaces Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, who is retiring at the age of 75.
Photo Diocese of Metuchen

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Pope Francis has named Msgr. James F. Checchio, a priest of the Diocese of Camden, to become the next bishop of the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J.

He will succeed Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski who is 75, the age at which canon law requires bishops to turn in their resignation to the pope. He has headed the Metuchen Diocese since 2002.

In January, Bishop-designate Checchio, 49, completed a 10-year tenure as rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

The changes were announced in Washington March 8 by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, apostolic nuncio to the United States.

Bishop-designate Checchio will be ordained a bishop and installed as the fifth bishop of Metuchen May 3. Until then, Bishop Bootkoski will oversee the diocese.

At a morning news conference in Metuchen, Bishop-designate Checchio said that when he finished his tenure as seminary rector in Rome, he began a sabbatical that was to run until July. His plan, he said at the news conference, was to spend time with some family and friends, go on retreat, then do some writing on seminary formation, and finally study Spanish in preparation for becoming a pastor in his home diocese.

Those plans changed while he was in rural Minnesota with some lay and priest friends. He said he was getting ready to go ice fishing, but first decided to retrieve his phone messages; the cell phone reception wasn’t too good, so his calls were going to voice mail. That’s when he learned he had gotten a call from Archbishop Vigano.

Pope names Msgr. Checchio to lead Metuchen Diocese

 

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He called the archbishop back and learned of his appointment.

“After we hung up, I knelt down next to the bed and before a crucifix and said a prayer to Our Lady for the priests and faithful of the Diocese of Metuchen and to ask for her protection and assistance for me,” Bishop-designate Checchio told reporters. “I then got up, joined my friends and off we went ice fishing. I pray that I will be more successful as a bishop than I was at ice fishing.”

Describing himself as “touched by a bit of holy fear,” Bishop-designate Checchio said: “I am certainly humbled to become the shepherd of this wonderful diocese, and I look forward to striving to fulfill the demanding task of ensuring that the pastoral charity of Jesus Christ continues to be abundant here in Metuchen. I promise you my prayers and my commitment to serve to the best of my abilities.”

After his ordination to the priesthood in 1992, he said, he learned that while his ordination “brought many, many graces with it, it didn’t infuse the perfection of the virtues, and I imagine ordination to the episcopacy will be the same.”

“So I am very much aware of my own deficiencies but at the same time encouraged to be taking on this office during this great Jubilee (Year) of Mercy,” Bishop-designate Checchio said. “I’m likewise inspired by the wonderful example of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who sets such a high and challenging standard for us.”

Born April 21, 1966, in Camden, Bishop-designate Checchio earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the Jesuit-run University of Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1988. He pursued seminary studies at the Pontifical North American College. He was ordained a priest June 20, 1992.

He holds a licentiate and a doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Angelicum University.

After his ordination, he had a number of pastoral assignments. From 1997 to 1998, he was assistant director of the diocese’s Office of Public Relations and Communications and secretary for the late Camden Bishop James McHugh. He was vice chancellor of the diocese from 1997 to 2003, and a year later was named director of the Office of Communications, a post he held until 2003. Among other diocesan positions, he was episcopal vicar for administration of the diocese 2002-2003.

In 2003 he became vice rector for administration at the Pontifical North American College, then was named rector in 2006. St. John Paul II named him a monsignor in 2000; Pope Benedict XVI named him a prelate of honor in 2011.

At a morning news conference in Metuchen, Bishop Bootkoski welcomed his newly-named successor and referred to well-known remarks by Pope Francis that Catholic bishops and priests must go out among their flocks and know the people they serve like “shepherds living with the smell of their sheep.”

“God’s grace comes alive and flourishes to the extent that clergy are among their flocks giving themselves and the Gospel to others,” Pope Francis has said.

“As I look at the mission of serving others and the vibrancy of the American seminary in Rome, where our new bishop comes from,” Bishop Bootkoski told reporters, “it seems these men indeed are learning how to be shepherds living among their sheep, ‘with the smell of their sheep.’”

“As a priest of nearly 50 years, it is very heartening to see this new generation of priests taking our Holy Father’s message to heart,” he said, adding that he believes Metuchen Catholics “are going to be in very good hands” with Bishop-designate Checchio leading the way.

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