SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. — In a liturgy with five cardinals of the Catholic Church; several dozen bishops; three apostolic nuncios; local and visiting clergy and religious; and family, friends and devoted lay Catholics, James Checchio was ordained a bishop and installed as the fifth Shepherd of Metuchen on the afternoon of May 3, at the Church of the Sacred Heart in South Plainfield.
The faithful gathered in the church was not only a demonstration of the importance of the creation of a new bishop of the Catholic Church, but of Checchio’s “extraordinary ability to make friends,” said Bishop Bernard Hebda, Archbishop-elect of Saint Paul and Minnesota, and friend of Bishop Checchio, who served as homilist.
Dignitaries and friends of Bishop Checchio expressed confidence in his new duties as spiritual leader to more than 640,000 Catholics in Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties.
Bishop Checchio, formerly a priest of the Diocese of Camden, grew up in Collingswood. Bishop Dennis Sullivan was a co-consecrator and two former Camden bishops, Bishop Emeritus Joseph A. Galante and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, participated in the ceremony. Serving as readers were Bishop Checchio’s former school principals, Sister Marjorie Smith, a former principal of St. John School, now Good Shepherd School, in Collingswood, and Sister Marianne McCann of Paul VI High School in Haddon Township.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, like Checchio a past rector of the North American College, said the newly-ordained’s position in Rome demonstrates his “great love of priests, and gives him a great admiration for families, great qualifications for a bishop.”
Blanche Moore first met Bishop Checchio in Rome almost 15 years ago, and the two have remained friends. After receiving his invitation to the ordination, she traveled from the Diocese of Arlington, Va., and was in the pew with her niece, Mary Kelly Finegan, who works in the Camden Diocese’s Development Office.
He’s just the warmest, friendliest priest,” Moore said. “I know he will be wonderful for Metuchen.”
Bishop Checchio succeeds Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski, 75, who had led the Metuchen Diocese since 2002. Bishop Bootkoski was a co-consecrator with Bishop Sullivan. Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark served as consecrating bishop.
In remarks after Communion, the new bishop asked the faithful of Metuchen “for your prayers, as I will be dependent upon them. Today is a day of abundant joy, and may I ever be a worthy instrument of joy.”
He referred to Metuchen as “this beautiful diocese” and said he was happy to return to New Jersey. He thanked his parents for teaching him, and his brothers and sisters, “what love looks like in daily life.”
The night before his installation and ordination, Bishop Checchio celebrated Evening Prayer at the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Metuchen with 900 others. He served as the principal celebrant, with Bishop Bootkoski presiding.
Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and former rector at North American College, blessed the Bishop-elect’s pontifical insignia, the symbols of the office of bishop, which included his episcopal ring, miter and crosier. On May 3, these were formally presented to him on the altar.
Bishop DiMarzio provided remarks to those gathered at the evening prayer,
“I have known Msgr. Checchio for the last 16 years, and I know that there is no task too small for this really big man,” he said.
“Bishop Bootkoski, you have a worthy successor, as you are a worthy predecessor. Bishop-elect Checchio will be a great leader for the Diocese of Metuchen.”
In a post-ordination question-and-answer with reporters, the new bishop of Metuchen was asked what his next day’s plans were after the ordination and celebration of his new assignment.
“Mass and breakfast with my family, and meetings and work,” he responded.