Time Capsule • July 27, 2020



In 1995, the Diocese of Richmond marked the 175th anniversary of its founding (1820), and Walter F. Sullivan, the tenth bishop of Richmond (1974–2003), celebrated the 25th anniversary of his ordination as bishop (1970).

The diocesan jubilee was a yearlong event. Each month, Bishop Sullivan celebrated Mass in a historic church in one region of the diocese. An interfaith celebration with the Jewish community (Temple Beth Ahaba) and an ecumenical (Christian) prayer service were also held in Richmond. There were two diocesan pilgrimages that year: one to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, and another to Rome, which included a private audience with Pope St. John Paul II (reigned 1978–2005).

The anniversary year concluded with a diocesan-wide Mass at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, on Saturday, Dec. 2. In addition to many priests and lay people, numerous bishops from surrounding dioceses participated, along with the apostolic pro-nuncio (Vatican ambassador).

Bishop Sullivan, who led the diocesan jubilee, and who was celebrating a significant anniversary of his own, was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Richmond (1953). At age 42, he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of the diocese (1970). Following the retirement of John J. Russell, the 10th bishop of Richmond (1958–1973), Bishop Sullivan administered the diocese (1973–1974). 

On July 19, 1974, Walter Sullivan became the 11th bishop of Richmond. On Aug. 13, 1974, the boundaries of the diocese were reconfigured as the Diocese of Arlington was created to encompass northern Virginia. Several other territorial changes took effect at the same time: the Diocese of Richmond ceded the eastern panhandle of West Virginia to the Diocese of Wheeling and received from it southwest Virginia, and the Diocese of Wilmington returned the Eastern Shore of Virginia that had originally belonged to the Richmond Diocese.

At the Mass marking the 175th anniversary of the Diocese of Richmond, Bishop Sullivan expressed the significance of the occasion in terms of the communion of the Church — the bonds that unite believers to God and to one another — and its evangelizing mission. Coincidentally, these are also the themes of the current bicentennial jubilee.

Bishop Sullivan also emphasized the need to protect all human life, to care for the poor and to seek interfaith and ecumenical cooperation. He concluded the homily by reflecting on his ministry as a priest and bishop.

This homily was published in The Catholic Virginian (Dec. 4, 1995). An excerpt follows:

“Our year of jubilee ends with today’s liturgy. People ask me, ‘Where do we go from here?’ They want to know what vision I hold out for our diocese as we approach the year 2000. 

“In responding, I take my cue from Pope John Paul II. He sees the turn of the century as a moment in history that is filled with a ‘special grace for the church and the whole of humanity’ (Tertio millenio adveniente, No. 55). 

“With the pope, I call for a new evangelization throughout the 37,000 square miles of the Diocese of Richmond. Evangelization means the spread of the gospel by word and action. Evangelization will take place only to the extent that people gather to celebrate in worship and communion. 

“In such faith communities of belonging and caring, people experience the presence of the Lord and cannot rest until they share that experience with others. People must recapture the excitement of the first Christians when they boldly proclaimed, ‘We have seen the Lord who is risen, and we are his witnesses’ (Lk 24:48).

“It used to be said that we live in the world and go to church. Evangelization calls us to live in the church and go out to the world.”

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