On May 17, two days after Bishop George Leo Thomas was installed as the third bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas, the College of Consultors elected Monsignor Kevin O’Neill as the Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Helena.
In this role, Monsignor O’Neill will collaborate with the College of Consultors to perform the duties generally associated with the office of the bishop, with the exception of some limitations of nature and law, until a new bishop is appointed to the diocese.
“The Administrator’s basic and main charge is to maintain holy order,” Monsignor O’Neill said. “So that there is continuity from the ministry of our prior bishop, that the ministerial goals would continue where the law allows them to continue, and then when the new bishop joins us and we with him, he will find that there aren’t a lot of loose threads.”
During the inter regnum period between bishops, the law states that there can be no innovations, but the work of the diocese can be conclusive and continuous. Many functions and ministries of the church continue on as normal.
“The inter regnum is not a dam, it’s a bridge,” Monsignor O’Neill said. “So it’s not holding everything back waiting for the spill gates to open when the new bishop arrives. It’s to bridge the space between Bishop Thomas and whomever comes next, and no Administrator in their right mind would walk that bridge alone! You do it through consultation and always in prayer.”
Monsignor O’Neill brings many years of experience to his role, not only in serving as Vicar General for the diocese for the last eighteen years, but also serving as the previous Administrator from 2003-2004, bridging the period between Bishop Robert Morlino and Bishop Thomas.
“Being the Vicar General placed me within much of that consultation process, and being the Administrator once before along with my time as Vicar General has helped me stay well informed and contribute to the process, learning the ebb and flow of things, and to listen well to others’ sound advice.”
The role of Vicar General concluded with the announcement of Bishop Thomas’ departure, as the title must have an ordinary — an appointed bishop — to function. Once Bishop Thomas was appointed as the Apostolic Administrator, he was no longer an ordinary in the diocese, and appointed Monsignor O’Neill as the Apostolic Administrator’s Delegate, which held all the same responsibilities as the Vicar General that canon law allows. That role ceased with Bishop Thomas’ installation in Las Vegas. The role which has remained constant through all of the transition and change has been his duties as the pastor of the Cathedral of St. Helena, which will continue through his term as Diocesan Administrator.
“This is part of that continuity, and thank God for it, because it’s the pastoral care that is first, foremost, and primary. In the ministries of Administrator and pastor, one is wed to the other, but no matter which title you hold, you are always first and foremost called to be a pastor. Being the pastor of the Cathedral is not just a reminder, but an assurance and affirmation of that.”
The time until a new bishop is appointed by decree of Rome is never certain, historically, our diocese has experienced 6-12 months inter regnum. Monsignor O’Neill will serve as Administrator for the diocese throughout this period, but is joyfully anticipating the announcement of our next bishop.
“We have such a good story to tell to our new bishop. The hard part for any bishop in a new appointment is that we’re not shiny and new. We are who we are, and still growing, but we have such a marvelous story that’s been written over many years that he gets to read and take to heart. Then we can begin the exciting work of writing the new chapters together.”