This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 14, 2008 - Salvatore Matano just might be the honored guest at the Hill's Columbus Day Parade next year.
Never mind that on this Columbus Day, we could not find even one Hill resident who had ever heard of the man.
Matano is the Catholic bishop of Vermont. If Matano rides in the celebration next October, the reason for his invitation would be obvious.
He'd be the new St. Louis archbishop.
"Sal would love the Hill," said a St. Louis woman who worked with him as a camp counselor in Rhode Island when both were college age. Matano had high spirits as he led about 50 elementary school children at the Camp Mater Spei in Chepatchet, RI, years before his ordination. His faith impressed her, but she has never found him piously pretentious.
Who's in the Lead?
Caution! This is a progress report. Matano's appointment to St. Louis is no sure thing. But St. Louisans love the race so here's what is in play.
Matano's name is not being tossed about in St. Louis. Several influential St. Louis priests asked about Matano said they had never heard of him. All repeated a variation on the line: "Until their assignments, I never heard of Burke, May, or Rigali."
But Matano's name ranks first on a list of three bishops under consideration, four sources outside of St. Louis told us.
How appointments work
The current Vatican diplomat, Pietro Sambi, sent out a questionnaire to priests and lay persons who have worked with Matano and about four other bishops. They are under church penalties not to talk about the subject of their questionnaire. Sambi's staff reviewed the comments and made a file on each man
About 10 days ago or so, Sambi made up the list of three men. The list is called the ternus.
The Vatican department on bishops -- the Congregation for Bishops -- now has the list, two sources said. Just two steps in the appointment process remain. The congregation will review the ternus with a packet examining the St. Louis archdiocese's needs. That review might come as soon as Thursday. The packet may contain excerpts from letters that scores of St. Louis Catholics mailed Sambi suggesting qualities that they wish to see in the next archbishop.
Soon the congregation will gather in the Vatican Palace overlooking St. Peter's Basilica. The cardinals and bishops appointed to this key Vatican department -- congregation -- defer to anyone on the congregation who knows the man.
Cardinal Justin F. Rigali is the congregation's only American, and his voice carries weight. Burke, now working full time in Rome, knows members of the Congregation and his influence will be considerable.
The congregation may toss the list into the air. After it has its say, its chairman will visit Pope Benedict XVI and present the ternus of three men.
The pope alone makes the final decision.
A pope can toss the ternus. John Paul did when he assigned Rigali to St. Louis in 1994. The name of Bishop Harry J. Flynn of Layfayette, La., topped that ternus for St Louis, according to sources. Just 29 days later, Flynn was named archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese.
The first two major steps in the selection of a replacement for St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke have been completed and Matano is out front, according to sources in Italy, Washington and Rhode Island who declined to be named since the process is highly secretive. An announcement might come next month, with the new bishop's installation most likely after the first of the year.
Since 2005, Matano, 62, a Rhode Island native, has been bishop of Burlington diocese, which includes all of Vermont. Matano's two stints with Vatican diplomats brought him distinction among American bishops.
Sources who have been predicting Matano since late July say Matano is several lengths ahead as the appointment process enters its home stretch.
The Providence native is known as a good preacher. As a young priest, he was an engaging math teacher in grade school. He also has been an effective teacher of moral theology and canon law to graduate students at the Dominican Order-sponsored Providence College. Smart and witty are two words that friends are quick to use for him.
"One of my memories is seeing him walk from his St. Augustine parish (in Providence, R.I. ) about three-fourths of a mile to visit parishioners in a hospital," said Patrick Reid, a theology professor at Providence College. "That's him, no need to get the car, make no fuss. He's a humble good priest. I don't think he is particularly ambitious. He liked being a pastor and if he was going to become a bishop, then, it would have to be the Lord's will -- not something he'd seek."
Reid also recalled the "wonderful, terrific" talk that Matano gave at Reid's son's 8th grade parish school graduation. The priest's words had the class and their parents riveted with attention. "He's good with kids," Reid said.
One month before his death, Pope John Paul II assigned Matano to Burlington. The new Vermont bishop took a loan to pay one $11 million civil law suit settlement to a victim of clerical sex abuse. It was one of about 20 cases he had had to deal with. Matano prefers not to settle suits and has been sending cases to trial.
About once a month, Matano celebrates a Sunday 6 p.m. Mass at the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont's Burlington campus. About 60 students crowd the space.
Matano also is a FOB and a FOD -- a friend of Burke and a friend of Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, a St. Louis native. As Burke's friend, Matano was the guest preacher at the annual Red Mass for lawyers and judges in October 2005 at the St. Louis Cathedral. Lawyers said he was such a good speaker that several wrote thank-you notes.
Burke and Matano were classmates in Rome at the Jesuit's Gregorian University. Both are canon lawyers.
Dolan's and Matano's assignments overlapped at the Vatican diplomatic offices in Washington, called the nunciature. In the early 1990s, both worked for two years in the offices of the Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan. Dolan was the experienced hand with four years experience when Matano arrived.
Matano was always an "organized, hard worker" eager to assist American bishops "explain life in America" to the Vatican, said a Western U.S. bishop who added that he knew "nothing of Matano's chances for St. Louis."
Matano is a diplomat who avoids public confrontation, said a Providence priest who worked with him when he was on his diocesan priests' personnel board.
He has told his Vermont priests not to hold their breath waiting for him to deny Communion to pro-choice politicians, reported Rocco Palmo in his Philadelphia-based Catholic news blog "Whispers in the Loggia."
Another of Matano's priest pals called him "holy but easy to be around ... a spark of light."
Fair warning to Columbus Day Parade '09 organizers: Matano bears a striking resemblance to St. Louis' own "Father Sal" -- Monsignor Salvatore Polizzi, long time pastor of St. Roch Church.
Several other names are being circulated in influential church circles. None of our sources could confirm that any of these men's name was on the St. Louis ternus filed at the Vatican.
* Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas, 68: The Chicago native has been a bold defender of immigrants' rights in the Southwest. Bishop of Tucson since 2003, he is highly respected by American bishops who elected him as the vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Kicanas is expected to be elected conference president. An insightful and often witty communicator in his blog. Kicanas gave an eight-minute talk in Rome last week to an international synod of bishops; it won him one of the synod's rare ovations. He is serious about the environmental movement, and is a vegan.
* Bishop George Murry, 59, of Youngstown Diocese in Ohio: A Jesuit priest and former high school teacher, he did a stint as the U.S. Virgin Islands diocese bishop. The Chicago native has a buoyant personality and sparkling sense of humor. His appointment would be historic: the first African-American archbishop north of the Mason-Dixon line.
* Bishop Robert C. Morlino, 61, of Madison, WI: The Scranton, PA, native went to its local Jesuit High School, then joined the Jesuit order's Maryland Province. He went to Fordham U., Notre Dame and received a master's degree in divinity from the Jesuit Weston School of Theology in Cambridge. He was ordained and got a Ph.D. in Moral Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He taught theology at Philadelphia's St. Joseph's University and Boston College. More than a quarter of a century ago, Morlino departed academia and the Jesuit order to become a diocesan priest in Michigan's Kalamazoo diocese. In 1999 he became the bishop of Helena, MT. Four years later, he became bishop of Madison.
* Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, 52, of San Diego: A dark horse in this race, partly because of his relative youth, the southern California native was educated in Rome and was Burke's canon lawyer colleague. He is a canon lawyer, and he was a pastor for four years. He has been called an umpire-style canonist and worked with Burke in Rome at the Supreme Tribunal of the Signatura.
Until a new archbishop is installed, the St. Louis archdiocese remains under Bishop Robert Hermann's leadership.
Patricia Rice, a local freelance writer, covered religion for many years for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.