GENEVA—“The Bishop wears the zucchetto or skullcap as a sign of his total commitment to God,” read a classmate of Michael Mlot as a bright rose zucchetto was placed on his head.
Step by step, St. Peter parochial administrator Father Jonathan Bakkelund continued vesting the fourth grader as Boy Bishop of the Day with cross, ring, miter, stole, crozier and a cope – a long red cloak with a golden thread design. The vestments were made by House of Hanson, which creates full-sized versions for actual bishops; the crozier and ring were provided by parishioners.
“The Bishop wears the ring because he is married to the Church …”
The 500-year-old medieval tradition of a boy bishop was “something special” arranged by Father Bakkelund for his favorite feast: the Chair of St. Peter.
“We also could call it the feast of being Catholic!” he announced as the all-school Mass on Feb. 22 began.
“The Bishop wears the miter to remind us that he is the high priest who leads us toward heaven. He stands in the place of Jesus for us … .”
In his homily Father Bakkelund explained to the children and adults gathered that the feast literally celebrates a chair, saying that idea is “very weird unless you think about it.”
As with Jesus, crowds would gather around good teachers of the faith to hear them. St. Peter, as the first bishop of Rome, sat in a chair to teach. That chair is said to be preserved inside a huge chair-shaped statue created by the artist Bernini located at the back altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Father Bakkelund said.
As is shown in a stained glass Holy Spirit window above that statue, it is “good news” that the Church does not rely on any man but is always guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit, he added.
“The Bishop wears the cross to remind him that he must preach Christ crucified – through whom we receive salvation ...”
The tradition of a boy bishop can be found today in England and Germany, Father Bakkelund said. His research also appeared to indicate that it has been done at an Episcopalian church in New Jersey. “But,” he said, “I think we are the first Catholic parish in the United States to (have) a Boy Bishop!”
“The Bishop wears the stole as a sign that he has the priestly dignity to govern the Church in the name of Jesus the head of the mystical Body of Christ …”
The tradition of a boy bishop, Father Bakkelund said, not only taps into the Church’s historical practice of using visuals to teach, but it also promotes three goals: a reminder that the Church is apostolic and bishops are successors of the apostles; a reminder to pray for our own Bishop David Malloy; and a reminder, he said, “that bishops and priests don’t come from nowhere” but from families.
“The Bishop wears the cope to remind us of the love of God which covers all things. The most important task of his ministry is to share God’s love with those who need it most ...”
When he announced the idea of a boy bishop, Father Bakkelund noted that “it will be a nice counterpart to the May crowning of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is a lovely tradition for girls in our parish.”
The ceremony definitely made an impression on one three-year-old boy who ran up to “Bishop Mlot” and proclaimed, “I could be a boy bishop someday!”
And then he insisted on having his picture taken with the very first boy bishop of the parish.
“The Bishop holds the crozier or pastoral staff to remind us that he is our shepherd who always takes care of the flock, protecting us from harm and keeping us safe on our journey toward heaven.”