Greensburg Diocese's incoming leader has calm demeanor, humility needed to excel, supporters say
Ask the Rev. Edward C. Malesic to describe himself, and he'll start by telling you that he's a “pretty simple guy.”
He'll let you know he'd rather be taking photos than posing for them.
And he'll make it clear he doesn't like being the center of attention.
But Monday afternoon, when Malesic is ordained a bishop and installed as the leader of the Diocese of Greensburg, the attention of nearly 150,000 local parishioners will be fixed squarely on him.
And when Malesic, 54, steps before 1,000 invited guests in Greensburg's Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, there will be nothing simple about the 2 1⁄2-hour ceremony, rich in tradition, pomp and pageantry. Malesic will become the fifth bishop to lead the diocese, succeeding Lawrence E. Brandt, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 in March 2014.
Clergy from Harrisburg and Greensburg, bishops and archbishops from several states, and Malesic's friends and family will be there to see him assume the role of spiritual leader and chief executive of the diocese that spans Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana and Westmoreland counties. On hand will be his father, Joseph, 97, who bought him the pectoral cross — one of the symbols of Malesic's office — that he will be presented with Monday.
Malesic is taking the lead of a diocese that has had its share of struggles — from unpopular mergers and a reduction in the number of parishes, to equally disliked school closings and a 20 percent decline in membership since 2001.
But the soft-spoken Malesic said he's taking on the challenge with eyes wide open.
Because there are fewer priests, he said he knows there will be a need for “creativity.”
“There's some big demographic shifts taking place, that's true for the Northeast. ... We need to attract men to the priesthood,” he said during an interview in the Diocese of Harrisburg's Cardinal Keeler Conference Center. “I think we have a lot to offer.”
And if conflict arises, there's no better man than “Father Ed” to bring calm, say his parishioners at Holy Infant Parish in York Haven, York County.
He is a negotiator and diplomat, they say.
Parishioner Larry Plummer, 66, an IT manager from Etters, York County, said Malesic has a knack for taking “the emotion out of a controversial topic to the point where you can have a discussion.”
His at-ease manner has made him a popular figure in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
“He is so down-to-earth, everybody just adores him,” said Rich Hazenstab, 53, a geologist from York Haven who has known Malesic for seven years. “He brought me back into the church.”
Malesic's homilies are filled with homespun stories about people and places he has known, and he “challenges, encourages and guides” his flock in their faith, Hazenstab said.
“It's hard to say no to him; he gets people motivated,” Hazenstab said. “Greensburg is getting a gem. He is the total package.”
A change in style
Malesic has much in common with Brandt, but his style is decidedly different.
“The most important thing is to be who I am,” he said. “I'm not going to change myself because I have a new role.”
He has chosen to forgo living in the mansion in the Maplewood section of Hempfield where Brandt and those before him lived. Instead, he'll live in the rectory at St. Paul's Church in Carbon, a choice that is playing well with parishioners.
As for the mansion, he'll form a committee to decide what will happen to the home, which was purchased for $60,000 in 1958 by Bishop Hugh L. Lamb, the diocese's first bishop.
“Don't read too much into it ... I'm a pretty simple guy,” Malesic said. “I am who I am and I do like a simple life.”
Parallels are being drawn between Malesic and Pope Francis, who has chosen to live in an apartment in the Vatican guesthouse instead of the lavish papal palace; has shunned the pricey Popemobile in favor of a 20-year-old Renault with nearly 200,000 miles on it; and preferred public transit over a limousine when he was the Cardinal of Argentina.
And it's apparent that Malesic has the same sense of humor as the pope.
Often recounted is his story about the day he was tapped for the bishop's post.
He'd just returned from running errands when the phone in his parish office rang and he noticed the caller ID read, “Vatican Embassy.”
“My stress level went up immediately,” he said during a news conference where he was introduced as the bishop-elect.
“My secretary came in and said that there was a man who sounded Italian asking to speak to me,” he recalled. “The papal nuncio (the pope's diplomatic representative) Archbishop (Carlo Maria) Vigano was simple and direct. He said ‘Pope Francis would like to appoint you as bishop of Greensburg. Do you accept?' ”
In the days after, he found humor in his situation.
“They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans. I had told God my plans many times before. When I answered the phone that morning, I could hear God laughing in the background,” he said.
Malesic's parishioners in York Haven, a town of 709 along the Susquehanna River, say they're trying to figure out life without their beloved priest, a self-proclaimed techie who sports an Apple watch, is never far from his iPhone or iPad, loves digital cameras and big-screen TVs and reads blogs, but isn't interested in Facebook or Twitter.
They say he's a humble man who remembers his roots, even when it comes to one of his favorite pastimes: cooking.
“I tend to cook my mother's recipes,” Malesic said. “Anything that's cooked well, I'll eat. Except liver and onions.”
He is approachable and welcoming, his parishioners said.
“We feel like we can talk to him,” said Rita White, 66, of Fairview, choking back tears.
“He'll always be our Father Ed,” said Becky Papa, pastoral assistant at Holy Infant who had worked with Malesic since 2004.
When he recently showed up at the parish wearing the amaranth red skullcap of a bishop, he told everyone it wasn't his idea. He was reminded by Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer that church protocol calls for even soon-to-be bishops to wear the cap, called a zuchetto.
Greensburg parishioners said they believe Malesic will be a good fit.
“From all reports I've heard, it's very good,” said Tom Severin, 68, of Greensburg, a retired religious teacher and spokesman for a group that calls itself the Ambrosians, in honor of St. Ambrose. “I like his humor and his humility.”
Because Malesic was a priest when he was named bishop, church law mandates that he be ordained a bishop, then installed as the leader of the local church.
Archbishop Vigano will read a mandate from the pope at the beginning of the ordination rite. He'll then be joined by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, the principal consecrator, and other visiting bishops in laying hands on Malesic, who will show his humility by lying face down on the floor of the altar. His head will be anointed with oil and he'll be invited to take possession of the cathedra, the bishop's chair.
This will be the third time in the history of the diocese that an ordination/installation Mass has been used.
Bishop William G. Connare, the second leader of the diocese, was a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh when he was named bishop of Greensburg; Brandt, the fourth bishop, was a monsignor in the Diocese of Erie.
Lamb and Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, its third, were bishops when they came to Greensburg.
Those who know Malesic say he will be humbled by all the attention.
But if he's nervous, it probably won't show, they said.
He is, after all, the man who has a magnet on his parish office file cabinet that reads, “Leadership is the ability to hide your panic from others.”
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or email@example.com.