Bishop Niederauer bids Salt Lake City farewell
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Correction: Bishop George H. Niederauer said in his sermon on Sunday "It's been my task, my privilege and my joy to serve the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City." His quote in The Salt Lake Tribune on Monday contained a typographical error.

It was standing-room-only Sunday when Bishop George H. Niederauer conducted his last Catholic Mass in Utah before he takes his seat as the new archbishop of San Francisco on Feb. 15.

More than 1,000 people squeezed into the exquisite Cathedral of the Madeleine in downtown Salt Lake City for the historic occasion. Some came just to hear one more sermon from the man who has led the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City for the past 11 years.

And they didn't go away disappointed.

It began with a colorful processional, led by the Knights of Columbus in their plumed hats and red-and-black capes, the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in white robes and berets, and other groups. Trumpets accompanied the celebratory hymns performed by the children of the Madeleine Choir School. A dozen or more Catholic priests filed in next, joined by two Episcopal priests - including a woman, the Rev. Caryl Marsh - symbolizing the bishop's ecumenical outreach.

Finally the bishop, with gold robes and mitre, filed past the reverential throng to the front of the cathedral.

His sermon was vintage Niederauer - a little wordplay, some personal anecdotes, a retelling of scripture with surprisingly contemporary allusions, including a quote from "The Sound of Music."

He spoke about Jesus' compassion, his willingness to heal the sick and lift up the despairing. Though he suffered much, Jesus did not die a failure but triumphed over death, Niederauer said.

Priests have a special role to play in spreading the "good news" of the Christian gospel. That's what he has been doing in Utah.

"It's been my task, my privilege and my job to serve the local Catholic diocese. I was welcomed by Catholics, by LDS and by everyone," he said. "You have been the good news in my life . . . I promise to pray for you always."

As he left the cathedral for the last time, the congregation burst into prolonged applause.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., sitting in the first row, said Niederauer's "words of encouragement and admonition resonate across religious boundaries."

University of Utah president Michael Young added that he will certainly miss the Catholic bishop, who has "been a wonderful friend and supporter to all of us."

There was no official representative from the LDS Church, but Mormon leaders had their own farewell meeting with him last week, said Catholic spokeswoman Monica Johnson-Howa.

Homeless advocate Pamela Atkinson said she thoroughly enjoyed the Mass.

"It was an exciting and spiritual service," she said, "and very moving."

She got teary, she said, to think of Niederauer leaving. "He's left a great legacy for us."

At the end of the service, the bishop invited everyone to a reception in his honor at the Grand American Hotel a few blocks from the cathedral.

"I promise to get you home by the Super Bowl," Niederauer quipped.

At the reception, hundreds lined up to greet the bishop, who sat in front of a large tapestry with his motto: "To give and to serve." He reached out to each person, exchanging pleasantries or memories, sharing a laugh or a story. Many asked to have their photo taken with him, and he graciously obliged.

"Utah is so religiously unique," said the Rev. Rick Lawson, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Salt Lake City, who attended the Mass. "Bishop Niederauer was able to grasp this and move us forward. He has had dialogue with the whole community. We can all say, 'he's our bishop.' ''

pstack@sltrib.com