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BISHOP ORDAINED IN ENCINO; `FATHER JERRY' HONORED DURING MASS AT HIS FORMER CHURCH.

Byline: Eric Wahlgren Daily News Staff Writer

Gerald Wilkerson, the popular former pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Encino, was ordained Wednesday as an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles in a ceremonial Mass steeped in ritual but lightened with levity.

During the two-hour ordination, Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, presented Wilkerson the bishop's ring, miter and pastoral staff.

``The bishop has a very important role in our history, in our tradition,'' Mahony told more than 1,000 faithful packing the pews of the parish where parishioners knew Wilkerson as ``Father Jerry.'' He served there for more than 15 years.

As one of the archdiocese's five auxiliary bishops, Wilkerson, 58, will serve as an assistant to Mahony and oversee 50 parishes and hundreds of thousands of parishioners in the San Fernando Pastoral Region, which contains the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.

Before the closing hymn, Wilkerson rose to address the faithful, revealing that he initially had ``spiritual cold feet'' about accepting the office of bishop.

In a lighter moment, he recalled confessing his doubts about having all it takes for the office to his spiritual adviser.

When he told his adviser that he felt he might be making a terrible mistake, the teacher responded in a most unexpected way.

``He agreed,'' Wilkerson said, prompting laughter among clergy and laypeople alike.

But he added that his spiritual adviser also said nobody has all it takes, and that God would help by providing him with guidance in carrying out his duties.

With modesty that his colleagues called characteristic, Wilkerson thanked those in attendance for their help and prayers, and called on his fellow clergy to continue supporting him in his new role.

``It is humbling,'' he said. ``There are so many who could be standing here. I have been one of you for 32 years. Please don't leave me now.''

The bishop's seat became vacant in June 1996, when Auxiliary Bishop Armando Ochoa left to become bishop in El Paso, Texas.

While pastor of the 2,400-family Our Lady of Grace Church, Wilkerson served as the episcopal vicar, or substitute bishop, for the region.

Priests submitted the names of candidates to Mahony, who forwarded recommendations to the Catholic hierarchy. The Vatican announced that Wilkerson, a Long Beach native, was selected in November.

``There could not be a better choice,'' said Monsignor Lloyd Torgeson, pastor of St. Monica's in Santa Monica, who attended seminary school with Wilkerson. ``He will give good leadership to this region.''

As part of Wednesday's elaborate ceremony, Monsignor Terrance Fleming, the archdiocese's vicar general, read the document signed by Pope John Paul II announcing the selection of Wilkerson as bishop.

``With great confidence, we decided to entrust this office to you,'' the document read.

Throughout the ceremony, ribbons of incense smoke floated over the congregation to symbolize the prayers of the worshipers, filling the sanctuary with a rich, sagelike fragrance.

Hymns were sung and lessons were read in English and Spanish, reflecting the increasing diversity of the archdiocese, the nation's second-largest.

After the ceremonial Mass, Wilkerson's parishioners said they would miss the clergyman many credit with helping breathe new life into their parish.

``He is like a father to us,'' said Marion Moreland. ``He is compassionate and very caring. He always knew what we needed.''

CAPTION(S):

2 Photos

Photo: (1) Newly ordained Bishop Gerald Wilkerson acknowledges parishioners and clergy Wednesday at Our Lady of Grace Church in Encino.

(2) Cardinal Roger Mahony presents the miter to Wilkerson during the ceremonial Mass.

David R. Crane/Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 22, 1998
Words:596
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