NORWICH, Conn. (AP) – The diocese of Norwich started a new chapter in its 50-year history Wednesday with the installation of the Most Rev. Michael Cote as bishop.

Amid much pageantry and before more than 1,200 people at St. Patrick Cathedral, Cote became the fifth bishop of the large eastern Connecticut diocese, which encompasses New London, Windham, Middlesex and Tolland counties and Fishers Island, N.Y.

The 53-year-old native of Sanford will preside over the diocese’s 227,000 Roman Catholics. He brought a message of hope and optimism as the church moves forward from what has been a tumultuous year.

The diocese, like many in the country, faced allegations of sexual abuse by priests. American bishops adopted a policy last summer that removes abusive priests from church work and requires church leaders to report allegations of abuse to police.

“It’s been very difficult for everyone involved. It’s not been the greatest moment in our history,” Cote said. “But I’m convinced the church will be made better for all of this struggle. The church will survive. The issue has been very well addressed here.”

Cote, the former auxiliary bishop of Portland, Maine, succeeds the Most Rev. Daniel Hart, who retired in March when he turned 75.

Sacred music of strings, brass and a bell choir filled the cavernous cathedral. With a golden staff in hand, Cote took his ceremonial place at the head of the altar in an ornate chair, called the cathedra.

Archbishop Daniel Cronin of Hartford installed Cote during the 90-minute ceremony, which was attended by 140 priests and 42 bishops including Bridgeport Bishop William Lori and his predecessor, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York.

Cronin said the diocese will benefit from Cote’s relative youth, calling him “young, talented and energetic.”

“When a person is in his early 50s, he functions extremely energetically and efficiently as a bishop,” Cronin said. “This man has a great background.”

Cote has served on a number of councils since his ordination in 1975, including working with schools and other youth groups. Promoting Catholic education will be among his chief priorities, he said.

“The church has to bring home the message that Catholic education is worth preserving,” Cote said. “It is a faith-based environment in which to learn and produces very, very fine young people.”

The new bishop proved early he could think on his feet. When the wrong gospel was read instead of the one he had prepared his sermon for, he didn’t flinch and managed to segue smoothly into his homily.

“As my brothers know, it’s a nightmare for any homilist,” Cote told the audience amid laughter.

He received a standing ovation during his entrance and exit, pausing at the first pew to greet his parents, Paul and Margaret Cote, on the way out. His two brothers and two sisters took part in the Mass by offering up the communion gifts.

“When I walked into the church I felt a bit overwhelmed,” Cote said. “But the warm smiles and the applause, made me sense I’m welcome here. That sort of put me at ease.”

He plans to begin traveling around the diocese to meet with parish priests and parishioners.

“I’ve got a lot learning to do and then it’s a question of trying to determine what the true needs are of the church of Norwich,” Cote said.

Parishioners were buoyed by their new shepherd’s message.

“He seems to be a man that’s going to bring a new spring to the diocese,” said Marlene Murphy of Moodus. “We just have to let him get his feet planted and get to know the people. After he’s observed everything, he’ll know what to do. The Lord will guide him.”

AP-ES-05-14-03 1809EDT

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