By Kirk Petersen
The Diocese of Chicago is settling in for months of anticipation, as the consecration of the bishop-elect has been postponed indefinitely and plans to hire an assisting bishop have been announced.
While exercising two weeks before her scheduled April 24 consecration as the XIII Bishop of Chicago, the Rev. Paula Clark suffered a cerebral bleed. Five days later she had successful brain surgery to remove an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare but treatable condition in which “a tangle of blood vessels in the brain bypasses normal brain tissue and directly diverts blood from the arteries to the veins,” according to the American Stroke Association.
After first postponing the consecration until June and then until August 28, the diocese released a video on July 28 in which Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry announced that the consecration would be postponed indefinitely. “We continue to have every expectation that Bishop-elect Clark will make a recovery, enabling her to serve as the Bishop of Chicago. But we’re not there yet. And I want you to hear me when I say we’re not there yet.”
Curry said he and others had spoken with Clark’s physician, who said the bishop-elect has made “remarkable” progress in occupational, physical, and speech therapy. He said at the physician’s suggestion, all parties would meet again in October to evaluate progress.
Clark then addressed the diocese directly for the first time since the medical incident. She spoke for about three and a half minutes, straining noticeably but not severely to articulate. “I am really sad that I can’t be your bishop right now,” she said. Smiling into the camera, she continued: “But as you can hear from me right now, there are little ways that we have to go to be at full-time capacity.” She said she has progressed in her daily therapy to the extent that she no longer uses a walker, she can write, and her speech has improved.
“I will be your bishop,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do together, and we will do it — mark my words.”
The Rev. Anne B. Jolly, president of the Standing Committee, said to Clark: “the Standing Committee, I will tell you, are your biggest cheerleaders. We support you, and pray for you, and have every expectation that you will make a full recovery.”
Jolly said the Standing Committee would continue to be the ecclesiastical authority until Clark is consecrated, and the committee meets regularly with each other and the diocesan staff. “I’m also delighted to say that we are in the final stages of conversations in bringing in an assisting bishop for the diocese,” she said. She expects the assisting bishop would begin in the fall and support the Standing Committee, the staff, and the bishop-elect.