Larry Davis jokes that as a newlywed, the last thing he felt like doing when he came home from work, was attending a Bible study at St. Anthony Parish, Menomonee Falls, run by a transitional deacon. However, looking into the eyes of then-Deacon Donald J. Hying, he could think of no reason to decline, so he and his new wife, Kathy, signed up and never looked back.
“I felt obligated at first,” he said. “But Kathy and I went to one and then another and after that, didn’t miss one for three years. He was able to explain things so well and has this gift, in that he would take what I might think is a dumb question, extract the essence of the question, and put it into understandable terms.”
After his ordination to the priesthood, Fr. Hying remained at St. Anthony Parish for five years, inspiring crowded pews of spirit-filled Catholics to hunger for a deeper meaning of their faith. His homilies strengthened struggling hearts and infused souls with an overflowing sense of confidence in their faith, as well as joy and love for the Eucharist. Like many others, his appointment as auxiliary bishop did not surprise Davis.
“I always knew he might be a bishop, but it happened much sooner than expected. I still think of him as a young person,” he said. “I was surprised and pleased for him, and since he has such a great sense of humor, I sent him a really obnoxious congratulations card.”
After leaving St. Anthony Parish, Fr. Hying became a missionary priest at the archdiocesan sister parish, Sagrada Familia, in the Dominican Republic, and Davis paid him a visit.
“He was basically the pastor of this huge area filled with many churches – I wasn’t prepared for all the squalor and poverty and, truthfully, I wanted to come back as soon as I got there,” Davis admitted. “But I got used to it; the people were so friendly and would literally offer you their last meal.”
On Thanksgiving Day, Fr. Hying obtained access to the prison in the area to say Mass for the inmates. The experience reminded Davis of a gruesome scene from the 1973 movie, “Papillon.”
“They were mostly political prisoners, but were living in indescribable conditions in this jail cell,” he said. “It was as if no one had been in there for a long while – and that experience changed me. Fr. Don said Mass and told us he was thankful for the opportunity to pray with them. Then we left; they had to stay and we got to leave.”
‘Destined for great things’
Early on, Terry Baudhuin kidded Fr. Hying about becoming a bishop, but beneath the surface jesting was Baudhuin’s belief that this was no ordinary priest, but one that was destined for great things.
“My wife Barb and I traveled with him on many pilgrimages and often, at the end of the day, we’d sit and have a beer together and I would often tell him that one day we would be traveling with a bishop,” said Baudhuin, a member of St. Anthony Parish. “He has this special holiness about him, and when he left to serve the Dominican Republic, we kept in close touch with him.”
Baudhuin recalls numerous efforts to support Fr. Hying’s missionary work, but most of the money collected went instead to help the members of Sagrada Familia.
“He always traveled with just one shirt, one pair of pants and a pair of shoes,” said Baudhuin. “He gave all the money away that was given to him.”
Years later, after Fr. Hying was pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, Baudhuin and his wife accompanied him on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. The missionary team was not prepared for the outpouring of love toward their priest friend.
“It was the late 1990s and when we walked into the church, the people applauded him,” said Baudhuin. “They hadn’t seen him for three years and the rest of us missionaries just waited for hours while he blessed all the people and talked with them. He was very much loved.”
‘What you see is what you get’
Active in the pro-life movement, the Baudhuins often prayed with Fr. Hying in front of abortion clinics, and both were amazed at his dedication to the cause.
“What you see is what you get with him,” said Terry Baudhuin. “There is no hidden agenda. He will be a great servant to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He recognizes that this appointment is God’s hand at work and will guide us. He is a pastoral guy with a wonderful approach to Catholicism. He is not a theologian, but a bishop-pastor and will be a very good one.”
While their newly ordained priest stood at the altar of St. Anthony Parish, Don and Anne Lawinger examined him from their pew and knew immediately there was something different about Fr. Hying. They saw not only a faith-filled servant, but also a man who, they later learned, held a special connection to Pope John Paul II. When the pope’s biography, “Witness to Hope” was released, Fr. Hying read the 960-page book in just two or three days, including the footnotes.
“He tried, during several trips to Rome, to get a private audience with John Paul II, but he never was able to pull enough strings,” explained Don Lawinger. “My two oldest daughters and I went to World Youth Day in Toronto with Fr. Don’s group. We knew how much he wanted to see the pope, so we got as close as we could to his motorcade route, but we were still about five rows back. A couple of us guys hoisted Fr. Don up onto our shoulders just before John Paul II passed by. He said the pope looked right at time, and you could tell it really affected him.”
Parishioners’ spirituality is primary concern
Of primary concern to Fr. Hying was the spirituality of the members of his parish, and receiving the sacraments often.
“He would preach about confession and encourage people to go to daily Mass,” said Don. “We had Masses at 6:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. every day. He would regularly celebrate a Mass on his day off and two Masses on the pastor’s day off. A lot of people would go – but he always wanted more.”
Don and Anne are convinced that Bishop Hying will serve the archdiocese well.
“You know, as amazing as this is, the more amazing thing is that he is a saint in our midst,” said Anne. “He is just very close to God and he really brings God — Jesus Christ — to all of us and through himself. When my husband went to the Dominican Republic with him, he came back and said that Don is a living saint because they all saw how much he sacrificed and how much he did for the people. He is a very hands-on priest.”
Don visited Fr. Hying in the Dominican Republic twice, and no matter where they traveled in the area, each time the layman came away feeling blessed, and with a newfound appreciation for the dedication of their beloved priest.
“Once we drove to a little village and we went door to door, letting the people know that he was there and would soon start a class in the church,” explained Don. “The church was a broken down, little shed with a single light bulb hanging down. Fr. Don started to teach the few who showed up, but gradually, more and more people came until the church was full and then they gathered outside the open windows so that they could hear him. “Eventually, there had to be over 100 people there, and they all listened intently. As I watched this, I thought, ‘This must be the way it was when Jesus taught the people.’ It was amazing.”
He’s ‘everyone’s friend’
Everyone was a friend to Fr. Don, insist Lil and George Roohana, members of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish. He was compassionate, outgoing and intelligent, and involved in nearly every parish activity during his years as the parish priest.
“He made good changes for the best with the parish and school, and ended up with a younger, more involved group of parish members,” said Lil. “Throughout it all, he made us all feel special – even to the point of calling me Saint Lil – which, of course, was a little far-fetched.”
Lil expects that Bishop Hying will be more present in the lives of all Catholics in the archdiocese.
“He will be a wonderful bishop and the people will respond to him positively,” she said. “They will want to work with him in all facets of our religion.”
Often led by example
Hard working and devoted, Fr. Hying’s effect on parishioners was so great, that when it was time for him to transfer to another parish, often parishioners moved as well, according to Our Lady of Good Hope members, Norb and Dorothy Whittle.
“He led by example,” said Norb. “Our parish grew while he was here. If you heard him speak, you were hooked. When he got transferred, the people that followed him here left the parish. If he had gone to another parish instead of the seminary, the whole parish would have followed him there. He was the hardest working priest I have ever been associated with; he didn’t know how to say no, was up early and stayed up late. He had time to exercise and still make almost every evening meeting.”
A friend to the Knights of Columbus, the youth, and the unborn, Fr. Don regularly participated in the Life Chain for the Unborn. He worked the parish festivals, attended the fish fries and still had time for each person.
“Father will be a very hard working, conservative bishop,” Dorothy said. “He will be honest to a fault and he will be a leader. You can’t say ‘no’ to Fr. Don, and he was always full of compliments.”
A ringing doorbell startled Donna Ruelle one morning as she was struggling through a difficult day. She was dealing with the ups and downs of caring for her special needs son, Randy, and spent the morning near tears; when she opened her door, she was shocked to see Fr. Hying on the other side of the threshold.
“He was in the neighborhood and just decided to stop by to see how I was doing,” she said, choking back tears. “I looked at him, put my arms around him and just started sobbing. He held me as I sobbed for the longest time. I know he was sent to me for a reason that day – God knew I needed him at that moment.”
Wonderful rapport with all ages
Ruelle believes he will carry that sensitivity to the rest of the archdiocese.
“He is spiritually oriented and just has this way of presenting himself in doing things – in his homilies and everything else,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who didn’t love him while he was here. No one wanted him to leave – but now we all get to enjoy him. He will be very good as a bishop, and part of it is due to the wonderful rapport he has with all ages, young and old.”
Through the intercession of prayers from those on earth and in heaven, Mary Ann Poole believes that God listened and called Fr. Hying to become an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I know my mother, Bess, has been watching over him,” she said. “My mom had macular degeneration and couldn’t be left alone. Fr. Don would often come over and sit and have a beer with her so I could go for a walk, or run some errands.”
When Bess suffered a stroke at 93 and died, Fr. Hying celebrated her funeral Mass at their parish, St. Anthony.
“He had the most beautiful funeral for her and I was so happy that day because she had such a wonderful celebration of her life,” said Poole.
When Fr. Hying’s appointment as auxiliary bishop was announced, Poole admitted that while she was not surprised, she was a bit disappointed.
“I thought he should start much higher up, but I guess you have to start at the bottom,” she said, laughing. “He is a marvelous man with so much talent, warmth, compassion and always seems to take care of the ‘lessers,’ and my mom was a lesser. He will bring all of that to his new position in the church.”
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