Conference room or his office? Where to meet? It was a toss-up as both were in states of disarray as Bishop Donald J. Hying sifted through years of belongings and memories as he packed in preparation for his move to Gary, Indiana, where he will be installed the fourth bishop of the diocese in northwest Indiana on Tuesday, Jan. 6.
He selected his conference room as the location for the interview with the Catholic Herald in mid-December, pushing aside the piles of papers to be sorted and possibly packed and moved to Gary.
Leaving is difficult, admitted Bishop Hying, 51, explaining that with the exception of the time he spent in the Dominican Republic doing mission work, he’s lived in the archdiocese his entire life.
“It’s really about the people, my family, friends, people of the archdiocese, employees, priests, everybody,” he said. “This is my hometown and I’ve lived here my whole life except when I did mission work. I know a lot of people and they know me and there is a comfort level with that so it’s a little daunting to step into a situation where you don’t know anybody and you are starting from scratch.”
He’s leaving for a place where he not only knows no one, but the people will only know him as a bishop.
“Here they knew me when I was in diapers, or as a young priest or as a seminarian,” he said.
He’ll miss family and friends, hang-outs like Buckley’s Restaurant and Bar in downtown Milwaukee and Polonaise, the Polish restaurant in St. Francis, favorite religious retreats, including Holy Hill, the Basilica of St. Josaphat and the cathedral, and he added, he’ll miss the advice, workout regime and friendship of his personal trainer, Mike Steinmetz.
But, while Bishop Hying is emotional about having to leave so much of what is familiar to him, he said he is approaching his new position with excitement and enthusiasm.
“While I anticipate the sadness of leaving Milwaukee, I always believed that if God’s will is made manifest to me through what I’m asked to do by the church, and that if you put your life at the disposal of the Holy Spirit, God will put you where he wants you to be,” he said, adding, “I feel excitement of possibility to serve the church in a different place and in a different role.”
Bishop Hying was at the Nov. 10-13 annual fall assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore when the papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano asked to talk to him privately. Even though he had served as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s auxiliary bishop for a little more than three years, since July 2011, and he knew it was possible he’d be asked to head a diocese of his own, the appointment still came as a shock, he said.
The nuncio asked Bishop Hying if he needed time to think about the appointment made by Pope Francis, and without hesitation, the bishop responded that no time was necessary. He was happy to do what was asked of him.
That’s the way Bishop Hying has approached his entire religious vocation. For example, missionary work and life in the Dominican Republic was the furthest thing from then-Fr. Hying’s mind in the early 1990s.
He had spent a week visiting La Sagrada Familia Parish in the Dominican Republic in 1993, and while he enjoyed the trip, he was certain he could not accept an assignment there.
“The people were wonderful, I could deal with the heat, I could deal with the bugs, I could deal with the poverty, but I didn’t know any Spanish, and everything you do as a priest is communication, whether speaking or listening, so I thought there is just no way I could do this,” he told the Catholic Herald in 2011 as he reflected on his life.
Yet, when Don Mueller, the then-director of the Office for World Mission, called him and asked if he’d go, he heard himself say, ‘Yes,’ and he served La Sagrada Familia from 1994 to 1997, becoming proficient in Spanish in the process.
Similarly, the transition from being a parish priest to rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and eventually auxiliary bishop involved his leaving the comfort zone in which he ministered and branching into something new. But he embraced each challenge wholeheartedly.
As he prepares to leave for Gary, Bishop Hying said he is taking with him lessons from each of the bishops under whom he has served.
“From Archbishop (Rembert G.) Weakland, he really attended to the organization and function of the archdiocese, especially the staff here, so I would say I learned from him the need to attend to the diocesan structure and diocesan employees and see that as a priority,” he said of the pastoral center, located in Merrillville, a suburb of Gary, with about 50 employees that he will lead.
From Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, he said he learned the need to connect with priests and people.
“He showed the need to be out with the people to get out from behind the desk and to see yourself in a sense as a parish priest which I think is one of the keys to his great pastoral success,” said Bishop Hying.
Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki has modeled steadiness through bankruptcy, he said, adding, “He has a long range vision that he sees where the diocese needs to go and is willing to work hard in the day-to-day process to get there. His steadiness at the wheel, unflappability, I guess. I admire that very much.”
Finally, from Bishop Richard J. Sklba, he said he has learned “fidelity to the task at hand,” as well as a love for Scripture and for the diocese.
“To invest in a place as he has invested his whole life here in the archdiocese,” he said.
While Bishop Hying doesn’t have definite plans for his new diocese, he said he hopes to remain invested in causes close to his heart, such as poverty and pro-life issues, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, adult formation and evangelization of young adults.
If the situation arises, Bishop Hying said he would welcome the opportunity to be a presence on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic, as he has done numerous times in Milwaukee.
“I certainly would not hesitate to do that, because not only in that area (pro-life) but in many areas, the church needs to be more visible on the streets,” he said.
As a bishop appointed by Pope Francis, Bishop Hying said he plans to follow the pope’s call to be a voice for the poor.
“Pope Francis is encouraging us and calling us really to go to the margins, to go to the fringes to reach out to the alienated, to welcome them, listen to them, to love them. The second part of that message is to call each one of us to conversion. It’s never enough to just bring people into the church; we also have to allow the Lord to reveal the fullness of his truth and love and that’s going to demand change and transformation within each one of us,” he said.
Bishop Hying said he knows he is leaving the archdiocese with unfinished business.
“There’s lots of unfinished business, the implementation of the synod, the ongoing evangelization efforts throughout the diocese, the Hispanic pastoral plan, the Black Catholic pastoral plan, the 20/20 plan – all of that – but the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is in a position to ferment and grow as we plan and move into the future,” he said, adding, “It’s an exciting time for the archdiocese and in that sense it’s a difficult time for me to leave because I was a part of that, but no one is indispensable and all of that will continue in better hands than mine,” he said.
Since his appointment as bishop of Gary, Bishop Hying has made a couple of trips to Gary and noted happily, “That, if you factor out Chicago traffic, it’s only a two hour and 15 minute drive.”
“It’s not like I will never come back to visit family or friends or during vacations. But it is different in the sense my time, my presence and my energies will be focused on the Diocese of Gary and I will have to move my heart and loyalties as well, but it’s part of a healthy detachment and a forward-looking attachment,” he explained.
Speaking of loyalties, Bishop Hying, to the likely consternation of Packers fans, when asked about his football loyalties during a news conference at the chancery office in Merrillville, Nov. 24, responded that he has been a Packers fan, “but I’m open to conversion.”
Rest assured, Packers fans, Bishop Hying explained his answer to the Catholic Herald by quoting St. Paul, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”