On a cold, gray morning last March, Bishop Donald J. Hying prayed with a group of people outside a Milwaukee abortion clinic. Praying at abortion facilities is something he has done for more than 20 years, but it was that day’s experience that he shared as a guest blogger on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Web site, www.archmil.org.
In the blog post he described an encounter he had with a woman he identified as having a management position at the abortion clinic.
When he quietly said, “Please stop killing people here,” and added that he will pray for her, the woman reacted with rage, shouting derogatory words and making an obscene gesture as she drove away.
Bishop Hying ended his blog post with: “The abortionists want their deeds to go unseen, unnoticed and unchallenged. By our public prayer and presence, we shine the light of God on a very dark place.”
Sets example with prayers, presence
Members of local pro-life groups say it has been Bishop Hying’s prayers and presence that have strongly encouraged them for many years.
“He leads by example. He is a true prayer warrior who is not afraid to pray publicly at abortion centers,” said Dan Miller, a coordinator for 40 Days for Life in Milwaukee. Miller was with Bishop Hying that morning at the clinic.
“He has shown us through his example how to effectively combat abortion, which begins and ends with prayer,” Miller said.
Peggy Hamill, state director for Pro-Life Wisconsin, has known Bishop Hying for about 10 years. “He is a pro-life leader through prayer and action,” Hamill said. “His demeanor is prayerful, encouraging and holy. I’ve always seen him as a man of principle, faith and a true shepherd.”
Hamill noted his participation in pro-life events, ranging from speaking with those holding vigils at abortion facilities and “sidewalk counseling” women outside the clinic, to leading the Pro-Life Wisconsin Stations of the Cross procession on Good Friday.
Example motivates others
“He encouraged seminarians to join him. Now the seminarians are priests, and his example and leadership fosters their active participation in pro-life organizations,” Hamill said.
One seminarian who joined the vigilant is Fr. Luke Strand, now part of the priest team at Holy Family Parish in Fond du Lac.
Fr. Strand agrees that Bishop Hying influenced him and others to get involved in protecting the unborn.
“I believe that Fr. Don’s love for life has stirred up the desire in many other priests to passionately invest in supporting pregnant mothers and their child in the womb,” he said.
“Fr. Don has a sincere love for people, the love of a father, an unconditional love. As a priest, I have used his fatherly example and his ability to give completely of himself as a means of inspiration and motivation,” Fr. Strand added.
Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, has known Bishop Hying for about six years and describes him as “warm, humble, prayerful, holy and sincere. He encourages others by saying he appreciates their work and it is so heartfelt, it can’t help but inspire.”
Bishop Hying regularly attends Wisconsin Right to Life events, Lyons said.
“He’s a tremendous defender of life. Bishops are incredibly busy, but I know he will take time to continue advocating for life,” she said.
Supportive of married, family life
The bishop also has offered his time to support married and family life through the archdiocese’s Nazareth Project for Marriage and Family Formation.
“He has a beautiful sense of marriage from his parents,” said Lydia LoCoco, director of the Nazareth Project.
That influence is evident when he discusses the theology of marriage with engaged couples attending the Engaged Enrichment formation program, she noted, and when he speaks to Destination Marriage participants, a marriage ministry program that travels to parishes throughout the archdiocese.
“He is always generous to all kinds of marriage and respect-life ministries, from saying Mass to giving a talk at a conference. People respond to Fr. Don in a way that shows a real hunger for Christ and the teachings of the church,” LoCoco said. “We read in Scripture in Psalm 32 that we should have no guile. That is Fr. Don. He is a ‘couples’ priest and loves to champion marriage and families.”
Respect for human life evident
Fr. Strand also has been inspired by Bishop Hying’s commitment to service, and his deep concern for those living in poverty.
“Fr. Don has a passion for life and a respect for all human life. You could find him praying at an abortion mill in the morning and serving at the Guest House (homeless shelter) in the evening,” Fr. Strand said.
At La Sagrada Familia Parroquia, the parish he served in the Dominican Republic, he ministered to people living in abject poverty, LoCoco noted.
In 2000, when then-Fr. Hying was pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee, the parish raised $53,000 for the poor of Haiti.
“Fr. Don has a beautiful way of inspiring others through his zeal for the faith and his love of Christ,” said Charmaine Herbert, a member of Our Lady of Good Hope. “When Fr. Don was our pastor, you could see his genuine love for each person. It was like we were all a big family.”
LoCoco believes he will be a great bishop for the archdiocese because “Fr. Don knew suffering at a young age when his brother died from cancer. Because of his own suffering, he is able to reach out and to perceive suffering in others. You don’t learn that,” she added. “It is a God-given gift and it is why the poor, the suffering and those cast out by society will find that God has sent them a bishop of their own.”
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