“Do you know how many times I’ve heard that song since the announcement?” Bishop Donald J. Hying asked me one day, after I made a reference to “Gary, Indiana” – a song from “The Music Man.”
I knew what he meant. When we were moving to take employment with the Diocese of Gary 28 years ago, we were regularly serenaded with the same tune.
One might conclude that Professor Harold Hill suffered a concussion while on the train from Brighton, Illinois to River City, Iowa, if he believed that Gary “is just one place that can light my face…”
It’s been more than 10 years since I’ve been in the city, but during my 18 years in the diocese, Gary was more likely to inspire a dirge than a ditty.
Presence in the city
But if anyone can light the face of Gary – the city and the diocese – it is Bishop Hying. While the city is urban decay at its worst, Bishop Hying’s light will be evident at the cathedral as he will live there – the first of the diocese’s four bishops to do so.
His presence in the city and at the cathedral speaks volumes, for unlike Milwaukee’s cathedral, whose front doors face a park alive with activity throughout the summer, no one sits on lawn chairs and listens to jazz across the street from Gary’s Holy Angels Cathedral. In fact, there are few lawns in that neighborhood.
There was a time when people encouraged Bishop Hying’s predecessors to build a cathedral in another area of the diocese because “no one goes to Gary.” Bishop Dale Melczek, his immediate predecessor, told them: “The church can’t tell businesses and others to stay in the city if we aren’t willing to do it.”
So, in 1997, he invested several hundred thousand dollars in cleaning and remodeling the cathedral, and designated it as the place for all diocesan celebrations. Contrary to what he had been told, people who had not been to Gary in decades returned to the cathedral to join in those celebrations.
Getting to know the territory
As Professor Hill’s salesmen peers intoned, “You’ve got to know the territory,” so too will Bishop Hying have to learn the diocese – its people, cultures, politics, traditions, allegiances and tendencies as he visits parishes, schools and institutions spread out over four counties in more than 1,800 square miles.
I have no doubt he will get to know the territory quickly. As he does, he will light the face of every community he enters. His presence and approachability will illuminate events. When he celebrates Mass, preaches a homily, speaks at a meeting or writes a column, he will touch the hearts of the faithful so that they will be inspired to become a light, too.
Light where it is needed
Bishop Hying will be a light for the diocese in that he is its first bishop who speaks Spanish. That gift will serve the church well as it fortifies its evangelization efforts in the area’s growing Hispanic communities.
Bishop Hying will be a light for the Catholic community, as well as for the community at large, that lives with the sin of racism. While his predecessor addressed the matter through pastoral letters in 2002 and 2003, his words have been slow to sink into the hearts of the faithful. Bishop Hying will have the opportunity to continue that healing process.
I pray that the ones for whom Bishop Hying is the brightest light are the priests of his diocese. They will find in their bishop a model of prayerfulness, service, humility, joy in the priesthood, love for the church, a relationship with Jesus and enthusiasm for proclaiming the Gospel in words and actions. If they are open and willing to learn from him, they, too, will light the faces of those they serve.
Similarities between archdiocese, diocese
Bishop Hying will recognize similarities between the archdiocese in which he is rooted and the diocese to which he has been called to serve. He will pray with people of deep faith living in urban, suburban and rural areas. He will encounter those who have the least in material goods and those with an extreme amount of temporal wealth. He will see diversity and pride in ethnicities and races.
As in the archdiocese, he will face challenges related to a population shift that has resulted in some parishes having more funerals than marriages and baptisms, and lacking the financial resources needed to remain open.
He will need to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, religious life and lay ministry. He will be faced with declining church attendance, and the question of how to engage youth and young adults so that they have a relationship with Jesus and get to know him through the church.
‘Shine before others’
Bishop Hying will be a light, but one much brighter and more effective than the one about which Professor Hill sang. The bishop’s light will be the one about which Jesus spoke:
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.
“Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:14-16).
Diocese of Gary, welcome the light.