Opening his office door after a trip, Bishop Donald Hying likely wondered if he walked through a barn door, rather than back to work.
He arrived at his cramped office one day while serving as rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary and a plethora of pumpkins and numerous bales of hay greeted him, courtesy Fr. Ryan Preuss, pastor of Holy Family Community, Fond du Lac, a seminarian at the time.
“Someone gave me 50 pumpkins and while Bishop Hying was in New York, we filled his office with pumpkins and left a trail of pumpkins from his room on the fourth floor down the stairs to his office,” laughed Fr. Preuss. “He laughed and thought it was pretty funny. He left it all set up for a number of weeks afterward.”
As a pumpkin recipient, Anne Bender, member of Old St. Mary’s Parish, remembered coming to Bishop Hying’s office a few days later for a visit with her daughter, Mary.
‘Bishop Hying Pie’ just like mom’s
Bishop Donald Hying told Anne Bender about an ice cream pie that his mom used to make and said it was his favorite dessert when growing up.
Bishop Hying Pie
1/4 c. corn syrup
1/4 c. peanut butter
Combine first three ingredients in saucepan. Cook over low heat until mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat, add 1/4 cup peanut butter and Rice Krispies. Press into 9” pie pan for crust. Stir next 3 ingredients together. Spread 1/2 of this filling over the crust. Freeze until firm. Soften ice cream slightly and spoon over crust. Freeze until firm. Allow to stand 10 minutes before serving. Warm remaining filling and drizzle on top.
“The room was filled with so many pumpkins and hay that there was barely room to walk,” she said. “Fr. Don said he didn’t plan on cleaning up the mess at all, but would work around the pumpkins. As we were leaving, he asked us to please take some pumpkins with us. I had a feeling that there wasn’t a visitor to his office in the following days who left there empty handed.”
Monopoly whiz is fierce competitor
Bender and Bishop Hying developed a friendship seven years ago while he wrote a monthly online newsletter for the seminary, “New Heart, New Spirit.”
“He would ask readers what we thought of the newsletter, so I always wrote to him,” she said. “One day he wrote back to me and we have been friends ever since.”
Bishop Hying was a frequent dinner guest at the Bender household and after he washed the dishes, he would join the family in playing a game of Apples to Apples or Monopoly. A simple roll of the dice transformed his mild mannered demeanor into that of a fierce competitor.
“One night when we were playing Monopoly, he was easily winning and had his eye on purchasing houses for his property,” Bender explained. “He asked my husband, Paul, if he could buy one of his properties from him, and Paul didn’t have it in him to say no to the bishop. Before we knew it, Bishop Hying truly had a monopoly and he was blowing us all away. He had purchased houses for nearly all of his properties and we were all handing our money to him left and right. And there he sat, rubbing his hands together and laughing at his good fortune.”
Loves his veggies
Dan Miller, state director of Pro-life Wisconsin, admitted that one of the first things he remembers after meeting Bishop Hying was his love for peas.
“Just before it was made public that Bishop Hying would be our (auxiliary bishop), my wife and I were invited to a friend’s home in Whitefish Bay to have dinner with “Fr. Don.” Not being a native of Milwaukee, I said, ‘Who is Father Don?’ His friends quickly brought me up to speed and said that he is, by far, the most pro-life priest you’ll ever meet and continued with story after story of his lifelong commitment to the pre-born child,” Miller explained.
“I remember we had roast pork sirloin that night and Bishop Hying had a pretty good sized portion, but when the peas came around, he kept spooning them onto his plate. When we were done, Bishop Hying asked for the recipe and the hostess started rattling off the recipe for the pork. He said, ‘No, no – I mean for the peas!’”
Fr. John Burns, administrator of St. Mary Parish, Menomonee Falls, remembers the eventful day his cousins took Bishop Hying for a leisurely drive.
“My aunt decided to take a shortcut to the cemetery by driving straight through the woods in her Suburban. She just charged straight through the woods with no trail and in total reckless abandon,” he explained.
“Rather than stressing out about the grounds or worrying about appearances, Bishop Don was curled up in hysterics in his seat, totally unable to contain himself. To this day, every time the name ‘Aunt Mary’ comes up, he literally grabs his gut and bursts into rolling laughter.”
Cousins share birthdate
Tammy Kilby Biraki not only shares the same birthdate, Aug. 18, as the bishop, but she has known her cousin, Bishop Hying, her entire life. Her favorite memory is the day he gave her daughter Communion for the first time.
“He was still rector of Saint Francis back then, and that day was joyous, not only because of her receiving the sacrament, but because of the extra care and influence he personally gave to her, as she was the only person receiving it that day,” said Biraki, member of Holy Rosary Parish, Darlington, in the Madison Diocese. “Aside from his Holy Orders, he is an upbeat, caring cousin who says what he feels and cares for everyone, regardless if he is related to you, or just meeting you for the first time. He isn’t afraid of hard work and keeps himself humble.”
An “all around good sport” is how Gina Jaeckel, manager of Kip’s Inn in West Allis, refers to Bishop Hying after he volunteered to serve as a bartender last July during a fundraiser for Catholic Charities that netted more than $4,000.
“He was just a natural behind the bar as far as talking with customers, and was helpful in serving popcorn, tapping beer and mixing drinks,” she said.
“He had a special shot called an Episcopal Elixir, which was a rather weak mixture with peach vodka lemonade. He also had his own tip jar with his picture on it that said, ‘How am I doing?’ and those proceeds were also donated to charity. He was good fun, but he was very tired at the end from standing at the bar and running around.”
While Christie Ronge of St. Anthony Parish, Menomonee Falls, is happy for Bishop Hying’s appointment to the Gary Diocese, she admitted she is sorry to lose the man who has been her spiritual director for the past eight years.
“He is so selfless and is involved in all pro-life organizations, never favoring one over the other, is great with the children when he comes to their schools to say Mass, and he is a great spiritual director,” she said. “He has led many different pilgrimages and he spends time with every person, sharing a piece of himself with every person. I think so highly of him and his parents who raised him; he is a true holy man and I am so happy to have crossed paths with him in my life.”
Just one of the boys
Christina Wolf Galewski recalled being at a meeting with her pastor, then Fr. Hying, during which someone constantly said “irregardless.”
The future bishop was amused by Galewski’s reaction when she heard that.
“Many times when he would see me in church, at school, or at a function, he would use ‘irregardless’ in a sentence, with a fabulous little smirk on his face, just to make me laugh – he knew how to deliver it with dry humor and subtle hints of mischievousness,” said Galewski.
Christina and her former husband, Don Wolf, asked Bishop Don to be their son Carter’s godfather and he joined friends and family to celebrate at their home, she said of the man she credits with leading Don to Catholicism.
“All of the kids thought it was awesome that a priest was joining us at the house, but when Fr. Don actually started to play football with the boys, all of the cameras were flashing,” she said. “He ran up and down the yard, playing and hustling with the kids. He said that he had only grown up with brothers, so they played ball all of the time. It was a good day.”