Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines always pictured himself as a simple parish priest, relatable to the men and women in the pews every week.
Vestiges of that perception still adorn his office at Mary Mother of the Church Pastoral Center.
Included in his memorabilia are photos and souvenirs from Nashville, the home of country music, one of his two biggest non-Church passions.
“I’ve loved country music because it’s music of the common people,” Bishop Haines said. “It also cheers me up, because when you hear all those sad country songs, you think, ‘My life isn’t so bad.’”
There are also plenty of sports items in his office, from photos to souvenir balls to Legos shaped like American Family Field, where his beloved Milwaukee Brewers play.
And, of course, there is his ever-present Brewers jacket, usually worn over his priestly garments and collar when traveling to and from events and the workplace.
“That’s to let people know just how plain, old ordinary I am,” Bishop Haines said. “I would like to think it does (make him seem approachable). It’s one of the reasons I’ve always worn it, even as a parish priest. It’s to say mostly that: ‘Yes, I am a priest, yes, I am a bishop; this is my calling. I love it, I give my life to it, but that doesn’t mean I’m not like you. We are both people who are children of God and are part of the Catholic Church. You parishioner are as important to the mission as I am. I just have a different job.’ This jacket lets you know there is no boundary here. I want to relate to you as a peer. Oh, and by the way, I do give a darn what happens with the Brewers.”
After receiving the call to be a bishop in January 2017 – or rather several calls – Bishop Haines has remained the same approachable, pastoral presence, despite the change in his position within the Universal Church.
When the Papal Nuncio to the United States Archbishop Christophe Pierre tried to call and inform Bishop Haines about his selection, it took him several tries to get through. Bishop Haines said he had been hearing a lot about robo-calls at the time and didn’t recognize the number, so he ignored the calls. Finally, Archbishop Pierre left a message and Bishop Haines called him.
“I thought he might be just another bishop,” Bishop Haines said. “He might be in town and want to tour the Cathedral.”
Instead, Archbishop Pierre told him, “Pope Francis would like you to accept the position of auxiliary bishop,”
“I just kind of froze and said, ‘OK,’” Bishop Haines said.
The announcement couldn’t be made right away because Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was leaving for La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic the next day and would be gone for nine days. Bishop Haines said he was told he couldn’t tell anyone, not even his family.
“He said to just play stupid and I said, ‘I can do that,’” Haines said.
A couple weeks later, the announcement was made at the Vatican and there was a press conference, Mass and lunch at the seminary.
Bishop James T. Schuerman, who was announced and ordained at the same time, had been told to have a message ready in Spanish. Somehow, signals got crossed and Bishop Haines thought he had to have a Spanish message ready. So, he went back to his rudimentary college Spanish and worked feverishly to prepare the statement.
“I walked in and saw Jim Schuerman and thought, ‘I don’t need this,’” Bishop Haines said. “I had known Jim was fluent for years.”
The night before the official announcement, Bishop Haines drove to his parents’ house late at night to let them know; they had just returned from watching Marquette’s basketball team upset No. 1 Villanova that night.
“My dad said, ‘What am I going to wear?’” Bishop Haines said.
His sister, Anne Haines, worked at the archdiocese at the time and would have been on the receiving end of the email blasts after the announcement by the Vatican.
Once those went out, Bishop Haines called her and asked her what she was doing – she was making lunches for her children. She hadn’t seen the email.
When his younger brother, Rick, walked in for the press conference, he told Bishop Haines he was very excited. Bishop Haines thanked him, but his brother said he meant about the basketball game the night before.
As for his own reaction to the news, Bishop Haines couldn’t believe it at first.
“Pretty shocked,” Bishop Haines said. “Most bishops, when they’re selected, they’re kind of from a pool. They went to school in Rome, they have advanced degrees, and Jim certainly fits that. He didn’t go to Rome, but he went to Austria to a famous school and then was a professor at the seminary. I had just been a parish priest and you don’t expect a bishop to be a parish priest. I never expected or thought I would. I was more than happy. I would have been pretty darn happy to remain a priest in my parish. Apparently, somebody wanted me to do this. I thought, ‘It’s what the Lord wants me to do; I’ll answer the call and do the best I can.’”
Bishop Haines said some of the feedback he received from priests was that it was refreshing to have a parish priest elevated to bishop.
“I’ve always thought one of the things I bring to the position is the fact that when I’m talking to (fellow priests) or the guys at the seminary, I know exactly what they’re dealing with, and I know because I’ve been there,” Bishop Haines said. “I’m still in there. There’s a sense we understand what they’re going through.”
While tasked with a litany of responsibilities, there is one part of being a bishop that Bishop Haines cherishes the most: Confirmation.
“It reminds me of what I used to do,” Bishop Haines said. “You feel the most pastoral, you’re in a parish, you’re dealing with kids, which I did a lot in my ministry.”
In 2021, because of reduced capacities, Bishop Haines did 62 Confirmations. In a typical year, that number is between 30 and 35.
“It was unbelievable, but it was also joyful,” Bishop Haines said. “I loved every minute of it. I just feel it’s the most pastoral, parish-like setting. I get a lot of hope when I see the youth. You read these confirmation letters, and they’re very serious and they’re trying their best in a very hard world we’ve given them. They really want to do the right thing, and the more I can affirm them to believe in themselves and stay connected to the Lord, that gives me the most joy.”
Bishop Haines’ Assignments
June 11, 1985-June 24, 1991: Associate Pastor, St. Nicholas, Milwaukee
June 10, 1987-June 24, 1991: Pastoral Service, Holy Redeemer, Milwaukee
June 25, 1991-June 17, 1996: Associate Pastor, St. Eugene, Fox Point
June 18, 1996-June 17, 2002: Pastor, St. Frances Cabrini, West Bend
June 18, 2002-Oct. 1, 2002: Graduate Studies, Canon Law, Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
June 17, 2003-June 20, 2011: Pastor, St. Frances Cabrini, West Bend
June 21, 2011-Present: Pastor, Rector, Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee
March 17, 2017-Present: Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Milwaukee
March 17, 2017: Ordained a Bishop by Most Rev. Jerome E. Listecki, Archdiocese of Milwaukee, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee
June 20, 2017: Named Vicar General