He may have just been named auxiliary bishop, but she doesn’t think Bishop Donald J. Hying will stop there. Debbie Brotz, Bishop Hying’s assistant since June 2008, and the seminary’s event planner, wouldn’t be surprised if Bishop Hying became a cardinal someday.
“We just knew that it was pretty inevitable that he was going to be bishop one day and I don’t doubt he goes on even further at some point,” Brotz said, adding that while he’s going to be a wonderful gift to the archdiocese, Bishop Don will be missed at the seminary.
“I know his life is going to change a lot here, but I feel deep in my soul that that will never change no matter what – bishop, cardinal or whatever,” she laughed.
It’s his balance of seriousness, prayer life and humor that make Bishop Hying the rector that seminarians love and respect.
Bishop Hying will temporarily remain rector, a role Brotz said he manages well.
“I think the one thing that’s always just stood out to me is the seminarians have such respect for him, yet he can still joke with them, be their friend…” said Brotz, who attends Lumen Christi Parish in Mequon. “He’s got that ability to do that both ways – to be the rector and make things run the way they’re supposed to and expect a lot from the men.”
‘Straight-shootin’, honest rootin’ tootin’ guy’
Fr. James Lobacz, master of ceremonies for the archbishop and the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and vicar for senior clergy, said that Bishop Hying “is a simple, straight-forward, honest man who may not like confrontation but just knows it has to happen from time to time so he is decisive – he consults – but he is decisive, so there’s this kind of straight-shootin’, honest, rootin’ tootin’ sort of guy.” He compared Bishop Hying to an old TV Western. “You know, the good guy with the badge, (who is) very honest and blunt and calls it how it is,” Fr. Lobacz said. “That’s a big part of who Fr. Don is, so the spiritual side is very strong, the honesty side is very strong, in my opinion. You always know where you stand with him … there’s no question about it, everything’s out in the open and in the light.”
Bishop Hying is also human to the seminarians, Brotz said. “I think that’s been such a success, and they know that everything he talks about when he presents sessions, and that it’s sincere and faith-filled and from his heart, and he means every word of it,” Brotz said. “There’s no show.”
The seminarians listen to him because they can see by his example the right way to be a priest, she said. “It’s not just the big guy sitting in an office and not really taking the time to talk and to be with them, and I just I think that’s really, really important,” said Brotz, who worked with Bishop Hying when she was parish secretary, and he was pastor, at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee.
“I mean, from the first day he walked into Our Lady of Good Hope and announced himself as the fact that he was going to be pastor there, and told us right then and there that this is where he wants to be and he loves us … you knew he meant it,” Brotz said, recalling Bishop Hying’s involvement in all aspects of the parish festival – from selling paddles to working in the dunk tank to washing dishes. “It’s just the way about him, I mean he doesn’t just talk about things, he does things.”
Love for parishioners is evident
The love Bishop Hying had for his parishioners from the moment he stepped through its doors, is something that Fr. Sean O’Connell, associate pastor of St. Dominic in Brookfield, said he tries to mimic in his ministry.
“You couldn’t ask for a holier, more enthusiastic, more loving, dedicated priest….” he said, explaining that Fr. Hying fulfilled his request when Fr. O’Connell asked the rector to vest him at his ordination Mass. “It was really an honor to have him do that because I saw in Fr. Don Hying a vision of the priest that I wanted to be when I was ordained. I’m a long way from it, but I’m working every day,” Fr. O’Connell said.
As rector, Bishop Hying cultivated “Seminary Sundays,” when he presides at a parish’s weekend Masses and encourages young men to consider vocations to the priesthood.
It’s something that Fr. Michael Witczak, Bishop Hying’s predecessor as seminary rector, and Bishop Hying, dean of human formation at the time, worked on together. Bishop Hying is the one who really “took the bull by the horns” and evolved it into something dynamic and special, according to Fr. Witczak.
Fr. Witczak, assistant professor of liturgical studies in the School of Theolgy and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has known Bishop Hying since about 1985 when the bishop was a bright student who took his studies seriously and was interested in learning the traditions of the church and theology in Fr. Witczak’s class.
“I always thought he was someone who always thought of theology as something that needed to be applied to the realities of people’s lives, so I always thought he had a very pastoral sense about him even as a student, and I think he’s kept those characteristics throughout the years….” Fr. Witczak said, noting the “wonderful” way that Bishop Hying’s made the seminary a visible presence for the archdiocese through his outreach.
Seminary is near, dear to his heart
Brotz has witnessed the importance of the seminary to Bishop Hying.
“The seminary is so important to him and he will give every bit of his time that he can in order to get the word out that we are here, that we are a wonderful place, that we are educating absolutely wonderful men to be priests for our diocese,” Brotz said. “It is just near and dear to his heart and it meant everything to him and he’s worked very hard at getting it to the point that it’s at.”
As keeper of Bishop Hying’s appointment calendar, Brotz daily witnesses his hard work and full schedule. “He definitely is very busy and he definitely does not mind having a full day,” she said of the many appointments he has outside of his duties as rector, including things like giving spiritual direction. “I always joke that his day off is Friday, however, it’s a very rare occasion that he ever had that entire day off,” she laughed. “Yeah, he’s very generous with his time with people, most definitely, and it’s very sincere.”
Fr. O’Connell can attest to Bishop Hying’s many commitments from his experience in the seminary when Bishop Hying was still dean of human formation and no one ever knew where he would be at a given time.
“He’s got like a million things going on at one time, so he might have literally four various separate gatherings or get-togethers with four different groups of people in one night and, somehow, he manages to get to all of them,” Fr. O’Connell said.
Always available to seminarians
Bishop Hying also made himself available to the seminarians at all times, he said.
“He was always just very engaging and welcoming and anytime you needed something – if you had a problem, if you had an issue, if you just wanted someone to talk to – he always had his door open there at the seminary and you could knock on it,” Fr. O’Connell said. “He’d invite you in, sit down, have a conversation with you and you could pretty much talk about anything, whether you wanted to talk about the Packers or whether you wanted to talk about the theology of the Blessed Mother and he’d be there to discuss.”
Fr. O’Connell also said that as a priest and rector, Bishop Hying has a great love for all people.
“Whether he’s working with parishioners at a church or whether he’s working with seminarians who are training for the priesthood, he shows the consistent love and care that a good shepherd would have and someone who gives a lot of credit to people, especially those who might be struggling with something – he understands,” said Fr. O’Connell, adding that the rector’s not quick to judge people and has something to offer everyone. Dinnertime may not mean that Bishop Hying will cook the lasagna, but he’ll offer to clean the dishes.
Willing to use elbow grease
During the seminary priests’ dinners, Fr. Lobacz said he got to know Fr. Don – and his willingness to use his elbow grease – more personally. “Fr. Don is very self-effacing,” Fr. Lobacz said. “He will always say, ‘I don’t cook, but I do a great job on cleaning up, so he will always do the dishes, so it’s in that context that I kind of got to know him and over those dinners that other sides of him start to surface.”
Fr. Lobacz learned that Bishop Hying’s parents have influenced his sense of charity. “His mother was a nurse and had a great sense of charity and his father was a hard-working man and it was a disciplined home very obviously, but disciplined spiritually with regular prayer and Mass and all kinds of things, so I would simply say that I got to know him over the dinner table.”
Bishop Hying’s love for the poor was obvious as well as “his willingness to be there for people in a variety of capacities whether it was going to the homeless shelter, whether it was organizing a clothing drive, whatever it may have been, he seemed to have a great love for helping those who were in need, especially in our own community,” Fr. O’Connell said.
Fr. William Stanfield, the seminary’s vice rector and director of pastoral formation, has known Bishop Hying for almost 30 years, from when the now-bishop was a seminarian doing his internship at St. Anthony Parish in Menomonee Falls where Fr. Stanfield was a priest help-out. In those years, he’s witnessed Bishop Hying’s caring, pastoral nature.
“He’s always paying attention to people’s needs and how he can best serve people….” Fr. Stanfield said, noting that Bishop Hying loved being a parish priest where he could provide service and ministry through the sacraments, counseling and the different ways parish priests interact with the people.
Brotz’s favorite memories are times when she witnessed Fr. Hying helping children receive the sacraments, like when he helped a little boy she described as “fairly, severely disabled,” make his first Communion. More recently, Fr. Hying baptized a little boy with Down syndrome.
‘Fr. Don Hying Fan Club’ active, growing
Brotz explained. “He just has such a sincere compassion for these children and the fact that he’s performing these sacraments, – that’s just very special in my mind.”
Bishop Hying is respected and takes being rector seriously, but when seminarians play pranks or joke around with the bishop, he laughs with them, too. Fr. O’Connell explained how during a Sunday night house meeting along with a formation session in the seminary chapel, the seminarians planned a week earlier to make T-shirts that said “Fr. Don Hying Fan Club,” with a quip that he was putting the “smackdown on heresy” since the year he was ordained, which they presented on his anniversary as rector. Clad in fleeces or sweaters covering up the “humongous” image of the rector sporting his Roman collar on the front of the shirt, Fr. O’Connell, Fr. Luke Strand and their classmates unveiled the fan club shirts. “He literally was rolling on the floor laughing – he loved it,” Fr. O’Connell said, noting that Bishop Hying, the seminarians and everyone who worked at the seminary received the shirts.
“We still have those now, they’re like collector’s items,” he said.
Deacon Ryan Pruess, who will be ordained in May 2012, has on several occasions experienced Bishop Hying’s humor since their introduction in 2005 when he was in the seminary college program as a student at Cardinal Stritch University. He recalled one time during the trip that the whole seminary community took in January when Bishop Hying let out his inner mud monster.
“When we were in Israel, you have an opportunity to go to the Dead Sea and one of the things that you’re supposed to do there is kind of take the mud from the Dead Sea and you’re supposed to rub it all over your face and on your arms and chest and legs and stuff and so you kind of look like a mud monster and he was kind of the first one to do that and had the whole seminary community kind of followed suit.”
Beneath the outgoing and humorous exterior known to many, Fr. O’Connell said that Bishop Hying is also spiritual.
“When you would have a conversation with him or have the chance to sit down and talk to him one on one, you realize that there is a wonderful depth to his understanding about his faith and his relationship with Christ and also his love for the church,” said Fr. O’Connell, who noted that Bishop Hying is a man of great prayer.
“We’d often know that he’d be praying in the chapel in the middle of the night or that he would be participating in his Liturgy of the Hours and encouraging us to be faithful to the promises that we made as deacons – to pray those hours for the church and for the people that were part of the church,” he said.
Fr. Lobacz said the spirituality that Bishop Hying shows through his homilies, in the way he celebrates Mass is the kind a bishop should have.
“He repeatedly would always say how the chapel is the heart of our seminary, and he saw it that way, he lived it that way which is really a magnificent statement, because what you’re looking for in a bishop is a spiritual man,” said Fr. Lobacz.
Chosen for pastoral nature
Fr. Stanfield was hoping that the seminary’s rector was chosen as the auxiliary because of his pastoral nature and the way he challenges him. “I also find that he’s just a very spiritual, prayerful, very, as I said earlier, pastoral person,” Fr. Stanfield said. “He’s always thinking of how we as priests can be best serving people or looking to help bring the message of Jesus Christ on to people in ways that will make their lives richer and better and fuller and those have just been all wonderful opportunities for me to, again, share in that with him, see that in him and to be challenged by his wonderful example.”
Fr. Stanfield said Bishop Hying’s Spanish background will be a wonderful gift for the archdiocese, as well as his speaking skills as a homilist and presenter.
“I think those will be wonderful gifts that he will bring, and I think he’s just going to bring his great self, his personality, the gifts that God has given to him to just enrich the whole archdiocese in not only the work that he’ll be doing with the archbishop and advising him and working in different aspects of archdiocesan life that archbishop will ask him to be involved in, but his continued desire and willingness to be out with people. I just think in some ways he brings a lot of those good gifts that Archbishop (Timothy M.) Dolan had, just loving people and wanting to be out and serving people, but also having a very strong and good sense of what the church is and what we should be about as a part of the body of Christ.”
‘One of the finest seminarians’
Fr. Kenneth Omernick, pastor at St. Charles Parish, Hartland, the seminary’s spiritual director when the bishop was a seminarian in 1981, admitted that Bishop Hying was one of his favorite students. “I mean you try not to have favorites, but in terms of just if you were to ask me, for example, who one of the finest seminarians, one of the finest students for priesthood we ever had, it would certainly be Don Hying,” he said.
To Fr. Omernick, Bishop Hying was amazing at getting support for the seminary, open to new ideas, wonderful with and respected by the seminarians. “So, in that way, being rector was the perfect appointment,” he said. “I think now he is really going to be a fine pastoral, faith-filled bishop and I think we’re very lucky – we’re very blessed, I should say.”
Fr. Omernick hopes that the Bishop Hying is a holy bishop as he has been a holy priest taking on his new role in the archdiocese. He was a great seminarian, but an even better priest with faith that’s evident, a deep commitment to the church and a great preacher, he said.
Bishop Hying is a student that the seminary’s former spiritual director will always remember, and the bishop’s appointment is a “great compliment to (Bishop Hying) and to Milwaukee,” Fr. Omernick said.
“He’s one of those students that where the teacher says, ‘Boy, what a wonderful human being this guy is. What a great priest,’” Fr. Omernick said. “He’s just become a fine priest, which anybody working in the seminary is thrilled about.”
Order extra copies of this publication for $6.25 by calling (414) 769-3500 or sending your order to your Catholic Herald at P.O. Box 070913, Milwaukee, WI 53207-0913. Extra issues are $7 if you order online with a credit card.