She’s had about eight surgeries in the last two years to help repair damage caused by sexual and physical abuse she endured as a child.Bishop Donald J. Hying speaks during a memorial service for aborted babies at Holy Cross Cemetery, Milwaukee, held on the National Day of Remembrance for Aborted Children, Sept. 14, 2013. (Catholic Herald photo by John Kimpel)

This client of the Franciscan Peacemakers’ outreach to women, men and children who engage in prostitution in Milwaukee streets, headquartered at St. Martin de Porres Church in Milwaukee, has a “horrific history,” according to the nonprofit organization’s director, Deacon Steve Przedpelski. 

But a certain bishop has taken time to work with clients like her.

“He’s been really walking a spiritual journey with her, and that has been the most impactful thing he has done, and a powerful witness,” Deacon Przedpelski said of Bishop Donald J. Hying, explaining the auxiliary called him to ask what he could do to help after reading features about Franciscan Peacemakers in the Catholic Herald and Journal Sentinel.

“I gave him a laundry list of things,” he told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview, noting that Bishop Hying took on a “big chunk” of the dozen.

Bishop Hying not only gathered with Franciscan Peacemaker volunteers, including Deacon Przedpelski, to administer anointing of the sick to the client, but he has continued supporting her in other ways.

“When he’s been out of town, for instance, he’s, not every time, but when he’s able to, he’s called her before, prior to going into surgery or following up with her after surgery, taking her out for dinner to try to help her understand how much she’s loved, with everyone that is her support team,” Deacon Przedpelski said.

Bishop Hying also bought 100 bars of soap from the organization’s “Gifts for the Journey” bath products venture whose sales supported the Clare Community that houses three women who enroll in its two-year program offering healing of the mind, spirit and body – and sold them to coworkers at the Cousins Center to help raise more money for the organization.

He has helped Franciscan Peacemakers reflect on their work as an organization, blessed the Clare Community Center when it opened and spread the word about them – Deacon Przedpelski estimated that Bishop Hying’s enthusiasm and efforts have brought in about $5,000 in sales.

“He’s been a great source of encouragement to me personally when I’m feeling dejected and at times not seeming like making a difference, and he just said to keep at it and helped us really talk about the whole aspect of human trafficking and street prostitution in many groups,” Deacon Przedpelski said of the organization founded by two Capuchin priests almost 20 years ago. “He’s just a strong advocate for what we do but, again, spiritually what he meant … that is what’s going to be missed the most.”

It’s not the only group that will miss Bishop Hying, who will be installed as bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, Jan. 6, 2015.

He has been busy – just look at Bishop Hying’s weekly public calendar.

When he wasn’t presiding at confirmations or installing priests as pastors, he was attending board meetings, celebrating Masses at various parishes, for schools, different organizations or for the radio, giving blessings and presentations. And that doesn’t include things that aren’t on his calendar, like time spent volunteering at The Guest House, which provides shelter, housing and other services to Milwaukee’s homeless.

Never says ‘No’

Susan Wawrzonek, Bishop Hying’s secretary for three-and-a-half years, is going to miss the “gentle, humble, simple man” who doesn’t say “No.”

“That word never comes out of his mouth. This is the first time in three and a half years, like right now, that he is saying ‘no.’ … He always says ‘yes’ or somehow fits it into his schedule or he won’t even put it on his calendar, he’ll just go and do something….” She said in an interview with the Catholic Herald. “He’ll go do visits to the hospital, and I’ll go, ‘Well, that wasn’t on your calendar,’ (and Bishop Hying will say) ‘Well, yeah, you don’t need to know everything.’”

Bishop Donald J. Hying leads a May crowning celebration with Roses for Our Lady at the Archdiocesan Marian Shrine, Milwaukee, in this 2012 file photo. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)

She doesn’t schedule anything without asking Bishop Hying about it first, but his answer is always the same.

“He wants to make sure that whatever his people ask of him, he does – that’s why he gets himself in so much trouble … his days are always one thing right after another,” she said, noting his Fridays off, were not off limits – he recently helped with a funeral for his good friend’s father on his day off.

“He’ll try to go out of his way to help and do something for people no matter what it is,” she said. “He’s just a good guy.”

Presence on the sidewalks

Bishop Hying has been out on the sidewalks with Pro-Life Wisconsin, also serving as spiritual adviser, and Wisconsin Right to Life, promoting life and praying at abortion facilities, celebrating Mass, leading eucharistic processions and Benediction, participating in prayer rallies and 40 Days for Life vigils, and giving talks.

Veronica Ceszynski, executive director of Milwaukee Birthright, a non-sectarian and nonprofit organization offering assistance to women facing an unplanned pregnancy, said Bishop Hying also spoke at their annual meeting in November. She wanted a speaker who would bring their message to guests.

“I called his office and his secretary said that she would talk to him,” Ceszynski told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview. “Usually, Friday is his day off, but she called me back and said, ‘For you, he’ll take his Friday off some other time.’ … I was really, truly humbled by that.”

Ceszynski said people are still talking about his speech.

“He’s very inspiring and he comes at it not from a dogmatic way, but from a real, human touch,” she said. “He seems to speak to each person individually and gets them to understand how truly valuable each person’s life is.”

She would have liked him to serve on Milwaukee Birthright’s board of directors, but said the Diocese of Gary needs someone like him, adding, “We did, too.”

Member of many boards

Bishop Hying has served on many boards as auxiliary, including Sacred Heart School of Theology’s board of directors; Saint Francis de Sales Seminary’s board of trustees, as chair and vice president; Inspirio Youth Ministries Inc.’s board of directors; Cardinal Stritch University’s St. Clare Center for Catholic Life board; and The Catholic Community Foundation’s board of directors.

Mary Ellen Markowski, president of The Catholic Community Foundation, told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview that Bishop Hying has given the nonprofit corporation that supports effective philanthropy for donors and parishes, schools and other Catholic organizations in southeastern Wisconsin, a “wonderful perspective on the entire Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the 10 counties that it covers.”

“He truly knows the people and the needs and the interests and, for us, that’s been a wonderful help, because we’re committed to helping the people of southeastern Wisconsin and I know that’s his mission also. …” Markowski said of Bishop Hying, who has served on the board since about 2011. “I think the thing that’s really amazing to me is it’s not whether they’re Catholic or any other religion or any other faith commitment, it’s about the people and they all fit the mission of the church and they’re all God’s people, and I think that’s one of the things that he really portrays in everything he does.”

Markowski said Bishop Hying always made time to meet with her and offered help with phone calls or meeting with people despite his busy schedule.

“He will be a blessing to the Diocese of Gary because they are getting a man who truly knows what it is to be a shepherd of the people,” she wrote in a follow-up email.

Then-Fr. Donald J. Hying joins Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki, left, and members of 40 Days for Life Friday, April 15, 2011, in front of Affiliated Medical Services, Milwaukee, to pray for the unborn and for women who visit the facility where abortions are performed. (Catholic Herald photo by Juan C. Medina)Ron Zeilinger, director of Dismas Ministry, told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview that Bishop Hying has served in a dual role as a board member – the archbishop’s delegate and liaison with the archdiocese – for the nonprofit, national Catholic outreach among inmates and those affected by crime. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki appointed him when Bishop Richard J. Sklba retired in 2010.

“He’s been just a good mentor and a spiritual guide when we had our retreats and the board meetings,” Zeilinger said. “He’s very appreciative of the work we do and he’s expressed that many times, and I think it’s such a good fit with his own compassion and his dedication to the Gospel. … He’s been a good companion and mentor for us in that sense.”

Bishop Hying has also offered the ministry support as a prayer warrior in the Prayer Union.

“We have a whole donor list and those are the people that donate financially, but then we have these prayer warriors and their role is just to pray for us and Bishop Hying is part of that prayer union … that’s very important to us,” Zeilinger said. “I stress that constantly because our work is spiritual and we’re trying to reach the hearts and the minds and the souls of the incarcerated; that prayer is really going to be central and a foundation to that.”

Regular visitor to the incarcerated 

Bishop Hying has also visited correctional facilities, including the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility in Racine where Julie, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Parish who asked that her last name be withheld, has volunteered for about two years.

During that time, Bishop Hying visited once to celebrate Mass, and twice to confirm three young men.

“One of the things I love is when I email him and say we have somebody who needs to be confirmed, he puts me right on the calendar,” Julie told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview. “Sometimes, it’s like a two-month wait, but I mean he never says, ‘Oh, I’ll get back to you,’ he always says, ‘I’m coming,’ and gives me the earliest possible date.”

She couldn’t remember the words of Bishop Hying’s homily from one of the confirmations, but a young man did.

“I asked one young man who was confirmed what he remembered most, and I thought he was going to say the oil or being anointed … he said, no, what he remembered most was Bishop Don’s homily, and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I didn’t even remember word for word what it was,’” she laughed.

The young men were happy and counted down the weeks when they knew Bishop Hying was coming.

“I just think to me it says humility. …” she said, describing Bishop Hying as down-to-earth and easygoing. “He never came on as saying, ‘I’m the bishop’; it was always, ‘I’m one of you, I’m your brother in Christ.’”

Demonstrates servant leadership

Julie wasn’t the only one who said Bishop Hying showed his sincere interest in the people he served.

Peter J. Schulteis, past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 6646 at Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee, said Bishop Hying is one in a million and that they were lucky to have him as parish priest for six years.

Bishop Hying has a hard time saying no, but back then Schulteis said saying no to Fr. Hying was tough when he was asking you to buy the last paddlegame number for a chance to spin the wheel and win prizes at the parish festival. 

Deborah Duskey, executive director of the Milwaukee County Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview that Bishop Hying has been a supporter as spiritual adviser of the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Council of St. Vincent de Paul.

He has held retreats for them and celebrated Masses.

“He didn’t want to leave being our spiritual adviser on the archdiocesan level and we really appreciated that,” she said of Bishop Hying, whom she described as down to earth, approachable and a good friend.

He was a servant leader at their events, too, according to Duskey, who explained promoting the society with an annual awareness month and concluding it with a Mass was his idea.

“He’s actually paid for breakfast for everyone, but he serves it also,” Duskey said. “He’s right there, he’s getting people coffee, he’s smiling, he’s asking them how they are. He’s very humble – that’s just one of the things I can think of and people are always so appreciative of that. They just don’t know everything – you never know what he does because he really gives from his heart, and with humor. He’s always got a story and a smile and a twinkle in his eye.”

Committed to young adults

Joe Nettesheim, executive director of Inspirio Youth Ministry Inc., told the Catholic Herald in an email that Bishop Hying, who served on the board from June 2012 to December 2014 during its transition from Tyme Out Youth Center, also has a commitment to youth and young adult ministry.

“In addition to Bishop Hying’s board work, he also participated in the advancement of the organization through conducting sessions during which he advocated for Inspirio and the needs of youth,” Nettesheim wrote. “He has a deep and authentic commitment to youth and the renewal of the church and its ability to make a difference in the lives of youth.”

Nettesheim knew Bishop Hying when he was serving as coordinator of Global Youth Mission for World Mission Ministries and the bishop was the pastor at La Sagrada Familia in the Dominican Republic.

“Even then his dry sense of humor and pastoral skills were noticeable,” he wrote. “During one of our visits the son of one of our Dominican ‘parents,’ who was living in New York, died. He was a young man so it was devastating to the family. Bishop Hying was excellent ministering to the family and helping our group of high school youth make sense of this tragic experience. His care for people will be greatly missed in Milwaukee.”

Bishop Hying was up for anything – whether serving as spiritual adviser and doing weekend retreats for de Chantal society, women of faith who pray for vocations, or serving as spiritual director to the Consecrated Virgins, celebrating Mass and holding retreats and reflections for Roses for Our Lady or auctioning himself off for fundraisers.

Guest bartender raises cash

Last December, he even served as a guest bartender for the Catholic Charities Christmas giving event at Kip’s Inn, a bar in West Allis.

Sharon Brumer, communications manager for Catholic Charities, said Bishop Hying was there to thank everyone for helping sponsor a few families for Christmas, something Kip’s Inn had been doing for the past five years.

As he walked around thanking everyone for their contributions, one bartender asked to get a picture with him for her mother.

“He came behind the bar and they took their picture together and then the owner says, ‘Oh, you look so comfortable back there,’ …” Brumer recalled. “He said, ‘Yeah, it feels pretty good back here,’ and that’s how it came about.”

They scheduled a date and had a training session on how to mix and pour a day or so before the event.

“He was mixing drinks, he was pouring beer, even some of the patrons were asking him to go get them popcorn and then he would do that – he was just a sweetheart and people were so impressed with how genuine he was, how energetic, how happy and how filled with the Spirit,” she said. “I mean, this is how all people of faith should be and it was just wonderful.”

Brumer said in about four hours, they raised $4,000.

“It was just really, really fun and really gave people, I think, a whole different view of how religious (men and women), how human they are too – it’s not just the sacramental, it also means meeting and sharing of yourself with other people and he did this all to help Catholic Charities.”

Even though Bishop Hying’s moving to a new diocese and has had to give up the responsibilities and positions he held in Milwaukee, he’ll continue to be chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Region VII, the USCCB Episcopal Liaison to the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, and board member of the Institute for Religious Life and of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, La Crosse.

Wawrzonek said she knew Bishop Hying would move on sometime, she just thought the announcement would happen a little later in 2015 – not before the New Year.

“He always says the Lord takes care of him no matter what. … He really is a very devout man, so he says the Lord just plucks him out where he’s got problems, plucks him out and puts him someplace else and says, ‘Here, now fix this.’” Wawrzonek said. “He said, whatever the Lord tells him to do, he’ll do.”

But he’ll be “sorely missed,” she said, because so many people know the West Allis native from his time as a parish priest, seminary rector and bishop.

“Yeah, we’re gonna miss him,” she said.