Before Milwaukee seminarians even get off the plane to begin their studies in Rome, one person is already looking out for them – Milwaukee native Cardinal James M. Harvey, former prefect of the papal household whom Benedict XVI elevated to the College of Cardinals Nov. 24.

harvey2New U.S. Cardinal James M. Harvey, former prefect of the papal household, blesses a guest before Pope Benedict XVI’s audience at the Vatican Nov. 26. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Newly ordained Fr. Jacob Strand, who’s in his last year of studies in Rome, recalled in an email to your Catholic Herald, how Cardinal Harvey contacted him to talk shortly after he arrived.

“I was humbled by Cardinal Harvey’s sincere interest in my life and vocation,” he said of the simple and casual nature of their conversation that took place within a few days. “Above all I was struck by Cardinal Harvey’s humility. I knew that he has an important position as prefect of the papal household and that he was daily with the pope and yet he seemed to be just a normal, loving priest.”

Fr. Phillip Bogacki, associate pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, Brookfield, said he and fellow seminarians studying at The American College of The Immaculate Conception had the same experience when they visited Rome from Louvain, Belgium, where he studied from September 2004 through July 2009.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t as close to him as some of the guys in Rome, but that’s what’s kind of cool. Even though I wasn’t in Rome, he still treated me very well and always sought (me) out when (I was) around. …” Fr. Bogacki told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview. “You never really had to get in touch with him to tell him you would be in Rome. He, somehow, just knew – he knew and you eventually would get an invitation to dinner or he’d get together if could, depending on the pope’s schedule.”

Cardinal Harvey always kept in touch and reached out to the Milwaukee visitors, according to Fr. Bogacki, who had concerns about studying so far from home.

“When I was asked to study in Europe, I certainly was concerned about homesickness and being away, and I really appreciated that hometown touch with Cardinal Harvey,” Fr. Bogacki said. “He would always reach out and I knew that he was there and still had Milwaukee very much in his heart.”

That Cardinal Harvey was among six chosen by the pope to receive the “red hat” came as no surprise to Fr. Bogacki, who described him as a man who never wanted to “climb the ladder” in the church.

“I think for many people it’s no surprise. He was so highly respected that it was just a matter of time,” he said.

Fr. Bogacki also said Cardinal Harvey exemplifies humility, one reason his new role fits him well.

“He was a true servant of the church and continues to be, and, thankfully, sometimes those people are recognized for that as I think is the case right now in (him) being named a cardinal,” said Fr. Bogacki, who hopes the change will allow Cardinal Harvey’s personality to come out through his preaching and pastoral ministry.

The cardinal is also an “excellent” diplomat, according to Fr. Bogacki.

“He was always very respectful of confidentiality and that was his line of work, which means he couldn’t talk about a lot of things that he did, but you always felt that he was very present and he was sharing information,” the priest said. “But like a good diplomat, you realized afterwards that he didn’t say anything that was out of line, or that you didn’t really know anyway, publicly.”

Cardinal Harvey’s diplomatic skills made him perfect in his role in the pontifical household and someone whom Fr. Bogacki said the popes could trust entirely.

“That’s hard to find, sometimes, people without other motives or who are looking for attention, and that goes into his humility,” he said. “He could have bragged about the world leaders he met, about the things he does on a daily basis, but he never would.”

Fr. Strand also said that Cardinal Harvey might be the most humble man he’s met.

“He is genuinely interested in every person he meets and takes great delight in being able to serve others,” Fr. Strand wrote. “His concern for everyone – both the famous and the unknown – is a true example of what it means to be a father and a priest.”

He also said Cardinal Harvey’s elevation into the College of Cardinals, the third priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be so designated, is an honor for the archdiocese.

“The soil of Milwaukee is truly a fertile place for the church,” he wrote. “We are blessed to be from such an outstanding archdiocese.”

Fr. Bogacki echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a continued testament to the high quality clergy that are touched by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and formed in Milwaukee, and it’s a testament to Milwaukee that such fine men, like Cardinal Harvey, have the Milwaukee connections,” he said. “That’s not accidental – I think that there’s a real connection there.”