As I enter my 18th year as a bishop, I remember my first year and adjusting to the fact that I was a public person. As priest and pastor, of course, I was a public person but my thoughts and reflections were limited to the communities I served, which were predominately Catholic. But, as a bishop, I was engaged in the public forum and quickly discovered that opinions and reflections were sought by more than just Catholics but by the general public. I realized that I represented for many, the local church, and my world and influence became a bit larger.
I was trying to get my bearings as a new bishop when a reporter asked me what my priorities were as a bishop and leader. I had been contemplating what seemed to be important to the Catholic community and its development. I know that the reporter wanted me to make some statement that would create controversy; for instance, take an issue that the public and the Catholic community itself differed on. I guess that I was a disappointment in my response because I viewed the priorities as that which would serve to strengthen the Church so that the mission of Jesus Christ could continue and we the followers would be strengthened.
I decided then, perhaps through the grace of the Holy Spirit, that my priorities would be Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship. I have discovered as the years have passed and my tenure as a bishop has passed from “rookie” to “senior” status that those priorities have not changed. They have become for me a guideline and point of reference. As a short-hand explanation, Catholic Identity is “who we are,” Evangelization is “what we do,” and Stewardship is “how we do it.”
Every bishop brings his own particular characteristics and charisms to the position; we are formed and fashioned for the work by our own God-given talents and the communities that challenged us in our priestly and episcopal formation. Although every bishop is different, we do learn from others who have modeled leadership. I was fortunate to have a number of mentors whose episcopal presence I admired, each contributing to my understanding of episcopal leadership.
I was ordained a bishop by Francis Cardinal George. He was an intellectual giant whose clarity in understanding the teachings and positions of the Church gave confidence to all representing the Church in the public forum. He never ducked a controversy and you were proud to stand with his leadership.
Archbishop James Keleher, former Archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, was one of my co-consecrators. If there is a social genius type, then Archbishop Keleher would fall into that category (I believe my predecessor, Cardinal Dolan, would also be in that category). He had the ability to know everyone in the room and everyone, whether friend or foe, liked him. He used that popularity to bring others to the Church and a deeper relationship with Christ.
Archbishop John Valzny, former Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, was the other co-consecrator. Archbishop Vlazny was a master at bringing people together. He was never afraid to be seen in the middle of an argument, often bringing respectability to the issues and to their presenters. When Archbishop Vlazny was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Chicago, I remember many of the priests of my home archdiocese saying if you can’t work with John Vlazny then you can’t work with anyone.
Archbishop Thomas Murphy was my rector at the major seminary and became Bishop of Billings/Great Falls and then later Archbishop of Seattle. Archbishop Murphy preached and lived stewardship as a way of Catholic life. He would go out of his way to assist dioceses in promoting stewardship not as a handout but a hand up for the Catholic community.
Bishop John Darcy of Fort Wayne/South Bend believed in accountability and I observed him as he held the various organizations in the diocese in their adherence to Church teachings and positions.
Bishop Alfred Abramowicz was auxiliary bishop in Chicago, serving the Polish community. He understood the importance of maintaining the integration of cultural traditions to the practice of the faith.
All of these men had a discipline of prayer; they loved the Church and understood themselves as servants of the communities they were assigned to lead. I was blessed to observe their leadership and they challenged my growth through their actions.
As I reflect on decisions that I have made over my almost 15 years in the position of directing a diocese and an archdiocese, I can see the contribution these mentors have made in the areas of Catholic Identity, Evangelization and Stewardship.
Although the three priorities have been a vision for the archdiocese on a macro level, they can also be applied on a micro level that is in our own individual lives.
Catholic Identity: (who we are) Have I grown in my knowledge of the faith over the year or years? How familiar am I with the Church’s teachings? What do I read (more than the Church bulletin) that reflects a sound Catholic identity? Ask yourself what thing you discovered about Church’s teaching that you didn’t know last year.
Evangelization: (what I do) In what manner have you shared the faith with your spouse, children, neighbors or co-workers? Have I increased my missionary spirit? Do I incorporate the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in my weekly routine? Do I let people know that faith is an important part of my life?
Stewardship: (how I do it) Time, treasure and talent. Do I sacrifice my time to support my parish as a member of the council, or when church organizations need support? Are my monetary donations a proper reflection of my income or am I giving the same amount that I gave 20 years ago? Do I seek to share my talent (music, writing, business, computers, etc.) in order to make my parish stronger and more dynamic? How do I exercise ownership over my membership in my local parish?
Reflect on the mentors in your life that have contributed to your development as a Catholic (parent, grandparent, teacher, religious sister, priest or friend), reflect on what part they played in your formation and offer a prayer of thanks.
I am convinced that joining the practice of our faith (Sunday Mass, frequent Reconciliation and daily prayer) to the assessment of the three priorities will not only create the dynamic Catholic that Matthew Kelly writes about, but will place us on the path of holiness a vocation shared by all.