Parishioners and staff at both the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Milwaukee and St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Geneva awoke on Jan. 25, to the exact same news: Pope Francis had appointed their pastor to the role of auxiliary bishop.
And just like that, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee got two new bishops – formerly Fr. Jeff Haines and Fr. Jim Schuerman – and the Cathedral and St. Francis de Sales both accepted the charge to relinquish their respective shepherds for the greater good.
“We can’t hog him anymore,” said Pat Wisialowski, pastoral associate at the Cathedral, of Bishop Haines.
“We know that he’s a good man, and we have to share these good men,” said Judie Weeks, parish secretary at St. Francis de Sales, of Bishop Schuerman. “We have been very, very fortunate to have Fr. Jim here for the years that we have.”
Schuerman a “true friend” to his flock, bridging gaps and leading by example
In conversations with Bishop Schuerman’s current and former parishioners, comparisons to Pope Francis’ pastoral style abound. It is a closeness with the people of God and a quiet but profound leadership style that distinguishes his priesthood, they say.
“That was Fr. Jim – being amongst the people, always that quiet demeanor,” said Deacon Phil Kilkenny of St. Andrew in Delavan, where Bishop Schuerman was appointed administrator in 2009. “Parishioners took to him very easily.”
“He’s someone I can call a true friend,” said Tom Bertrand, a parishioner at St. Andrew. “Sometimes people are in awe of their priest, but he’s a very laid-back person. He’s extremely easy to approach and talk with.”
That accessibility is a direct result of Bishop Schuerman’s ability to truly listen to others, said Paul Schmelzer, also of St. Andrew. Schmelzer described Bishop Schuerman as a “thoughtful, calm, quiet person. He’s a very good listener, but he is actively listening, he’s not passively sitting there,” he said.
“In the parish council, he would allow the council to conduct our business, but at the appropriate time, he would offer his thought or his insight and it was always worth hearing.”
“He wasn’t overbearing or had a leadership style that was very demanding,” agreed Deacon Kilkenny. “His first year, I remember he said that he wasn’t going to ruffle any feathers right away; he was going to just observe and go along with things and then make changes later on, which was a good way to do things.”
His listening skills also made Bishop Schuerman an “excellent confessor,” said Deacon Kilkenny. “That’s one of his priestly strengths.”
Martha Cucco is a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Geneva, where Bishop Schuerman has served as pastor since 2012.
“When you first meet him, your impression is that he’s a very, very quiet, serious person. He doesn’t really say much, and that’s really what is one of the most wonderful things about him, is his ability to listen and take it all in,” she said. “But as you get to know him, he’s an extremely smart man, he’s really funny. He has a great sense of humor – it takes a while for him to let that side of him show, but he’s a really funny guy.”
As an administrator, she said, he’s a “collaborative” leader. “At meetings, he has an interesting approach that I try to learn and emulate. He doesn’t rule or dictate, he kind of lets the group work it through and then come to a decision and it’s always pretty much the right decision.”
“I would say the most impressive thing to me about him is that he takes time with everyone,” said Cucco. “If someone comes in and has a need for spiritual direction, for example, or some sort of crisis, he ushers them right in. I was just over at church right now and he’s got a pile of papers on his desk and he’s looking through his calendar trying to figure out combining his pastoral duties with his new bishop duties, and the phone rang and he’s, you know –‘St Francis Parish, how can I help you?’ – because the secretary was gone for the day. You just can’t get someone who’s more real or more human or more compassionate.”
He knows all the students in the parish school by name, added Cucco. “If he’s doing a school Mass, he walks among the kids and asks them questions.”
“If I had to sum Bishop Jim up in one word, it would be thoughtful,” said Schmelzer. His favorite memory of Schuerman is when the latter, while serving at St. Andrew, unexpectedly attended the visitation of Schmelzer’s mother-in-law. The deceased was not a parishioner and did not know then-Fr. Schuerman personally; she was originally from Green Bay and had only moved to the Delavan area recently.
“During the course of the visitation, Fr. Jim showed up and came in and prayed with us,” said Schmelzer. “And I’m not even sure how he knew that this woman was my wife’s mother, or that the visitation was being held. But there he was. It was so spontaneous and so personally meaningful and thoughtful. It also said a lot to those who were in attendance, many of whom were not Catholic at all. There he was, and it was very, very much in keeping with his style.”
His pastoral sensibility has been shaped by his upbringing and the unique experiences that make up his resume, said Cucco.
“He has a very extensive theological background, he knows several different languages, he’s studied in Innsbruck, he’s spent time in the Dominican Republic living among the people and ministering to them,” she said. “So he’s had some really interesting life experiences. He grew up on a farm very close to our parish (in Lyons, Wis.) so he has family nearby that he’s very close to, and he’s just a very down-to-earth, simple person.”
“I think farm life really makes a good person out of you,” said Bertrand. “You learn how to be a good worker, you have a good work ethic.” And true to his background teaching at St. Francis de Sales Seminary, where he served on the faculty from 1997 to 2009. It added an in intellectual depth to his role that impressed parishioners.
“He spent some really good time at the seminary teaching, and he loved that,” Bertrand said. “And during Mass, his homilies were always inspiring – you just wanted to listen to them.”
It was his experience with the Hispanic culture, honed while spending four years as missionary pastor to an Archdiocesan sister parish in the Dominican Republic, that has helped to bridge the gap between the glish-speaking communities that thrive both at St.
Andrew and at St. Francis de Sales.
“I think he has brought our two communities together because of him speaking the language,” said Carole Nevins, a parishioner at St. Francis de Sales. “You know, a lot of us didn’t (interact with the Spanish-speaking community), when they first started becoming part of our parish and had their own Mass, really, and I think that he has really brought the cultures together. I’ve made so many new friends because of that.”
Schuerman spends a great deal of time each week translating his pastoral letter in the bulletin so that it will appear in both English and Spanish, said Cucco. “I think that (outreach to the Hispanic community) will be one of his giant contributions to the archdiocese. He’s very in tune with the culture … and very supportive of their customs.”
So what can the archdiocese expect of their new auxiliary bishop?
“An open door, I would think,” said Weeks. “He drops everything to take care of people of this parish and anyone who comes to the door. I can’t come up with enough adjectives (for him) – kind, humble, caring, giving, devoted. He’s the real deal.”
“I feel so bad for us losing him,” said Nevins. “But I’m very, very excited for the diocese’s gain.”
For current, former and future parishioners, “Fr. Jeff” always has time
Among those who know him, Bishop Jeff Haines’ gift for time management is regarded as a minor miracle.
Allegedly, he has the same number of hours in each day as everyone else. And yet, he seems to do so much more with them.
“He takes his time with everybody. He has time for everyone. No matter how many stacks of paper, how many emails are waiting, how many voicemail messages,” said Wisialowski. “He is always, always there …and the time he takes every single week to work on his homily, the preparation, the research … everything is so well-thought-out, well-prepared.”
Amid this packed schedule, it is said – and this is where the supernatural may come into play – that he never seems to be rushed.
“He makes you feel like he’s totally interested – because he is – totally interested in how you’re doing, in what’s going on,” she continued. “You never see the pressure or the weight of anything.”
“He always puts the person first,” said Deacon Mike Koebel, who worked with Bishop Haines for 14 years at St. Frances Cabrini Parish in West Bend. “If there’s something going on where someone needs to talk, someone needs to be anointed, needs spiritual guidance – Fr. Jeff will drop everything and be there to support and show love to that person.”
“It’s not overstating the fact to say that Fr. Jeff saw me, personally, through the worst times of my life,” said Ann Fowler, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini Parish. “He’ll drop everything and give whatever time he can to help whoever needs help … we could just feel that he really cared about us and really wanted to make the Gospel come as alive for us in our real lives as was possible.”
As an associate pastor at St. Eugene Congregation in Fox Point from 1991 to 1996, said parishioner Pat Quinn-Casper, Bishop Haines “bore tremendous responsibilities” but “was able to guide people into the roles and responsibilities for which they were best suited.”
That ability to delegate to those around him and to utilize their talents is one of his best and most “refreshing” administrative qualities, said Deacon Koebel. “He was willing to let go and basically allow others to take on responsibilities – he enabled people and empowered people to do things that most pastors would normally like to control. But his most important thing was shepherding his flock, and being with the people.”
“I feel like I learned how to be with people from him – how to be there in moments of grief, how to be there in moments of joy, just how to be present, and that intentionality of presence,” said Emily Schumacher-Novak, who was a middle school student at Cabrini when Bishop Haines arrived at the parish in 1996. He would later be her Confirmation sponsor, preside at her wedding Mass in 2009, and baptize both of her sons. Today, she is a Cathedral parishioner and has worked in ministry herself at Marquette University.
“When I was a freshman at Marquette, he was downtown for business and said hey, let’s go to lunch,” she said. “He just really encouraged me on whatever path I was choosing – I happened to be looking at a theology degree at that time, and he was really enthusiastic about that, helping me to be a discerning person, never pushing but just sort of asking important questions.”
Chuck Benjamin, a parishioner at St. Frances Cabrini, described Bishop Haines as a “humble servant” who walks with his flock, not ahead of them.
And he was never afraid to go outside of his comfort zone – whether that meant pressing ahead on a large capital campaign or signing up for the parish festival dunk tank.
“We did a dunk tank one year at the parish festival, and Fr. Jeff volunteers to go into the dunk tank. It’s not warm; it’s cold … and people like to get ‘the boss’ in the tank,” said Benjamin. “Poor Fr. Jeff – this little guy comes up out of nowhere and hits the thing and he goes down and actually cut himself, had to get stitches, the whole bit. Most people would be a little upset at least, but he was (unfazed). He was going to get back up into the tank and go for more!”
“That was the last year we had a dunk tank,” said Fowler with a laugh. “Just the fact that he was going to agree to do that drew lots of people.”
Wisialowski credits Bishop Haines’ easy pastoral style to his strong family support system. His parents, Jim and Maureen “Mo” Haines, have always been a notable presence at whatever parish he serves, and these days can often be seen attending Mass at the Cathedral with one of his three siblings and their families.
“You can certainly tell how he has turned out to be the person that he is by looking at his family, his parents and his siblings,” she said.
Parishioners at all of Bishop Haines’ parishes are familiar with his family from his homilies. “His homilies always focused on universal experiences – most often based on his own family relationships and experiences,” said Quinn-Casper.
“The stories are what stuck with me. I can still remember the very first one he gave, however many years ago,” said Fowler. “I think it’s just like Jesus always did with parables, telling a story to make a point, and that was very true with Jeff’s stories.”
“He uses self-effacing or self-deprecating humor to put people at ease and put a smile on their faces, but I think the intent behind that is to make them feel comfortable so that he can reach out to them and be a pastor to them,” said Paul Hinkfuss, a parishioner at the Cathedral. “Then after he gets to know them and they get to know him, he goes about ministering to them and addressing their needs and helping them as best he can.”
Hinkfuss said that he will bring “a tireless work ethic” to his role as bishop.
“The Cathedral’s loss is the archdiocese’s gain,” he said. “His qualities will be on full display now for the entire archdiocese, which is a blessing that will extend to all.”
“If there was ever a priest who came as close to showing unconditional love to every child of God, Fr. Jeff would be that man,” said Deacon Koebel. “None of us can be totally perfect that way, but he was the closest I’ve ever seen to showing unconditional love.”
“He just keeps expanding his ministry and that’s what he’ll do with the diocese. He’ll be an incredibly humble servant and the archdiocese is going to get a very hardworking, holy bishop,” said Benjamin. “We are really blessed.”