Herald of Hope

There is the saying that hindsight is always 20/20. Obviously, when looking back, one easily sees what one should have done, might have done, or avoided. I will comply with the Code of Canon Law 401:1, “A diocesan bishop who has completed his 75th year of age is requested to present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff, who will make provisions after he has examined all the circumstance.” On March 12, I will submit my letter of resignation to Pope Francis. I then will await the pope’s direction and his selection of my replacement.

There is a tendency to look back and linger on the various moments of the past 14 years — moments filled with anxious anticipation, faith-filled challenges and spiritual growth for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and her faithful. However, sometimes we can get lost in the past. Although I affirm the statement of George Santayana (1905): “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.” We must never forget where we have come from, how we got here and those who have sacrificed for us.

Nevertheless, at this point of my tenure as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I would rather dwell on the vision for the future. My future vision may not be 20/20, but it contains the possibility of what might occur when we embrace the teachings of the Church, a commitment to Jesus and a firm practice of the faith. I have often stated that my greatest surprise when I arrived in the archdiocese 14 years ago was the deep level of faith that existed in the lives of so many individuals here — a common shared goal of holiness. So, my future vision is a direction toward the “beatific vision” when past and future give way to the everlasting “now.”

The future builds on the past and the future vision finds its roots in the current accomplishments of our archdiocese. Our Saint Francis de Sales Seminary is thriving and growing. The people of the archdiocese love and respect their priests, and they are greatly impressed with the young priests being produced by the seminary and currently serving their needs. The witness of these newly ordained has affirmed a confidence in the faith. As these young priests mature in their priesthood and engage in a collaborative service with the People of God, I can envision a future that will produce a strong foundation for the Church.

Our permanent deacons grow in numbers, and they continue to expand their areas of service. I can envision a future where the office of the deacons will assist in expanding the areas of evangelization through their presence. With an archdiocesan commitment to the vocations of religious women, I can envision a true growth and complementarity in the service of the Church as young women discern religious lives and consider offering their lives in commitment to parishes, schools and contemplative prayer. The future witness of women religious will present that “feminine” element so necessary for a complete ecclesial family. Professionally trained lay ministers will assist congregations in the support necessary for growth and their attention to religious education, parish business management and liturgy will provide an opportunity to strategize how we can fulfill the Church shifting from a maintenance mentality to a mission mentality, calling people to embrace the Church. I envision a future of growth reaching out calling souls to Christ and inviting them to become members of his Church.

Catholic education in the archdiocese has always been creative and innovative. But in the last decade, a new energy has emerged. Although we will always need a strong religious education program (what used to be referred to as CCD) in our parishes for the sake of our children, there is nothing that can substitute the presence of students in the classroom on a day-to-day basis. The rich formation that our students receive in our schools prepares them to live a faith-filled life. Our strong Catholic schools will provide a foundation for the future. Collaborative efforts in various deaneries have aided parishes in stabilizing the problems of shifting demographics and spiraling costs. Our Seton Schools are an example of a program that serves the most economically vulnerable. There is no denying the success academically and developmentally. I can envision the Catholic schools of Milwaukee being a model for other dioceses; while some dioceses may seek to close schools, we will continue to expand, seeking to establish new schools and prepare for growth.

Catholic Charities of the archdiocese fulfills the responsibility we have as Christians to aid our brothers and sisters in need. Matthew 25 says, “Lord when did I see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine you did for me.” Catholic Charities has developed significant relationships with our parishes as well as Catholic charitable organizations throughout the 10 counties of the archdiocese. Together, they collaborate and coordinate in the best use of resources in order to provide maximum service to people in need. The Catholic Charities board aggressively scrutinizes programs, assuring they reflect Catholic teaching. Catholic Charities Lenten Luncheons highlight individuals, organizations and religious who have exemplified charitable efforts on behalf of our society. These examples emphasize that the work of charity belongs to all of us. I envision Catholic Charities growing in its response to needs presented by our brothers and sisters.

The very backbone of the archdiocese is our parish communities. We are called together to worship every Sunday and celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. It is the Eucharist that boldly proclaims that the Real Presence of Jesus Christ is given to us. We then can receive that Christ and take him into the world.

In recent years, with the increasing demands on our priests, we have started to examine how our parishes might be realigned in order to better serve the pastoral needs of various areas. Shifting populations have generated a need to assess how our priests can best provide for the needs of their faithful. The future demand that Catholics know their faith and the role of the priest as teacher, for the sake of Catholic identity, will be critical. I envision a future where parishes will help individuals to navigate through the continued problems presented by secularism. Through prayer, the sacraments and association with other like-minded Catholics, the parish will continue to provide individuals with the instruments they need to grow in holiness.

My future vision is prophetic. It doesn’t foretell the future; however, like all good prophets I examine the signs, and the signs of faith are good and strong. Although at some time, I will no longer be the archbishop, I will be around to challenge us through the words of Jesus, who said in John 13:34, “Love one another as I have loved you.”