The Christmas tree was taken down and the decorations were neatly placed in their boxes awaiting their summons for next Christmas. However, I did not realize there was still one present yet to be unwrapped, a late Christmas gift from Pope Francis.
This gift could not have fit under the tree and definitely would have been marked fragile. The gift, of course, is our two new auxiliaries. In his wisdom, the pope selected two priests from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
I’m often asked, “Why did it take so long?”
The appointment of a bishop is not a popularity contest; there are various levels of consultation with the priests of the archdiocese, the bishops of the province (Wisconsin) as well as the region (Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin). The bishops also do a good deal of listening as many lay people put forth the priest they think could fulfill the episcopal role.
This is really a treat for me, because I am the recipient of some tremendous tributes about the priests that serve them so faithfully.
Of course, age plays a role in the consideration since a certain “gravitas” should be achieved before one is considered for episcopal office.
A developed spirituality must be the basis for all consideration. His comfort with the teachings of the church and ability to articulate and defend the teachings is considered. Leading his congregation or community in the reflection on the Scriptures and its application to daily living marks him as a leader of prayer and presider over the liturgy and administration of the sacraments.
As the names come forward, the candidates’ files are examined as to their education, language ability, pastoral assignments and any particular awards or achievements.
This brief analysis hints at the amount of detail that goes into the consideration of a candidate. But one can also see this is much the work of a good priest who looks to serve his community.
The significance of the selection of the two bishops-elect captures a hidden tribute to the priests, religious deacons and faithful of the archdiocese. As names are placed for consideration, there is a scrutiny which takes place as various people, clergy and lay, are asked to offer their opinions about the candidates whose names are placed into nomination.
Because a candidate’s name is put forward doesn’t necessarily mean the priest is going to be selected. Many times names are proposed and the men may not be considered at this time. Yet, there is an honor in a name being placed into consideration.
When names go forward to the pope, he is under no obligation to take the recommendations of the Congregation for Bishops. He can accept the recommendations or he may choose any other priest candidate that he deems worthy of the position.
This means he could chose a religious order priest, a priest from a neighboring diocese or even a priest from a diocese in another part of the country.
Remember recently that Father, now Bishop Robert E. Barron, was from the Archdiocese of Chicago, but sent to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as an auxiliary bishop to assist Archbishop Jose H. Gomez.
Pope Francis chose two priests who are life-long members of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. In doing so, he recognized the deep faith of the people of the archdiocese, the good work of the religious, the devotion of the deacons and the priestly contributions of the presbyterate.
I find the environment of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee rich in religious commitment and deeply spiritual. The various devotional groups in our communities have provided a personal spiritual discipline for many people.
The priests are noted for their hardworking nature and pastoral character. The message in his selection of the two bishops-elect was, “Well done priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; continue to build and serve Christ’s church.”
I received the notice of the pope’s selection about a week before the announcement. It is kept under strict secrecy until the Vatican announces the names. I take that obligation of secrecy very seriously. So I carried new bishops-elect in prayers as I traveled to the Dominican Republic.
One afternoon, I was having coffee with Bishop José Grullón, bishop of San Juan de la Maguana, and he said to me that Milwaukee has received some great priests formed by La Sagrada Familia and he emphasized, even one bishop, Donald J. Hying. Ironically, I wanted to correct him and say no, two bishops, knowing that Jim Schuerman, who served at La Sagrada Familia from 1992 to 1996, had been selected as bishop-elect. But the obligation of secrecy prevented me from sharing the good news.
In some ways, both bishops-elect manifested that “deer-in-the-headlights” response not uncommon when one receives the news and must grapple with the consequences.
In one sense, no one feels worthy as there are so many good and deserving priests who did not receive this call. Those chosen wonder why the Holy Spirit selected them.
It is not easy saying yes, for life will change. They will still be Frs. Jeff and Jim, but their level of responsibility and the public nature of their office will change.
Both men are respected pastors, have a rich spiritual life and have generously shared their priesthood with the archdiocese. As rector of the cathedral, Fr. Haines has fashioned a community of service and fostered a sense of welcoming to the visitors.
He has offered his time as past president of the priest council and continues to serve on the Archdiocesan Synod Implementation Commission.
Fr. Schuerman, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish, Lake Geneva, replaced Fr. David J. Malloy, now Bishop of Rockford, Illinois. He was a missionary to the Dominican Republic and spiritual father at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis.
Their consecration will take place on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day). The shamrock is a supposedly a sign of good luck. In the hand of St. Patrick, it was a teaching device explaining the Blessed Trinity, a sign of the inescapable love of the Divine.
As we consecrate our two new auxiliaries we wish them the luck that comes from the inescapable love of God.