(This is the second of a series and a follow-up to the archbishop’s reflections on his early years in the priesthood that he wrote in May and June, 2015.)
The great dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers made every difficult dance routine seem simple. They were so fluid, they moved like one. When everyone would comment how great a dancer Fred was, Ginger would quip that every dance step that Fred took she did too, but backwards and in an evening gown with high heels.
The key to their partnership was their ability to work together. There was willingness for one to take the lead and the other to follow for the sake of the routine.
As we entered into a period of uncertainty due to the bankruptcy, it was important for us to focus on the mission of the church. We were charged to carry it through no matter our financial situation. We had a responsibility to compensate just claims and at the same time continue the sacramental, charitable and educational work of the church.
The office of archbishop is a sign of unity. As I traveled to the various parishes of the archdiocese, I realized, I represented all 10 counties. Whether in Dodge, Kenosha or Milwaukee, we were one. By the end of three years, I had become archbishop of the fest having celebrated the major ethnic festivals (Polish, German, Italian, Mexican and Irish) that take place on our beautiful lakefront and even some like Croatian fest that took place at one of our picnic grounds.
Every Advent, I lead the Simbang Gabi service for the Filipino community, a beautiful tradition preparing for the birth of Christ. Celebrating Mass and their traditions was an indication of the importance of the faith that guided these communities. I hope someday we’ll be able to have a “Catholic Fest” celebrating our identity, bringing us all together as a community in the archdiocese and the entire state.
The loss of Bishop William P. Callahan, named bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse in 2010, placed a strain on the archbishop’s schedule. Thanks to the generosity of Bishop Richard J. Sklba (who officially retired in 2010) and the vicars, the confirmations, funerals and various events were covered, but not always with episcopal presence.
Snow in Rome: precursor of what was to come?
In February 2012, we made our “ad limina.” This is a required, periodic visit to the Holy See to report to the pope on the health of the diocese. It is conducted by regions, and Pope Benedict scheduled Region VII (Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana) for February. I lived and studied in Rome for four years and have returned for visits and work at different times. Never, and I mean never, have I ever experienced snow on the ground in the Eternal City. Maybe a few flakes, but nothing that would ever need shoveling.
Yet here we were in Rome with two to three inches of snow on the ground. The strangeness of that experience should have been a precursor for what would happen in a short period: the resignation of the pope.
In our visit, Pope Benedict was frail and tired, but in our provincial meeting he was affable and engaging. I wouldn’t have been able to predict his resignation. I felt privileged to have conversed with one of the greatest theological figures of our times.
A consistory — the elevation of named archbishops to the College of Cardinals — coincided with the “ad limina” visit. It was of special interest to me since two of my predecessors, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan (formally of Milwaukee) and Archbishop Raymond L. Burke (formally of La Crosse), were among those to receive their red hats. I joke that if you want to become a cardinal, get Rome to appoint me as your successor and a red hat will be prepared for your wardrobe.
As we were returning to Milwaukee with the pilgrims who had accompanied us for the visit, I reflected on how a pilgrimage creates a special bond when you travel with people and share experiences. I wish everyone in our archdiocese could experience a pilgrimage to Rome.
I received a special gift in July 2011 as Fr. Donald Hying was named auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee. I had the honor to ordain him as a bishop, truly a unique privilege. Many bishops will serve their entire episcopal ministry and never ordain another bishop. I joke to Bishop Hying that he fulfilled one of the desires on my bucket list. He was a great asset to the archdiocese, especially during the critical time of the bankruptcy.
One of my particular concerns was Catholic education. Although much great work was accomplished through the efforts of “school choice,” it was critical that Catholic schools be moved from a survival mode to a thriving mode.
Game changer for Catholic education
John Stollenwerk, a retired businessman who has been at the forefront of Catholic schools issues, would meet with me periodically to discuss the almost insurmountable issues. God was gracious to us and placed before us Dr. Kathleen Cepelka, who accepted the position of superintendent of schools in 2010.
Sports figure will often point to a particular person or event and declare it a game changer. Kathleen Cepelka was a game changer for Catholic education.
Since her appointment, there has been evaluation of school properties, teacher religious formation, and administrative responsibility, reformulation of parochial schools to maximize participation and exciting and innovative thinking as we see in the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton urban schools initiative.
Through the Soles for Catholic Education walk, which had almost 10,000 participants last year, a consciousness has been raised of the importance of Catholic schools to the history and future of the archdiocese. I have the bunions, corns and blisters on my feet to prove my dedication.
Archdiocese blessed with leaders
Msgr. David Malloy returned from his position as Secretary General of the USCCB and was named pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Geneva. He was a wonderful pastor and established a vision that excited the parishioners.
We were blessed with his service for almost a year when Pope Benedict named him the bishop of Rockford, Illinois. He was ordained May 14, 2012.
On Nov. 14, 2012, Pope Benedict elevated Archbishop James M. Harvey, a native of Milwaukee, to the College of Cardinals. This priest of the archdiocese has served the church devoting himself in service to Popes John Paul II and Benedict.
It was an amazing year for the archdiocese. Having two bishops and a cardinal selected from our native clergy is a tribute to the religious foundation of the archdiocese.
Communications has always been an important aspect of the archbishop’s role and an interest of mine. When I first arrived, I inherited the TV show, “Living Our Faith with Bob Dolan,” and I cohosted the program, which aired at an inconsistent time. We received great support from Catholic Financial Life but it was obvious that the energies could be better utilized elsewhere. We began a weekly half hour Relevant Radio program which had a few cohosts and currently is cohosted by Bob Benes.
I enjoy radio and Relevant Radio has contributed to the Catholic environment. We began a series of 30-45 second spots that air on commercial radio stations.
In addition to this Herald of Hope column, I also write a weekly e-mail, Love One Another. I was once asked, “Who ghost writes your material?’ I smiled and said, “You’re talking to Casper, the friendly ghost.”
A friend of mine, Roy Rieman, will often write a commentary to my LOAs. I consider that high praise since he publishes a magazine, “Our Wisconsin,” which every person who loves Wisconsin should possess.
I attempt to visit the various area radio stations and offer a Christmas and Easter message. Those who work in the area of communication possess a real talent as they offer information and entertainment. I hope to bring our communication people — TV, radio, print and film — together to celebrate their contribution.
The Pallium Lecture Series brought to Milwaukee some outstanding local and national persons: Jesuit Fr. James Martin; Sulpician Fr. Anthony J. Pogorelc from The Catholic University of America; John C. Cavadini, a member of the Department of Theology and the Director of the Institute for Church Life at Notre Dame; Bishop Robert Barron, Word on Fire; Joseph D. Kearney, dean and professor of law at Marquette University; and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, New York.
Supported by the Bradley Foundation, the Pallium Lecture Series has shed light on the interaction of religion and society. We are examining the format for this year’s pallium to create an even more engaging atmosphere.
We reviewed the dance long enough but there is so much more — the pastoral letter “Who Do You Say I Am?”, the Archdiocesan Synod, the evangelization summit, Hispanic Ministry Plan, Black Catholic Pastoral Plan, pietistic groups, fraternal organizations, Catholic Charities, etc., etc. And believe me, I became tired just looking at all that we have accomplished.
So if you will indulge me, I will add one more column in a couple of weeks just to bring us up to date on the last six years. The music is still playing and we are still dancing.