(This is the third 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.)
We once again resume our dance as the music of faith continues to be played and if you allow me to lead, I’ll continue the reflection of my last six years as archbishop of Milwaukee.
I promise this is the last column on the subject for at least five years. In one sense, I don’t want this to become like an invitation to dinner with the host announcing, “I’ve got pictures of my vacation I want to share with you.” The first few are interesting but after that, the next 500 are less than exciting. So grab a cup of coffee and I’ll try not to put you to sleep.
In my mind the single most influential moment in the life of the archdiocese was the Synod. The number of people involved, the priorities established and commitment made by people of faith was incredible and we accomplished this in the midst of bankruptcy.
Many thought I was foolish even to attempt an Archdiocesan Synod. I counted on the deep level of faith that existed in the lives of our faithful, something I observed during various visits with the parishes and my working with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC). The APC had the courage to call for an Evangelization Summit, bringing together parishes to examine our attention to evangelization.
Once it was clear we would have a synod, we needed to start from a common base and a single question that might motivate our energies and that question was posed by our pastoral letter, “Who do you say that I am?”
The answer to that question leads us to examine our relationship with Jesus and his church. My pledge to the participants of the Archdiocesan Synod was that I would follow the priorities they established and promote their work as a blueprint for the next 10 to 15 years.
The Archdiocesan Synod Implementation Commission (ASIC) has done a great job presenting resources and creating a vision for us to develop as we participate in the synod priorities. I fully expect we will all benefit from the hard work they have achieved. Of course, that is if we as priests and parishioners take advantage of the material.
For almost three years I worked with Fr. Javier Bustos on a plan addressing the needs and vision for the Hispanic communities. There was much good work being accomplished by our priests and lay staff, but there was no coordinated effort and therefore no measurable marks of progression or detection of need.
Bringing together our priests, staffs and parishioners was a great step forward, which has led to that coordinated effort — one which produced a plan to be integrated into the various departments of the archdiocese. Although much work still needs to be accomplished, we are in a better place today than we were six years ago.
I felt for a long time that the Black Catholic community had been neglected and a plan for evangelization needed to be constructed. There are many in the Black Catholic community that felt they were abandoned when parishes were merged or suppressed. Although I do not attribute any ill will, gaps were created in the black communities which made it appear the church was retreating from its obligation to the urban area and its black citizens.
We held a Black Catholic Summit at the Cousins Center which generated energy and renewed enthusiasm in envisioning the importance of the parish in lives of Black Catholics. Meeting with a number of parish leaders and influential individuals, we are in the process of creating a Black Catholic Plan. It is my hope that within the next year, a plan will help shape a deliberate future for evangelization in the Black Catholic Community.
We haven’t forgotten the city. It is going through problems and needs the church to shine a light, bringing attention to the inordinate violence, sex trafficking, drugs and unemployment that depress our urban area. Fr. Tim Kitzke loves the city and it was a “no-brainer” for me to ask him to focus his energy on helping build relationships which might “shine a light” on some of those problems. As our newest vicar general he would represent me to those desiring to make a difference for our urban citizens.
When I arrived in the archdiocese, I noticed the exciting work of youth ministry happening in our parishes. However, because of cutbacks and the loss of personnel, much of the creative youth ministry was being accomplished apart from the support of a central Youth Ministry Office.
I knew we did not have the resources to establish an office, but I knew that we did have the ability to bring together this creative force in order to network and share best practices. It was a great day watching and learning from our youth ministers.
If you ask most pastors what is the easiest area to raise money for projects in the parish most would tell you first food for the poor, such as food pantries, and next would be youth ministry programs. All of the summits we have had in the archdiocese targeted youth ministry as a priority. Many sell short the power of our youth. In the days ahead, I hope to tap into the energy of our youth in supporting our parishes and increasing our social ministries.
Our World Mission Ministries oversees our support for La Sagrada Familia, the archdiocesan parish in the Dominican Republic. School Sister of St. Francis Fran Cunningham and now her successor, Antoinette Mensah, have been a true force in keeping us aware of our responsibilities to the larger church. My two visits to the D.R. were an eye-opening experience making me appreciate the gifts we have and the need to share. I look forward to this coming January when I will have a chance to celebrate with our D.R. parish its 35th anniversary.
The seminary will host Catholic Charities’ second annual Archbishop’s Lenten Luncheon Feb. 23, recognizing the charitable contributions of an individual, religious congregation and lay group. It has been a wonderful way to participate in Lent, recognize charitable work and raise awareness of Catholic Charities.
As far as our ordinations and seminarians, we are in a better position today than we’ve been in the last 20 years due to the work of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, its priests and staff under the leadership of our rector, Fr. John Hemsing, and the tireless work of Fr. Luke Strand, our vocations director.
Fr. Luke’s innovative approach has inspired a whole new generation of young men to consider priesthood. The annual seminary dinner demonstrates the enthusiastic commitment that many feel toward our seminary; nearly 1,000 attended the dinner last year.
As I look forward to the years ahead, I consider myself blessed to be surrounded by pietistic associations (Men and Women of Christ, Rosary Evangelization Apostolate, etc,) and fraternal organizations (Catholic Financial Life, Knights of Columbus, Knights and Ladies of Saint Peter Claver, Knights of Malta, Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order) that support the various initiatives that need to be accomplished for the good of the church.
Many have asked me whether my greatest accomplishment was directing the archdiocese through the bankruptcy process? I have to answer with a resounding, “No!”
It was the Holy Spirit that guided the church and gave me the confidence to realize that our faith and spirit was never bankrupt and using what little we have in the name of the Lord would yield us 30, 60 or 100 fold — and it has!
So let us continue to dance as partners and excuse me if I occasionally step on your toes. I don’t mean to do it. But let us both listen to the heavenly music and adjust our steps accordingly. Thanks for letting me be your archbishop for the last six years. God is good.