Change is one of the few constants in the Catholic Church. While Fr. Jerry Herda will be returning to parish ministry this summer, Fr. Javier Bustos will be leaving the vibrant south-side parish he has served as pastor for five years.
Earlier this month, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki announced that he had appointed Fr. Bustos to replace Fr. Herda as the Vicar for Clergy.
Fr. Bustos’ term will begin July 1, and he will continue as the archbishop’s delegate for health care; however, he will give up his duties as pastor, Vicar for Hispanic Ministry and Vicar General for the Milwaukee Southwest and Milwaukee Southeast deaneries, in addition to putting a pause on teaching moral theology at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, which he has done since 2006.
“I knew the challenge, and after praying and considering, I said yes,” said Fr. Bustos, who will be leaving Our Lady Queen of Peace. “It wasn’t easy to say yes, not only because of the challenge of this ministry, but also that would mean I have to put a pause on my teaching at the seminary. I’m also leaving the parish where I’ve been a pastor for five years.”
The role, as described by Frs. Bustos and Herda, is part counselor, part sounding board, part mentor and helping to place priests in parishes.
“I’m very pleased to have a team working with me,” Fr. Bustos said. “I think I do have the skills to do this. I’ve been a vicar general for a while now. I’ve talked to priests, I’ve had to confront some of my brothers. I love being a priest and I think whoever is going to do this ministry has to love the Church.”
Fr. Herda, who became Vicar for Clergy in 2017, will be returning to parish ministry this summer. He said the decision of Rick Tank to retire from his position leading priest placements kind of set off a domino effect that led to his decision. Brenda Cline was hired to manage priest placement, and Herda said he will mentor Fr. Bustos and be available to assist with priest placement going forward.
“Every weekend as Vicar for Clergy, I go to a different parish to do help-outs,” Fr. Herda said. “I don’t know anybody. I’m looking forward to getting back into a parish and getting to know the people, loving the people and really building community, and getting invested in people’s lives again.”
During his time as Vicar for Clergy, Fr. Herda is proud of the job his team did navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Getting through COVID was a big piece,” Fr. Herda said. “In the midst of it was a lot of trying to give some guidance to the priests. I was constantly in regular touch with them on that.”
He said there were two other things he felt good about during his tenure, as well; the leadership development tools they developed for priests and helping a couple of priests through some rough patches personally. In May, his office will roll out the Pastor’s Toolbox, a development program that will include a week-long workshop to help associate pastors who are going to be elevated to pastors at parishes.
Fr. Bustos, who emigrated from Venezuela in 1996, didn’t speak English and was ordained in 2001, says empathy for his fellow priests will be a big part of his new position.
“It’s a great honor,” Fr. Bustos said. “I have to be 24/7 available to my brother priests and the archbishop. At times, I will have to do things that aren’t expected when a crisis comes up.”
Fr. Herda was asked if he had any advice for his replacement.
“As vicar for clergy, you don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions to things,” Fr. Herda said. “You need to get the full picture. When somebody calls complaining about (a priest), you need to hear the priest’s side of the story to get the whole context. A lot of times, it’s take a step back, see what’s going on and see the whole picture before any decision needs to be made.”