“…That’s been the theme that continues to arise over and over again, so the unseen accomplishment, I think, is getting people to think in those terms, and, in doing that, you become more in love (with) the church.”
Always ‘brings out the best in people’
Nguyen, who has been chancellor, director of Catholic Cemeteries and a defender of the bond in the matrimonial tribunal since 2002, became director of communications just before Archbishop Listecki came to La Crosse in 2005. Of his many jobs, Nguyen favored assisting the La Crosse bishop so he could “be in touch with the people.”
“It’s kind of funny because you work for a bishop and you think you’re helping him, but really you find out that you really grow a lot and you really learn so much,” Nguyen said. “And working with him, I’ve just learned so much about the church, about people, about spirituality, about law, about movies, about – he’s somebody that you can sit down and talk to about almost anything.”
Nguyen said that Archbishop Listecki is collaborative and brings out the best in people, which is also something that he’ll remember in the archbishop’s absence.
“He makes you search yourself and see what you can contribute to bring to the table, and he’s very affirming, in that sense,” explained Nguyen, who said working with the former bishop challenged him, but guided him at the same time.
Though Nguyen said he was sad to lose the La Crosse bishop, whom he considered a co-worker, mentor, spiritual leader and friend, he also said Archbishop Listecki’s appointment to the Milwaukee Archdiocese is a reminder of the vastness of the church.
“That the church is not just our individual experience here, the church is the church of Milwaukee, the church in Kansas, the church in Spain, the church in the world,” Nguyen said.
Brought televised Mass to homebound
Christopher Carstens, director of the La Crosse Diocese’s office of sacred worship, noted the videotaping of a telecast Mass in the diocese as one of Archbishop Listecki’s major liturgical highlights. Carstens, who organizes the larger diocesan liturgies for ordinations, church dedications, Chrism Masses and the like, said that previously the diocese purchased copies of televised Masses from another group that recorded them.
“After the bishop had come to the diocese, he and Msgr. (Bernard) McGarty had decided it would be a good thing for the diocese to move the actual filming back to the diocese,” Carstens said, explaining that Archbishop Listecki celebrated about one third of the 250 televised Masses, while five or six priests celebrated the remainder.
Carstens remembers a particular moment he shared with Archbishop Listecki during the taping of one of the first Masses. The musicians and ministers were being trained and the lights and cameras were ready.
“I just remember him putting his arm around my shoulder and saying, ‘Chris, now I know you’re the liturgist and you try to do things always as beautifully and prayerfully as we can, and while this shouldn’t be any different, you have to understand that this is all going to go very, very quick, very fast and not at all what we’re used to doing, but it’s a great work for those who can’t make it to Mass themselves,’” said Carstens, recalling Archbishop Listecki’s reminder of the efficiency needed from everyone to fit the Mass in the 27-minute, 30-second TV time slot.
“He does such a good job at it and, really, I think, connects with the people who view it,” Carstens said. “And we get a mailbag every day from viewers with just the most beautiful and heartwarming letters about it, so he will be missed in that regard.”
In addition to TV Masses, Carstens said that, liturgically speaking, the promulgation of norms for the building and renovation of churches was another of Archbishop Listecki’s significant contributions to the diocese. While building or renovating a church can be a daunting task with the number of sources that must be consulted – from code, ritual and other books, and the bishop – Archbishop Listecki brought the pieces together and put forward legislation for churches in the diocese to follow.
“The important thing about this is he didn’t simply do that – put together lists of dos and don’ts – he explained all of the meanings behind them and the theology behind them so that when people followed them, and build a beautiful church, they’ll see Christ present in the building,” Carstens explained of the document he referred to as being not only legislative but catechetical as well.
Archbishop Listecki’s strong and practical leadership in the diocese, as well as his personable and approachable character are qualities that Carstens said make the archbishop unique, but it’s his inspiring confidence that Carstens will miss the most.
“We knew we were in good hands when the bishop – Listecki – is here and he’s rubbed off on or he’s influenced all of us to be joyful in our work in serving the church and so I’ll miss that,” he said.
Helps call religious to holiness
Sr. M. Stephania Newell, a Sister of St. Francis of the Martyr of St. George and director of the office of consecrated life in the La Crosse Diocese, said Archbishop Listecki influenced the men and women religious and consecrated people in the diocese.
“In general, the religious men and women and consecrated persons in our diocese have, I think, a greater respect for him as a bishop that they haven’t always had, as they haven’t always had a respect for the hierarchy of the church,” Sr. M. Stephania said. “Where he’s brought that respect to a level that calls them to holiness – comes to meet them, but calls them to a greater holiness.”
Sr. M. Stephania said that the men and women religious have enjoyed being with him at jubilee celebrations, and Archbishop Listecki’s involvement in some of the diocesan councils has also made his leadership stand out.
“(His involvement) brings that unity that we’re all consecrated to God for the mission of the church and for the holiness of the church and are working together collaboratively in that,” she said.
Sr. M. Stephania said that Archbishop Listecki also brought an awareness or consciousness of the three goals of Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship to everyone in the diocese, which has contributed to the collaboration of the many offices within the diocese.
“I work with youth ministry and catechesis and sacred worship and all of us kind of work together in different areas because we’re all affecting the young, the old and the middle-aged with our different ministries and different responsibilities,” she said.
Homilies are a highlight
His homilies have been a highlight according to several people in the diocese, including Sr. M. Stephania.
“His homilies have always been inspiring and something that I can later meditate on,” she said. “That has helped me in my own religious life – to live it more solidly, more deeply.”
Fr. Joseph Hirsch, director of vocations and the former bishop of La Crosse’s vicar for clergy, said Archbishop Listecki worked hard to unite the priests of the diocese and boosted their morale. While he attributed former La Crosse Bishop Raymond L. Burke with drawing in many people from outside the diocese, Fr. Hirsch said vocations within the diocese began to pick up because of Archbishop Listecki.
“We’re not getting outsiders, we’re getting all insiders, so I would say proportionately we have more insiders than we’ve had in a long, long time,” Fr. Hirsch said, adding that La Crosse had six ordinations this year and has 22 seminarians. “…he’s been nothing but positive for vocations.”
Fr. Hirsch said he thought that the young people confirmed by Archbishop Listecki were inspired by him.
“And speaking as vocation director, I think that is key, because he cultivates a culture of vocations,” Fr. Hirsch said of the two-and-a-half hour confirmations the archbishop is known for in La Crosse and Chicago. “He cultivates an atmosphere in which he calls people to holiness and he calls people to commit themselves as Catholic.”
Adds special meaning to confirmations
Archbishop Listecki reached out to the young in the Diocese of La Crosse by making a point to personally celebrate the confirmations of students.
“He tries to insist that he does it himself, which makes for a very tough schedule, sometimes two or three in one weekend,” Nguyen said, explaining that could mean a two-hour trek between parishes in the spread-out diocese. “…but he wants that connection with the confirmation kids.”
Though the confirmations are long, Nguyen and Fr. Hirsch said no one complains because the day is memorable. Lucas Johnson, 15, who was confirmed by Archbishop Listecki on Dec. 5 at Immaculate Conception Parish in Alma Center, said that knowing the bishop personally wanted to confirm the 15 students that day made it meaningful.
“That part makes the day even more special, because like just getting confirmed is pretty special, then having him there, personally, is a lot better, I guess,” Johnson said.
During the confirmation, Archbishop Listecki spent about a minute with each student talking about his or her saint, which is part of his usual routine at confirmations.
“He talked to me and asked why I picked my saint,” said Johnson, whose four sisters are in the medical field. “I picked St. Luke because he’s the patron of physicians and surgeons.”
Tyrel Mitchell, 15, a parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Fairview, who was also confirmed that day, said Archbishop Listecki told him about the importance of his family’s small farm.
“He talked to me saying about the saint that I chose, St. Isidore, and how farming is important to the country and it’s a big loss when you lose some of these small family farms to big, corporate, business-like operations,” Mitchell said.
Presence is important aspect of his ministry
In addition to celebrating confirmations, Nguyen said the archbishop also tried to be present at some of the youth rallies and camps, but he spent a lot of time reaching out to the elderly as well, in anniversary celebrations.
“And then everything in between, too; his presence is a very important aspect of his ministry,” Nguyen said.
In Msgr. McGarty’s 60 years of priesthood, he has experienced the leadership of seven bishops and said that Archbishop Listecki’s love of the church comes through in his celebration of confirmations, anniversary celebrations and funeral Masses of the priests.
“At the funeral of a priest — we had a fair number of priests die within his first year — he always said the right things,” Msgr. McGarty said. “He would read the biography and inquire of other people what was this person’s quality, where was his strength and so forth, and he was able to bring that out at the end of the Eucharist … he had the ability to just pick out the things without any sense of flattery, but just a very solid analysis.”
While he devoted time to the different age groups, Nguyen said Archbishop Listecki also devoted time and energy to the different ethnic groups by providing constant outreach to the large Hmong community, and “beefing up” the Hispanic ministry with Spanish Masses.
“We’ve had a couple priests come from other countries, from Hispanic countries, who are to address that because here we do have a presence of migrant workers and the Hispanic community is growing here, so he was very attentive to that,” Nguyen said. “… He’s very sensitive to those types of issues.”
Travel is sign of commitment to missions
Archbishop Listecki traveled internationally four times with Fr. Roger Scheckel, pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse and director of the diocese’s mission office. “That’s a real commitment to the mission, for a bishop to take time out of his calendar and say, ‘Don’t schedule anything for me because I’m going to be gone. I’m going over to visit the missions.’” Fr. Scheckel said of the trips they made together to India, Ghana, Africa, and twice to South America.
Fr. Scheckel, mission director for the past seven years, said Archbishop Listecki embraced the work of the missions office. He also said Archbishop Listecki was surprised at the commitment the Diocese of La Crosse has maintained, especially in South America where they sponsor two missions.
“We’re hoping that the next bishop will respond as generously and as enthusiastically as did Bishop Listecki,” Fr. Scheckel said.
Since his first days in the La Crosse Diocese, the many people who worked under Archbishop Listecki have been able to list his many goals, accomplishments and ways he’s made an impact on the diocese. It was that concern for the future of the diocese that Fr. Scheckel said was a hallmark of his years serving La Crosse, and something that Sr. M. Stephania said will continue in Milwaukee.
“I think he’s going to continue what he’s learned here and what he’s brought here he’s going to continue to build on in Milwaukee, in a bigger area … I think he will shine more and more.”
Sr. M. Stephania said she’s sad to say goodbye to the archbishop’s movie collection and books on tape, but she and others in the La Crosse Diocese will miss him on a deeper level.
“I’ll miss just his very warm person,” she said. “He is a pastor. He is a true shepherd after the heart of Christ and that’s what we’ll miss is that, I guess, that love that he has for each one of us as Jesus loves each one of us – he mirrors that very well.”