ST. FRANCIS — Since former Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan left to become Archbishop of New York more than eight months ago, Catholics in the Milwaukee Archdiocese have been praying for the next archbishop. Last Saturday their prayers were answered as the Vatican announced that Bishop Jerome E. Listecki from the La Crosse Diocese would be the 11th archbishop of Milwaukee.
In thanksgiving, a Mass of Gratitude was celebrated Nov. 16 at Christ the King Chapel at the Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, St. Francis, for those who will work with the new archbishop.
While the archbishop-designate could not attend the Mass as he was in Baltimore for the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he sent a letter greeting his new flock, which was read by Fr. Patrick Heppe, Vicar for Clergy.
Fr. Heppe acknowledged that while it was hard to be without an archbishop, it wasn’t impossible.
“You know, I never felt that we were directionless,” Fr. Heppe said during his homily. “I never felt that we were without a rudder, that we were directionless.
“We have many things to give thanks for today … we are all in this boat together,” he added.
Fr. Heppe works with Bishops William P. Callahan and Richard J. Sklba, and knew for the past week that the two knew whom Pope Benedict XVI had chosen to lead Milwaukee Catholics.
“They kind of looked like the cat that swallowed the canary,” he laughed. “I knew that they knew, but they couldn’t say anything. So, I kind of found out like everybody else.
“I am so impressed,” he said about Archbishop-designate Listecki. “He’s a good communicator, he seems open and flexible, and he really wants to get to know us at the archdiocese, and he wants to know what we’re all about, what we’re thinking about, what (are) our priorities.”
Fr. Heppe is confident Archbishop-designate Listecki will be what the archdiocese needs.
“He brings urban experience from his background in Chicago, he brings some rural experience from his experience in La Crosse, and I think that mixture will really help us a lot. He’s got experience, of course, with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and has some seminary experience as well,” he added.
Fr. Steve Avella, a history professor at Marquette University, hoped the new archbishop would be somebody from the Midwest.
“I was gratified for that; he knows the terrain here, he knows the geography, he knows ethnography, he knows what it’s like to be a Catholic in this part of the world. That to me is a very good thing.
“Secondly, he’s worked in that big, diverse Chicago church, he’s worked in the seminary system there, he knows some of the pastoral challenges on the ground there, and as much as Milwaukee and Chicago consider themselves very distinct in terms of their traditions and the character of the Catholic presence, there really are a great deal of similarities.”
Dean Daniels, coordinator of the Office for Liturgy for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, is looking forward to getting to know the archbishop-designate better and knows that the appointee is well prepared for his years ahead.
Archbishop-designate Listecki’s task will be making sure that the mission of the church is carried out faithfully and honestly, said Daniels, “which I believe he’ll do, looking at his history as an instructor at Mundelein (Seminary), and auxiliary bishop in Chicago and bishop of La Crosse.”
Daniels’ own first order of business, he said, is to call the Office of Worship in La Crosse and find out about what it’s like to work with Archbishop-designate Listecki.
“‘What do I need to know? What does he like, what does he not like, in the celebration of the Eucharist?’” Daniels said his questions will be. “So that when we do celebrate publicly for the first time with the archbishop-designate, that we celebrate as the church wants, and as he wishes.”
“I am so pleased that we have an archbishop,” he added. “That’s the main thing. I’m just very pleased, happy, looking forward to working for him and with him, and implementing the ideas and the leadership that he has.”
Fr. Curt Fredrick administrator of St. William Parish, Waukesha, also looked to Archbishop-designate Listecki’s former diocese to hear what they had to say about his work.
“The reputation that he brings from La Crosse is that he is a very personal individual. He really enjoys people, and is known to take time with them.
“A number of priests in La Crosse think very, very highly of Bishop Listecki, and a couple of them told me as I’ve spoken to them on the phone that they’re really going to miss him. They feel that he has brought a lot of good things to the Diocese of La Crosse.”
While Fr. Fredrick only recently met the archbishop-designate, he feels that to compare him to former Archbishop Dolan is a mistake.
“Archbishop Dolan brings a particular skill set to the role of being the archbishop,” he explained. “Bishop Listecki will bring his own skill set to our office of the archbishop, and for us to make comparisons, I don’t think does Bishop Listecki any good, and it probably won’t serve us well either.”
John Marek, chief financial officer for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, met Archbishop-designate Listecki last Saturday during the press conference. Marek expects he will have a “very positive” effect on local Catholics.
“I think it’s apparent that he wants to be very involved with the people, meet the people, work with the priests and the deacons, the religious within the archdiocese, and get to know people within the archdiocese,” he explained. “I thought he set out three very good guiding principles: identity, evangelization and stewardship.
“I would suspect his first order of business is going to be just trying to meet a lot of people, clergy as well as lay people, and get to know and understand the archdiocese,” Marek added.
Mark Kemmeter, coordinator of parish mission, also met Archbishop-designate Listecki last Saturday during a working luncheon to plan his installation. Kemmeter liked how the archbishop-designate handled himself during the session.
“I was just very impressed, first of all, with how at ease and comfortable he was,” he explained. “He just really seems to be a people person; he knew people’s names, he seems to place a lot of emphasis on making people feel welcome. He talked a lot about that for the installation, and one of the comments that I just remember very clearly, he referred to himself as being like a potato: he’s very able to quickly set roots. Which I thought was a good image.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll get settled in here and this will be my home at no time at all and I’ll make friends,’” Kemmeter added. “But, he comes across as being a very warm person, just somebody you’d want to spend time with and that you’d feel at ease with. That’s the impression that I came away with. Plus that, just the way that he functioned at the meeting because it was a working lunch, he just seems to know what he wants, he listens for input, and I was just quite impressed with him.”
“My impression is that he is very dedicated to Christ in the church, he’s very pastoral, very down to earth, very humble,” said Fr. Don Hying, rector of Saint Francis Seminary. “I think he’s certainly open to taking a long, loving look at what has been built here by Archbishop Dolan, and wants to continue that legacy and that forward momentum.”
While Archbishop Dolan left big shoes to fill, Fr. Hying believes that Archbishop-designate Listecki won’t have to even try and fill them.
“I think Bishop Listecki is his own person, so my impression is that he won’t try to be someone that he’s not, so he brings his own gifts,” he added. “He’ll be himself and he’ll lead us forward with his gifts and his personality.”