ST. FRANCIS — Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop William P. Callahan as the 10th bishop of the Diocese of La Crosse. The appointment was announced Friday, June 11. He will be installed Wednesday, Aug. 11.
Bishop Callahan, who turned 60 June 17, is a native of the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. He was ordained a priest for the Conventual Franciscans in Milwaukee at the Basilica of St. Josaphat in 1977. He served in the parish for a year before returning to Chicago where he worked as the Franciscans’ provincial vocations director.
In 1984, Bishop Callahan was assigned as the associate pastor of Holy Family Parish, Peoria, Ill. Three years later, he was named pastor.
Despite predictions by his urban friends that he “wouldn’t last in the land of Caterpillars and corncobs, it started to grow on me,” he said. “I found myself loving it.”
According to Elaine Labanowski, bookkeeper at Holy Family Parish for 17 years, the parishioners love him, too.
“He was very well liked, very compassionate,” she told your Catholic Herald in 2006, explaining that whenever he ran into a parishioner, he would always inquire about a specific situation as he remembered the details of people’s lives.
In 1994, the bishop’s provincial asked him to return to the Basilica of St. Josaphat, this time as rector and pastor.
“It was a little difficult,” he recalled. “The basilica was in transition – major transition at that time. And I was very confused about how I was going to be a priest, how I was going to be a fundraiser, how I was going to be administrator.”
He found his answer in the Eucharist.
“We made it our essential task to focus on the Eucharist as what binds the Catholic parish together,” Bishop Callahan said of what he and Conventual Franciscan Fr. Robert Joseph Switanowski hoped to accomplish. ”We set the altar as the focus of that community. Mercifully, thankfully, that still is the case to this day.”
In 2005, Bishop Callahan was appointed spiritual director at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. In October 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named him an auxiliary bishop for Milwaukee. In that role, he has served in several administrative positions, most notably moderator of the curia, under both Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
In a statement released the day the appointment was announced, Archbishop Listecki called Bishop Callahan “a blessing” for La Crosse and Milwaukee.
“… Bishop Callahan has guided the development and implementation of Vision 21, led the reorganization of the archdiocesan administrative structure, shepherded the completion of the successful Faith In Our Future capital campaign, strengthened Catholic education and cemented the success of the Catholic Stewardship campaign – just to name a few. There’s no doubt that he has … earned the admiration and respect of the clergy and faithful of the archdiocese,” the archbishop said.
Bishop Callahan’s fundraising acumen served the archdiocese, particularly when Archbishop Dolan was named archbishop of New York and Bishop Callahan was elected administrator of the archdiocese until an archbishop was named. During that time – from April to November 2009 – the bishop continued the momentum toward reaching the capital campaign’s $105 million goal.
Bishop Callahan is the second auxiliary bishop from Milwaukee named to head a diocese. In 1913, Bishop Joseph Koudelka, the archdiocese’s first auxiliary bishop, was named bishop of Superior, where he served until his death in 1921.
In La Crosse, Bishop Callahan will serve a diocese with more than 196,000 Catholics in a 15,000-square-mile area. There are 171 diocesan priests and 42 deacons. It includes 165 parishes, seven high schools, 63 elementary schools and 10 hospitals.
An extended interview with Bishop Callahan will appear in the Aug. 5 issue of your Catholic Herald and at chnonline.org.