“He makes it a very personal and meaningful sacrament for every candidate,” she said. “His visit here is probably the most outstanding one next to having Cardinal George last year, because of the fact that he takes time with every one of them and speaks to them during the Mass.

“He is an excellent mentor and role model for young people,” she added.

Pastor made ‘wishes’ come true

Kathy Morris, who runs social services and the food pantry for St. Ignatius Parish in Chicago, agrees. Archbishop Listecki came to the parish as pastor in August of 2000, and brought much energy that spread to parish staff and parishioners.

“One of the first meetings we had as staff with him, he asked us all to come up with a wish list of things that we would want to do with either our ministry or the parish,” she explained. “I have to say, of the two people whose wishes I know were asked, mine were answered and also our engineers’. Our food pantry was in desperate need of new windows and new floors, and he made that happen.”

The renovation of the chapel, more than 80 years old at the time, was also repaired through the guidance of Archbishop Listecki, who ran a fundraising drive to help cover the repairs.

“We came up with the idea, and Bishop Listecki made it happen,” she said simply. “Working together, we made things happen.”

“We would have staff meetings, but during the course of the week he would come in and say, ‘OK, what are you doing, what can I help you with, what needs to get done here?’” She added. “He’s a very hands-on guy.”

Only negative – he’s a White Sox fan

Morris and her husband have maintained their friendship with Archbishop Listecki.

“I lost both my parents since he’s been named bishop (of La Crosse), and he was there for me when I needed him as both a pastor, as well as a friend,” she said. “He’s just a down-to-earth, level-headed, good guy. The only bad thing I can say about him is that he’s a White Sox fan,” said Morris, a Cubs fan.

It was Archbishop Listecki’s sense of humor that attracted Ray Schmid and his wife Marie when he was assigned to serve at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Chicago in 1975, his first assignment following ordination. New to the job, he immediately got to know his parishioners.

“His first six months were absolutely fantastic,” Schmid said. “There was no one who probably wound up not calling him Jerry – or at least Fr. Jerry. I had a hard time at first just remembering what his last name was because everyone used his first name. He was just that kind of a person. He was easy to get along with, and talk to.”

Papal predictions began early


Then-Bishop Jerome E. Listecki poses for a photo with the late Lena Watylyk and her daughter, Anne Watylyk, at Mater Christi Church, North Riverside, Ill., following a 2001 Mass of Thanksgiving for the newly ordained auxiliary bishop of Chicago. (Submitted photo courtesy Ted Watylyk)

There was a common thread of thinking among parishioners at St. Margaret Mary, according to Schmid.

“Prior to Pope John Paul II being elected pope, we used to say Jerry was going to be the first Polish pope,” he laughed. “He was that kind of a guy. He was extremely outgoing and by the same token he had an extremely conservative look at his Catholic faith.”

A little more than a year after then-Fr. Listecki began serving at the parish, Cardinal John P. Cody appointed him dean of students at the now closed Quigley Preparatory Seminary North, in Chicago.

“My son was going to school there at the same time that he was there, and that’s one of the things that made us very easy to get along with him, because we had so many things that started to come up in our lives in common,” Schmid explained.

Schmid clearly remembers when Archbishop Listecki was a lieutenant colonel for the U.S. Army Reserves, and came to their house for a surprise visit.

“Our children threw a 40th wedding anniversary party for us, back around 1990,” Schmid said. “Jerry showed up in his fatigues … he managed to duck in long enough to say hello to everybody and, of course, you could imagine the place was full of parishioners. It was just one of those great moments that we had a chance to experience with him. It was really very, very nice.”

For Schmid, at least, his friend’s appointment as Archbishop of Milwaukee was no surprise.

“It was not a surprise when he was picked for Milwaukee because he was destined for great things,” Schmid said. “I sent him an e-mail, and I said, ‘Just follow the yellow brick road, it’s going to lead you home.’ As far as I was concerned, and I think what everybody else thought, is that he was going to be the next cardinal in Chicago.”

Expect an archbishop in touch with people

“They are going to expect to have a guy who is really in touch with them,” Schmid said of what he predicts the 700,000 Catholics in southeastern Wisconsin will discover about their archbishop. “He’s an all out person. You can’t really buttonhole him as being anything but interested in everything.”

Fr. Bill Eddy, pastor of St. Hilary Parish in Chicago, attended Quigley North Seminary with the future archbishop, beginning in1963. For Fr. Eddy, his firned and ordination classmate hasn’t changed much.

“He was a very good athlete and a very good student,” Fr. Eddy remembered. “He genuinely enjoys people, and I think that’s the thing that’s most constant about him. Wherever he is and the people he’s with, he really enjoys people and serving them.”

“He has a wonderful memory,” he said. “That’s the thing that most astounds me about him. We’ve known mutual friends that I’ve long forgotten, and he still (remembers them). Just at the drop of a hat, he can remember their names, their children. Boy, I think that’s such a gift.”

When it comes to the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Fr. Eddy knows that the archbishop will do the best he can with the talents God has blessed him.

“He’s very hard working,” he said. “It will take him a while to grasp the situation; he’ll try to get to know what’s going on, and he’ll do that by listening to people. He’ll really want to learn; he’s genuinely interested in learning about the people and the parish, or in this case the (archdiocese), and then he’ll do whatever is the case to help them in any way he can.

“He’s just tremendous energy, and he will put his whole heart and soul into it.”