Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki distributes communion during the first of six Masses of Thanksgiving on Tuesday, April 9, at St. Robert Bellarmine in Union Grove. (Photo by Jenni Oliva)

Joking that his resignation might be like the Eagles’ “Long Goodbye” farewell tour, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Robert Bellarmine in Union Grove on Tuesday, April 9, for God’s guidance in his 14 years as the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

It was the first of six that will be held throughout the archdiocese, culminating Sunday, June 9, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

“I am sure that 14 years ago, everybody in their minds said, ‘What did we get?’ Especially with the uncertainty that surrounded us as a community and the challenges we had to face; but one thing that happened early on and that carried us through all the times and challenges we at the Church faced is the confidence in the faith you demonstrated and that was witnessed by me,” he said. “The strength of what we accomplished is because God placed us in a situation to use us as his instrument to achieve what he needed to do for his Church. Now it is 14 years later, and I am no longer the new archbishop — I am now the old archbishop.”

Archbishop Listecki explained that since he turned 75 last month, canon law asks that he submit his letter of resignation to the pope, and now he is awaiting a response.  While he is in this period of waiting, he wanted to take the opportunity to spend time together to celebrate who we are as an archdiocese.

“As is said by most spiritual people, the one end of prayer that is least utilized is thanksgiving,” he said. “We forget that there was someone who was there before us to make sure that those things get accomplished, to make sure that everything did fall in place, to make sure that those things that were needed to be achieved were achieved. There are two simple words: thank you. But they are so essential to who we are. It is important to look upon God and to realize how gracious he is to us. So, I did not want to let this moment slip away. I wanted to be able to gather those of us in the various vicariates, whoever was available to come around the altar and to give thanks. Thank you, God. Thank you, God, for being with us and for guiding us and directing us these last 14 years.”

Going on to explain his limbo situation, Archbishop Listecki said it could be six months or a year before a replacement archbishop is named.

“I had a friend call up and say, ‘Don’t pack your bags yet. I am 77 and a half years of age, and I haven’t heard anything yet,’” he said. “But I didn’t want time to fly, and I think that, unlike others, we are in a very good situation because of what you’ve accomplished and what we have done together — we’ve made the archdiocese the envy across the country. I don’t think there’s going to be anyone who hesitates to come here to Milwaukee because of how and what we have accomplished.”

Following the Mass, a reception was held in the parish hall and 94-year-old Betty Ignasiak, a member of St. Mary of the Assumption (Kansasville) in Dover, was patiently waiting for her turn to speak to Archbishop Listecki.

“I love our archbishop,” she said. “He is nice, friendly and I wanted to see him for the last time. He is the best bishop that I can remember.”

Susan Kurek, member of St. Sebastian, Sturtevant, agreed, saying she had known him for a long time and wanted to come to say thanks. Her eyes welled with tears as she discussed a problem that she was having when she worked in the Vocation Office years ago, and he immediately stepped in to help.

“He is the best bishop in my lifetime. He shows great humility and holiness, and is a down-to-earth guy,” she said. “He understands lay people as well as clergy and is not at all removed from the people. I admire him and love his Love One Another theme. He is truly pastoral.”

Kathy Jaeger, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine, said the archbishop is a special person, and has met him four times and wanted to come out to thank him for his great leadership.

“I was fortunate to attend a dinner at the archbishop’s residence with a friend who won it in a Catholic high school auction to support the school,” she said. “We had dinner, he gave us a tour, some blessed rosaries and (we) visited the chapel in the basement. He was so very gracious.”

The second time she was with her mother-in-law, who is in her 90s. She brought her mom to Culver’s after Mass.

“My mom blurted out that she was going to say ‘Hi’ to the archbishop,” Jaeger said. “I thought she might be imagining it, but he was there, and she told him she just saw him at Mass — which surprised Archbishop Listecki, as here he was at Culver’s. We all had a good laugh when we realized she had watched a recording of it on television.”

The remaining Masses of Thanksgiving are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2, at Lumen Christi, Mequon; 6:30 p.m. Monday, May 13, at St. Katharine Drexel, Beaver Dam; 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at St. Anthony on the Lake, Pewaukee; 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 30, at St. Rita, West Allis; and 11 a.m. Sunday, June 9, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee. Each of those Masses will be followed by a reception.