ST. FRANCIS – Growing up in Hartland and Okauchee, Bishop-elect Mark Seitz never imagined he’d end up in Dallas. Nor did he imagine he’d end up being an auxiliary bishop in that diocese. But then, he has learned that in priesthood, expect anything.
“Priesthood is an adventure. When you put yourself at God’s service, you better fasten your seatbelt,” he said.
Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop-elect Seitz and Bishop-elect J. Douglas Deshotel auxiliary bishops for the Diocese of Dallas on March 11. They will be ordained April 27 at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
After graduating from Arrowhead High School in 1972, Bishop-elect Seitz, 56, considered entering the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Saint Francis Seminary, but had heard that the seminary “had a lot of turmoil going on,” he said in an interview with your Catholic Herald.
Fr. John Yockey, a Ciscertion monk at the time who helped out at St. Joan of Arc, told him about Holy Trinity Seminary at the University of Dallas. When the young man went to Dallas for a campus visit, it was with the intention of staying at the university and then going to see seminary.
“It was the reverse,” he said of the trip. “I loved it (the seminary) from the moment I saw it.”
During his first three years in the seminary, the bishop-elect expected he would become a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, but in 1975 he changed to the Diocese of Dallas.
“I saw a real need here (Dallas),” he said. “I felt called to stay here.”
Ordained a priest in 1980, the bishop-elect received his first parish assignment, but the diocese also sent him to school. In addition to his master’s of divinity, he earned graduate degrees in theology (1982) and liturgical studies (1985). He also took courses in spirituality and did an internship at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Boston.
“I’m a naturally inquisitive person, always wanting to learn more, and I just could never zero on one thing in theology that I’d focus on; I had so many interests,” Bishop-elect Seitz said. “(The diocese) wanted me to be on staff at the seminary and to teach at the university.”
Following 13 years of teaching, doing spiritual direction and serving as vice rector of the seminary, his bishop appointed him to his first pastorate – St. Joseph, Waxahachie, Texas.
“I always saw myself as being called to be a parish priest,” he said. “The priests I grew up around passed that love on to me.”
He cited Fr. Joseph McGarry, his pastor at St. Charles, and Fr. Lincoln Whalen and Fr. Joseph Konkel, priests at St. Joan of Arc, Okauchee.
Fr. Yockey, now a priest of the archdiocese and pastor of St. Jerome, Oconomowoc, described the bishop-elect as a “very humble, gracious, dedicated priest.”
He continued, “The Holy See chose a man who is a down-to-earth pastor and kind; he is one of the people.”
Pastor at another level
In 2003, Bishop-elect Seitz was named pastor of St. Rita Parish, Dallas, where he was serving at the time of his appointment as auxiliary bishop. In this assignment, he met 45-year-old Carrie Gehling, a parishioner who had been on dialysis for 12 years and whose kidney was shutting down due to nearly life-long juvenile diabetes, and took his role of pastor to another level.
“Whenever, as a priest, you visit someone who is sick, just like anyone who loves another person, you wish you could do more,” he said of Gehling. “Sacraments brought her great comfort. You wish you could do something else.”
The priest tried to arrange a pilgrimage for her to France, but Gehling wasn’t physically strong enough to make that trip. Instead, with the help of a parishioner who is a pilot, they flew her to the Our Lady of San Juan Shrine, where the future bishop celebrated Mass and anointed her.
The need for a kidney donation intensified and the call went out for potential donors.
“How could I ask parishioners to donate if I’m not willing to offer?” the bishop-elect said. “So I did. I didn’t know there was a certainty. When I offered, I had to be ready that the possibility might come to pass.
Bishop-elect Seitz participated in what he termed a “long process of testing,” noting that at each point it worked.
“I thought about that possibility for some time,” the bishop-elect said. “If God gave me sufficient health, it seemed like it’d be such an appropriate thing if I had the opportunity; the pastor’s job is basically to lay down his life for his people. This was certainly not giving the ultimate gift, but this is something I could share if I had the opportunity.”
On Nov. 10, 2009, Bishop-elect Seitz successfully donated a kidney to Gehling.
“She hasn’t needed dialysis,” he said of the woman he describes as “faith-filled.” “She feels better than she has since she’s been in high school.”
Members of the Seitz family will be staying with Gehling and her mother when they travel to Dallas for the ordination.
The oldest of Theodore and Janet Seitz’s 10 children, Bishop-elect Seitz described home life as “never boring” and “a lot of good times.”
“It had its points in favor and its difficulties, but mostly points in favor,” he said of the large family. “We’re a pretty close group. We had a lot of fun growing up. With that many kids, you can pretty well create a team or two whenever you want.”
About the time the bishop-elect was graduating from college in 1976, his dad left the family.
“I certainly stopped to ask myself, ‘Now, what? Do I stay and help support the family and put the vocation on hold or do I continue?’” he said. “Many family and friends came together and were supportive … one man took me aside and said, ‘You go back and give your best to your studies and preparation and we’ll take care of things here.’”
Noting that his mom, his siblings and their families will attend his episcopal ordination, he noted, “It (dad leaving) pulled our family together. To this day, we’re very close; we’ll keep in touch with each other. We love getting together. It built in a tremendous support system that I have and that I really cherish.”
Bishop-elect Seitz, who is fluent in Spanish, expects to be given responsibility for various diocesan programs, as well as administering the sacrament of confirmation and attending graduations.
He has chosen Paratum Cor Meum (“My heart is ready”) from Psalms 57:8 and 108:2 as a reminder that he is to keep his heart open to where God leads him in his new ministry.
“God will use me and the Holy Spirit will supply what I’m lacking. I hope I can bring my love of parish community life to this work and have a good connection with the people I serve,” he said.