ST. FRANCIS — His phone kept ringing the weekend before last, but not recognizing the phone number and thinking it was a pesky telemarketer, Fr. Jeffrey Haines kept ignoring it.
Yet, the caller was persistent, even though he did not leave a message.
Several calls came in on Sunday and a couple more on Monday and finally, there was a message that Fr. Haines could barely make out.
He checked the name online and much to his surprise, he learned the French-born caller was none other than Archbishop Christophe Pierre who had been appointed papal nuncio last April.
Realizing he should call back, he thought that perhaps the archbishop was calling to arrange for a visitor to the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist where Fr. Haines has served as rector for six years.
Much to his astonishment, Archbishop Pierre told him he was calling on behalf of Pope Francis who had appointed him an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“And it wasn’t a question,” Bishop-elect Haines told the Catholic Herald in an interview at Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki’s residence, Jan. 25, the morning the announcement was made public.
“I was stumbling for words and obviously said, ‘Yes, thanks to God. Thanks to the Holy Father.’ Pray for me,” he said, adding the request was nothing he ever imagined. “All I wanted to do was be a parish priest and I was happy as a lark doing that,” he said.
Admitting the prospect of being a bishop was “a lot intimidating,” Bishop-elect Haines said he calmed his nerves by telling himself that he’d still be a pastor, but he’d now be pastoring a bigger area with more people.
Being with people and serving as their spiritual leader is what drew him to the priesthood in the first place – even at a young age.
As one of four children in the Jim and Maureen Haines family, Bishop-elect Haines founded his own church as a youngster, “celebrating” Masses for his siblings in the basement of their New Berlin home.
Dressed in tiny but elaborate liturgical attire sewn by an aunt, the youngster gathered his congregation in his worship space, aptly named, “Our Lady of the Basement.” The “Masses” were complete with circular hosts made from white bread, the passing of a collection basket and even ashes taken from the fireplace for Ash Wednesday, as he told the Catholic Herald in a 2004 interview.
Yet the idea of a vocation fell by the wayside for a bit after he graduated from New Berlin High School, New Berlin, and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh studying journalism.
“I thought I was a good writer, but I learned I was not a good reporter,” he said, explaining that the idea of priesthood again surfaced in his mind.
He transferred to Marquette University and described “literally crying tears of joy” after his first theology class “because it was an opportunity to study my faith. It was not hard going to class. Every theology class was opening up new worlds and new understandings of my faith. It was just joy.”
The idea of becoming a priest resurfaced and he began exploring religious communities and the diocesan priesthood.
When he described his concept of priesthood to a priest who was to write a letter of recommendation for him, Bishop-elect Haines said he envisioned priesthood as being in a parish, performing baptisms, weddings, hearing confessions – everything the diocesan priesthood was all about.
He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee on May 17, 1985 by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, and with the exception of a temporary leave in 2002 that lasted little more than a month to study canon law at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., his entire ministerial life has been in parish work.
“I was missing what gave me life,” he said about the time he was at CUA. “Ministry is about people in the parish. I did not see myself as a canon lawyer, it was not why I was ordained.”
He asked to return to the diocese and returned to pastoral work first at St. Patrick Parish, Whitewater, and then to his former post at St. Frances Cabrini, West Bend.
Describing being among people as the greatest joy of any priest, he said he looks forward to continuing to serve the people of the archdiocese.
“I admire (Archbishop Listecki) and his mission and love this archdiocese and want do everything I can to see it flourish in the faith. It’s such a good, holy diocese of people.”
In the short time since the announcement of his elevation to bishop has been made public, Bishop-elect Haines said he’s received many congratulatory messages.
“People are saying congratulations like it is some accomplishment. But it is not, it’s a call and I feel humbled that the Holy Father, speaking for the Holy Spirit has given me the opportunity to serve the church in a new way. I wonder why me. I know there are men more qualified, but I feel blessed with the opportunity and will give it every ounce of energy I can.”