ST. FRANCIS — It was fitting that Pope Benedict XVI chose May 26, the Feast of St. Philip Neri, as the date on which to announce the appointment of Fr. Don Hying as auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
During Mass concelebrated that morning in the Christ King Chapel at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki noted that, like the saint, the bishop-designate was well regarded for his preaching, wit and praying with people.
“We will hold you to bring people together in prayer,” the archbishop told more than 100 archdiocesan and seminary staff members, and religious who had gathered to celebrate.
Bishop-designate Hying, 47, will be ordained by Archbishop Listecki on Wednesday, July 20, at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee.
At the May 26 Mass and in comments following it, Archbishop Listecki emphasized the kind of person the church has called to the episcopacy.
“Don is a servant leader; he is always willing to put himself out, always willing to serve,” the archbishop said during Mass. Later, he added, “Through service, we are going to lead.”
Bishop-designate Hying, addressing those who had been at Mass and media that had gathered at the seminary, spoke about embracing “a life of deeper service.”
“My greatest desire is to serve Christ and the church,” he said.
Expressing his love for the archbishop, the City of Milwaukee and the archdiocese, he said, “In some small way I hope I can build up the kingdom of Christ, especially among the poor.”
Ministering near and far
The sixth of the late Albert and the late Catherine Hying’s children, all boys, the bishop-designate is a native of West Allis, where he attended elementary school at Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Aloysius. He graduated from Brookfield Central High School and Marquette University before completing theological studies at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989.
Bishop-designate Hying served as associate pastor at St. Anthony, Menomonee Falls, 1989-1994. In 1994, he began a three-year commitment as a team member, La Sagrada Familia Parroquia, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s parish in the Dominican Republic.
Franciscan Sr. Fran Cunningham, director of the World Mission Ministries of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, got to know Bishop-designate Hying when she visited the parish and he drove her to the 28 villages in which the 50,000 people it served lived.
“People did not fear to approach him; they were happy to welcome him into their home, I think, because of his sincere interest in them, and just his willingness to minister among them. He was open to them, he was there to be their pastor and their friend, and they knew that,” she said.
Sr. Fran said that the bishop-designate, in addition to his ability to speak Spanish fluently, will also bring his experience as a missionary to his new role in the archdiocese.
“I think that Don brings just such a sensitivity to his ministry, and he’s rooted in his concerns for the poor, and I think that will come through with his ministry here as bishop,” she said. “I found him to be a good listener, and very responsive to whatever it was they were in need of.”
Raymond Erbe, a member of Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee, learned from his daughter just how serious the bishop-designate is about meeting the needs of the poor.
“He will literally give the shirt off his back to somebody,” Raymond Erbe explained about a memorable trip to the Dominican Republic. “He did that actually when one of my daughters went on a mission. She said, ‘Dad, he really did it.’ Somebody came up and needed a shirt, and Fr. Don said, ‘Here you go.’ They got his shirt, he gave them his shoes, I mean, literally, it’s all about the people. I can’t say this enough.”
‘Priest’s priest’ as pastor
Upon returning to the United States, Bishop-elect Hying served as temporary administrator at St. Peter, East Troy, and as pastor, for a year, at St. Anthony, Milwaukee. In 1999, he was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope, Milwaukee, which is where Raymond Erbe and his wife, Anne, got to know him.
“He’s just a wonderful, wonderful man, very approachable and very, very good with the kids,” Anne Erbe said, explaining that she and her husband have four children. “My first impression was that he seemed very young, very happy, and full of energy, and to this day I think he has way too much energy!”
Lynne Reeves, another Our Lady of Good Hope parishioner, wasn’t surprised that the pope selected her former pastor to be a bishop.
“I wasn’t too surprised. I think that everybody who knew Fr. Don knew he was going to go some place. He was just that kind of a person. So no, it doesn’t surprise me, and I don’t think it will surprise anybody here.”
Reeves recalled one of the humorous moments involving her then-pastor.
“We had a rummage sale here, and he lived in the house next to the parish, so he’d clean his garage out and we’d put all the stuff for the rummage in there, and he forgot to take his keys out one time. And they said they cleaned his garage out and they had everything over here, and then here all of a sudden here comes Fr. Don running down the street with his robes flapping!” she explained, laughing out loud at the memory.
Retired Deacon Michael Cesarec used to assist Bishop-elect Hying when he celebrated Mass at Our Lady of Good Hope. His first impressions haven’t changed.
“I was just impressed with him and enjoyed being with him,” he said. “He’s a priest’s priest, as far as I’m concerned. He was people orientated, he was very kind, very patient, he was very spiritual – tremendously spiritual – and he was a good teacher of anything he taught.”
Formation, leadership at seminary
In 2005, Bishop-elect Hying began a two-year stint as dean of formation at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary. In addition, he served as temporary administrator of St. Augustine, Milwaukee, in 2006.
In 2007, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan appointed Bishop-elect Hying rector of the seminary. Three members of the ordination class of 2009 passed news of the rector’s promotion along to each other.
Fr. Mark Brandl, associate pastor at St. Alphonsus, Greendale, called a sleeping Fr. Sean O’Connell, associate pastor of St. Dominic, Brookfield, with the news shortly after 6 a.m., May 26.
“I was thrilled, because Bishop-elect Hying is a great guy and has been a great friend of mine for a long time,” Fr. O’Connell told your Catholic Herald May 26.
The priest has no doubt that Bishop-elect Hying will thrive in his new role.
“I think Fr. Don Hying has a great love for the people of God, and he never ceases to tell them that he loves them. I think that is something that Archbishop Dolan often did when he was here with us, and I think Fr. Don is going to bring a joy to the people’s hearts of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” he said.
Fr. O’Connell was so excited to hear of the news of Bishop-elect Hying that he immediately had to call Fr. Dan Janasik, associate pastor of St. Francis Borgia, Cedarburg, who was also asleep the morning that news broke.
As a seminarian, Fr. Janasik witnessed first hand the rector-as-pastor when the former’s father suffered a massive heart attack followed by complicated surgery and surgery-related complications that last several months.
“Fr. Don was just an absolute saint to my family. I never once asked him to come and visit Dad; he just kind of on his own priestly intuition he just constantly kept visiting my dad in the hospital, he was there with us on the day of my dad’s surgery, he saw my dad in ICU right after the surgery was over and anointed him,” Fr. Janasik said. “He was just constantly there for my family … I think my whole family got to see what I already knew: just what an amazing person he was.”
Will continue as rector
Having learned two weeks prior to the announcement that Pope Benedict was going to name him an auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, Bishop-elect Hying told your Catholic Herald May 26 that he had been in “deep prayer for surrender to the whole new vocation” to which he had been called.
“I was ready to burst,” he said of not being able to say anything about the pending appointment to anyone other than Archbishop Listecki until it was made public.
Archbishop Listecki said that he had “followed the recommendations of the priests” of the archdiocese who, when asked for names of priests to be considered candidates for auxiliary bishop, had recommended that the archbishop submit the name of Bishop-elect Hying.
The archbishop noted that Bishop Hying will continue to serve as rector of Saint Francis de Sales Seminary.
“This will give him an opportunity to ease into the episcopal role,” he said.
In addition to his experience as a pastor, Bishop-elect Hying regularly works with and speaks at events sponsored by various Catholic organizations in southeastern Wisconsin. Dick Boldin of the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate noted that the new auxiliary has been associated with that organization since its founding in 2003.
“As a spiritual advisor, collaborator and friend, we have come to know Fr. Hying as an authentic disciple of Jesus Christ. One can readily recognize the face of Jesus through all that he does, especially in his living out his call to the priesthood,” Boldin noted in an email to your Catholic Herald.
Concern for the poor
For the last 12 years, the bishop-elect has been the spiritual adviser for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the archdiocese.
“I have a love for the poor and for people on the margins,” Bishop-elect Hying said. “The church needs to be part of the solution for them.”
Debbie Duskey, assistant executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the bishop-elect’s “leadership has been crucial to a renewed focus on spirituality and spiritual growth among the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s members.”
She said that “his message of hope to share Christ’s love for and with the poor” resonates with the Vincentians.
“He has a great sense of compassion and humor which is very much appreciated by everyone he encounters,” Duskey said. “He cares deeply for people and makes a special connection with everyone he meets.”
Gerry Felsecker, executive director of the archdiocesan council of St. Vincent de Paul, praised the bishop-elect’s for being “dedicated to the poor.”
“His leadership on an episcopal basis will bear much fruit in our archdiocese,” he said.