MILWAUKEE — Frigid Wisconsin temperatures hovering near single digits were a sharp contrast to the warm, festive mood inside the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Monday, Jan. 4 as the Milwaukee Archdiocese welcomed its 11th shepherd, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki.
Nearly 1,000 were on hand at the cathedral for the installation of the 60-year-old Chicago native, most recently bishop of La Crosse.
Pope Benedict XVI announced his appointment of Archbishop Listecki to lead the 10-county archdiocese and its 643,000 Catholics on Saturday, Nov. 14.
The installation, a two-day event, began with vespers on Sunday evening at the cathedral. Festivities resumed the following day at 1:30 p.m., with a procession of priests, bishops, cardinals and the apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the official diplomatic representative from the Vatican.
Following the procession, Bishop William P. Callahan, who had served as archdiocesan administrator during the transitional period between Archbishops Timothy M. Dolan and Listecki, greeted the worshippers and introduced Archbishop Sambi.
Archbishop Sambi thanked Archbishop Dolan and Bishop Callahan for their service to the archdiocese and read an English translation of the apostolic letter, the pope’s Nov. 14, 2009 letter appointing Archbishop Listecki to Milwaukee, which was met with prolonged applause from the congregation.
Next, the new archbishop was introduced to representatives of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, visiting ecumenical dignitaries including Bishop Steven Andrew Miller of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee and Bishop David W. Olson, interim bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and civic officials including Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.
Representing Catholic elementary schools were Alek Riestra, St. Charles Borromeo School, Milwaukee, Nathan Gross, John Paul II Academy, Racine, and Isabelle Branger, Divine Mercy School, South Milwaukee.
“I felt really excited to welcome the archbishop,” said 11-year-old Branger, a fifth grader, who said Archbishop Listecki greeted her personally as she approached him and also thanked her for coming.
Secondary school representatives were Genevieve Stollenwerk from Pius XI High School and William Schulner, St. Thomas More High School, both in Milwaukee. Dr. Mary Meehan, president of Alverno College and chairperson of the Sacred Heart School of Theology board of directors, was called forth as higher education representative.
Opening his homily with a hint of his sense of humor, Archbishop Listecki said he arrived early to the cathedral that morning and met a man outside who asked him whether he had an extra ticket for the installation later that day.
“I don’t even have a ticket,” responded Archbishop Listecki, but the man reminded him, “You don’t need a ticket. You have a chair.”
He also thanked his family and friends “for wintering with me in Milwaukee. However, I know that you will find the spirit of hospitality and friendship easily providing the warmth that would rival Miami,” he said.
During his homily, Archbishop Listecki invited the faithful to work with him in his role as governor, teacher and sanctifier.
“No one governs alone, but rather in collaboration with those he serves,” he said. Archbishop Listecki admitted that adherence to the church’s teaching is not always easy, “however, one must sacrifice for the truth. In this sacrifice, we demonstrate our love.”
Archbishop Listecki also demonstrated his humility, saying, “I am now installed as the 11th bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Listen, there are many bishops and priests more intelligent, more talented and more deserving of this position than me. I say this not with a false sense of humility, but merely as fact. However, his holiness Benedict the XVI has made his selection and I accept his decision as God’s will,” he said, promising to serve the archdiocese “with every ounce of my being.”
Following his homily, which elicited a standing ovation from the congregation, the offertory procession featured representatives from ethnic groups within the archdiocese. Dressed in native attire, representatives from Africa, the Philippines, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Korea, Laos, Latino countries and Vietnam brought forth gifts of food or cultural items representing their cultures.
Following Communion, Archbishop Listecki offered thanks to many present or involved in the installation events. He thanked everyone from Archbishop Sambi who he described as a person who exudes joy, to his mentors, the cardinals present, Cardinals Edward Egan, Adam Maida and Edmund Szoka and Francis George.
Of Cardinal George, Archbishop Listecki reminded the congregation that it was he who ordained him a bishop nine years ago.
“Since it was Cardinal George who ordained me, please address all complaints about me to Cardinal George,” he joked, adding that he is proud to call the cardinal his friend.
His gratitude reached to Archbishop emeritus Rembert G. Weakland and Bishops Richard J. Sklba and Callahan.
He had a special message for his predecessor Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan.
“If you noticed that scooched over to one side of the (cathedra),” explained Archbishop Listecki. “I did not do this to make room for my guardian angel, but rather for Archbishop Timothy Dolan,” he said, adding there will always be a special place in the hearts of Milwaukeeans for him.
“If the chair won’t hold both of us, I know the hearts of the priests and faithful have a special place reserved for you,” he said to Archbishop Dolan, who was seated to the left of Archbishop Sambi.
The archbishop also had special words for his only sibling, Penny Listecki.
“It is no secret that as a society we face difficult economic times. Inflation, stagflation, the devaluation of the dollar. However in my family, there is one value that has always increased, the value of a Penny,” he said, adding, “My sister has been and continues to be a great value in my life…. My Penny is a true treasure.”
In addition to thanking family and friends, Archbishop Listecki had fond words for the diocese he leaves behind.
“I thank those from La Crosse. For over four years and 10 months, you’ve been a blessing to me. I will miss the bluffs and the Mississippi, but most of all your friendship,” he said.
Chuck Whalen and his family, members of the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Worker in La Crosse, attended the installation with mixed feelings.
“You are getting a wonderful archbishop and I’m happy for Milwaukee, but the only sad part is losing him,” he said, in comments to your Catholic Herald following the Mass. “He’s such a people person, so caring and so attentive, and you saw a bit of his sense of humor today,” said Whalen, noting he takes satisfaction that La Crosse is “only partly losing him” as he remains provincial archbishop for all the dioceses in Wisconsin.
While apologizing any pronunciation or grammatical errors, Archbishop Listecki delivered special greetings to the Polish and Hispanic communities, groups he anticipates working with closely.
The archbishop, who took dance lessons as a child, closed by referencing one of his sister’s favorite television shows, “Dancing with the Stars.”
“Today we begin our dance together, placing our performance for the sake of Christ and his church. I apologize if I tend to step on your toes, but I am confident we will grow in this love and our performance will witness to his presence in southeastern Wisconsin.”