“God is living in our cities. The church is living in our cities. God and the church living in our cities want to be like yeast in the dough, to relate to everyone, to stand at everyone’s side, proclaiming the marvels of the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace.”

Pope Francis
Homily at Madison Square Garden
Sept. 25, 2015

Fr. Tim Kitzke stands in an alley of one of the Milwaukee neighborhoods that could benefit from the impact of the collaborative urban initiative he is leading as the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s vicar general for urban ministry. He remains the pastor of four parishes and the administrator of another. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson, photo illustration by Erik Peterson) With Milwaukee’s record homicide rate, unemployment, segregation, poverty and other ailments, one might ask, “Where is God in all of this? Where is the church?”

They are there; they have been throughout the city’s history. The steeples in the skyline are an outward sign of it. But more so, in a quieter, humbler way, God and church are seen, experienced in the pastoral presence and commitment of priests, religious and laity. The city’s parishes, schools, hospitals, and other institutions are evidence that God and church are living in Milwaukee.

But urban ills can make one forget about God and church and how they can bring healing to a hurting community.

Even before the 2014 Archdiocesan Synod called for the church to be present and to be a collaborator in addressing those problems, Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki was considering how to address them.

“A confidence comes about when the church takes the initiative,” he told the Catholic Herald Sept. 21. “I determined that the church should be the convener of the collaborators for the common good. So we’re the ones that call people together and say this is what we should address, this is what we should be focusing our attention on.”  

“Convener of the collaborators” isn’t an official title in the Catholic Church, but vicar general is. Last spring, the archbishop appointed Fr. Tim Kitzke vicar general with special emphasis on urban ministry, effective July 1.

“As vicar general, he’s in relationship to all of the entities in the entire archdiocese. He brings a focus of the urban areas to everybody else,” the archbishop said, noting that the vicar general is “the persona” of the archbishop. “There is now a central authority that helps coordinate our responses, resources and relationships with all the other entities in the archdiocese.”

Job without a job description

Once he was named vicar general, Fr. Kitzke, 56, would tell people, “I have a job, but no job description.”

While he did so jokingly, he was concerned about the specifics of the position.

“I am discovering what the archbishop said would happen is happening  –  the path and the issues are coming to me instead of me going to them,” he told the Catholic Herald Nov. 5.

Terming himself “a relatively new person in the conversation,” the South Milwaukee native said he does more listening than talking.
“What I am doing, then, is consulting, consulting, consulting and listening and listening and listening,” he said.

Listen to those affected by issues

Four months into the position, Fr. Kitze has altered one approach in carrying out his still evolving duties.Among issues being addressed through the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s collaborative urban initiative are violence, poverty, unemployment and housing. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)

“Before I was much more issue driven, now I’m much more person driven,” he said. “Because as soon as you discover the person behind the issues, the issues take on a different light.”

Fr. Kitzke said people affected by “urban realities” come not just from the central city, but from throughout the city.

“Part of my job is to meet them, listen to them, talk to them,” he said of those he termed “people of good will.”

The issue-centered listening sessions held at St. Martin de Porres Parish, Milwaukee, during September, October and November, and the one-on-one meetings with those who minister and are ministered to in the central city confirmed his decision to focus on people.

“What I’m discovering is it’s not only about the people who are involved in the issues; it’s also about people who want to be involved in solution of the issues,” he said.

Besides violence, poverty and jobs – topics raised at the St. Martin de Porres sessions, he wants to address other concerns.

“All of these issues are tied together. What do we do once the violence has happened?” Fr. Kitzke said. “One of the initiatives I have is how we are going to deal with mental health issues. How are we going to deal with prisons and the diocese’s response to prisons – not only the people in the prisons, but the people who have people in the prisons? What do we do with those family structures? What do we do when people come out of prison?”

An underlying theme within the urban initiative, he said, is family.

Why archbishop listecki chose Fr. Kitzke

“We really have to talk about family and what family means. And to say, ‘How can we be a church that supports family?’ – however you define family,” Fr. Kitzke said. “As I’m meeting people, I’m discovering family is defined in so many different ways. My point is this: How do we establish a system that supports people in their arenas, the areas of support they need supported?”

With the issues and ideas for how they can be addressed, one constant in all elements of the urban initiative for Fr. Kitzke is prayer. Since August, he has participated in the Mass for Peace at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, an ecumenical service for peace and justice at All Saints, and celebrated two Masses at St. Hedwig for first responders and victims of violence, respectively.  

“I always make sure that whatever the initiative – summits, discussions, planning – we always include prayer,” he said. “If we don’t include prayer, we can’t have any sort of urban initiative because then we’ll be building things on the sand we usually build things on, which for me is my ego. What I need to do is realize that I’m hopefully being empowered by the Holy Spirit.”

Without God, collaboration nothing happens

Out of that listening, Fr. Kitzke, referring to what he has learned in more than 26 years as a parish priest, including more than 16 as a pastor, said collaboration is imperative when individuals and groups address issues.

“We have to stop segregating ourselves in terms of our part of the city, especially in terms of pastoral planning,” he said. “We have to become a little less parochial, and a little more cooperative. There can be no movement in the church now that is not collaborative. And if you think you’re doing it just for your little portion of the vineyard, then you’ve built a storehouse for your riches, and not for other people. Everything is collaborative.”

Noting the “parochial model” on which the church was built had its benefits, Archbishop Listecki said it also could be limiting.

“The parochial model is a beautiful model. It gives you a sense of identity, allegiance, history, responsibility. But sometimes the parochial model becomes more akin to congregationalism than it does to Catholicism,” the archbishop said, adding that oftentimes one parish would be “competing” with a neighboring parish rather than working with it. “You oftentimes don’t see the necessity for collaboration, but it is a necessity; we’re called to share this life together with a common vision.”

Archbishop Listecki said Fr. Kitzke’s willingness to invite “relational collaboration with those who are concerned with the common good” will be effective in carrying out the archdiocese’s urban initiative.

“I say that because if it’s based upon relationship, then people have a personal commitment themselves and Fr. Kitzke certainly has my personal commitment,” the archbishop said.

Make presence known

Acknowledging that “in some instances the church had abandoned the city,” Archbishop Listecki said the archdiocese recognizes its responsibilities to the urban community.

“Our churches are still there, our communities are still praying and present, our priests are assigned, some of our religious communities are there,” he said. “We’re there; we’re still significantly there, so our presence should make a difference in addressing issues in the city.”
The archbishop said people must see the church’s presence.

“I don’t want it to be a secret. I desire it be publicly known; we publicly collaborate, we publicly offer our vision to everyone,” he said. “My sense is we have started to move in that direction. Fr. Kitze will help us be a more forceful presence in the activities of the city.”
Being a vicar general brings with it “a certain level of gravitas” that, according to the priest, is advantageous.

“I can use it to open doors, get my foot in them, but also to begin to have a voice with folks who have been talking for awhile but who maybe need a little bit of unity of dialogue,” he said. “But then it also sends forth the message loud and clear: The Catholic Church is here and we care.”

Part of Archbishop Listecki’s commitment to the urban initiative is acknowledging the problems and the hopelessness that result from those problems. But that is only the beginning.

“As a religious leader, I understand that alone we can do nothing, but with God we can do everything; we bring God into the picture,” he said. “And when you bring God into the picture, then get out of our way because things start to happen.”

Engagement beyond the city

When it comes to unresolved urban issues, Fr. Kitzke is adamant – “Remember the poor, remember the poor, remember the poor,” he said – that people outside the city have a stake in helping address those concerns.

“It’s not just a matter of money, but of saying that doing this is definitely part of being the church,” he said. “Part of the Gospel is to take care of the poor. Period. It’s not negotiable.”

When he talks to “people of means,” Fr. Kitzke said he refers to the tripartite stool of human concerns, noting the “many wonderfully charitable persons in this archdiocese” whose generosity does not go unnoticed.

“That’s good, but it’s just one part of the chair they’re sitting on. Another is formation/education – learning about the issues of poverty,” he said.

Fr. Kitzke said he has discovered when people who are generous with their money meet the people involved in the issue or project where their money goes, a transformation occurs.

“They fall in love with them, they understand it’s not just a matter of giving money so you can feel good; it’s a matter of realizing that you can be drawn into relationships with the people you’re giving support to. Not only that, they return something to you then,” he said, adding, “Charity is never one way. The people we give to give something back to us.”

The third leg of the stool is advocacy.

“How do we begin to change systems?” he said. “I just had a meeting with some very high level people in terms of prisons, in terms of sentencing, in terms of what are we doing. We have an ever burgeoning prison population which just feeds upon itself. How do we stop that?”

While he encourages “the very rich and the very poor” to be charitable, Fr. Kitzke challenges people to better know their faith.
“We have to start learning the treasure of who we are as Catholics. It’s a great, great system,” he said. “You start to read stuff and you start to realize we have such a wonderful body that goes back 2000 years – a body of knowledge and inspiration that is not historically based, but it is truth based in terms of the Gospel.”

As the urban initiative evolves, and as Fr. Kitzke becomes the “convener of the collaborators” to shape it, he is growing into the job. He realizes the initiative’s success does not depend entirely on him.  

“It’s nice in that I’m being asked bigger questions and to realize that if it was just a matter of being on me, it would be a total failure. The Spirit has moved me to say, ‘Walk gently, listen, be a little bit more humble, be a good leader, but be a servant leader,’” he said. “If anything, I’m humbled by the goodness of people and by the fact that in my own inadequacies, the Spirit can still make things work.”

Why Archbishop Listecki chose Fr. Kitzke

He is pastor of Three Holy Women, Old St. Mary’s, SS. Peter and Paul and Our Lady of Divine Mercy; he is administrator of All Saints. All are in Milwaukee.

Why would Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki appoint Fr. Tim Kitzke vicar general for urban ministry?

“First of all, I know his accomplishments,” the archbishop told the Catholic Herald. “Take a look at the success he has had in bringing parishes together, and helping restructure debt of a struggling parish. He has coordination and relational abilities with other community leaders, religious leaders and those within the church. There’s a confidence in Fr. Kitzke’s leadership that not only I have, but others have.”

Archbishop Listecki acknowledges that even though Fr. Kitzke is “oftentimes overworked,” that does not have a negative impact upon his ministry.

“He maintains an enthusiasm and love for the Gospel which permeates everything he does, and that’s contagious,” the archbishop said. “You have someone in the position where you want them to address some of the urban problems, you want someone who is going to manifest a contagion, who is going to get other people infected with the same type of vision that we possess.”

According to Fr. Kitzke, being a pastor is why the archbishop chose him.

“In terms of long term, he wants me to stay being a pastor, probably giving me a little extra help with some of the sacramental work, but it’s that specific pastoral approach he wants to take to the very issues; we can’t establish special offices to deal with the special ministries because these issues are part and parcel of every parish ministry,” the priest said.

Fr. Kitzke and Archbishop Listecki noted that communication between them is a key element.

“This position reflects the pull of the synod, but it also reflects the direct will of the representative of Jesus Christ in this diocese – the archbishop,” the priest said. “I have an open line with him, and an open element of communication with him, so I can speak honestly with him.”

Noting the priest “can speak for me when addressing those (urban) problems,” the archbishop said, “He is going to be a source of informing me about the problems, and will help me to envision how we might begin to address those problems in a common manner so we can achieve some sort of success; rather than looking at the deep, dark tunnel, we can actually see light. This can only be accomplished by somebody who has a love for the city and understands its tremendous potential.”

Archbishop Listecki said people are excited about Fr. Kitzke’s new role.

“They see his appointment and the announcement of the urban initiative as a new moment for the church,” he said. “We’re recapturing the leadership that was somehow lost in this area, and with that comes a tremendous confidence that the church will help to do something.”