“As a priest, I thought I was praying pretty regularly and well. I’m doing even more so now as a bishop. The relationship with Jesus has become a little bit more defined in terms of walking with Jesus – a lot of imaginative prayer has come to mind, a lot more of the Scripture scenes, and the stories of the Scriptures start to become more vivid for me in terms of striving to realize, ‘OK, exactly how am I to respond to this situation and how would I respond to this situation if I were with Jesus?’” he said.

Faith in Jesus, future

Following Archbishop Dolan’s April 15, 2009 installation as archbishop of New York, Bishop Callahan was elected administrator of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He served in that role until Archbishop Listecki was installed as archbishop on Jan. 4, 2010. As administrator he oversaw continuation of the $105 million Faith In Our Future capital campaign begun by Archbishop Dolan.

“It’s not just so much raising money; it is a matter of raising consciousness. The only thing I could do in my job was to raise consciousness about Jesus Christ,” he said. “What was necessary was to be honest and open with people, to not be afraid to give people the opportunity to do good.”

Bishop Callahan said that a big part of any bishop’s job is to stimulate the love of Jesus in the hearts and minds of people.

“It (the capital campaign) was the right thing to do; it was necessary for us as an archdiocese to say, ‘Yes, we are people of faith, yes, we are moving with Jesus Christ at the head,’” he said. “As Archbishop Dolan said, ‘We have faith in our future because we have faith in Jesus Christ.’ It was no problem for me to jump onto that bandwagon at all.”

Noting that the campaign still needed to raise about $10 million in order to reach its goal, Bishop Callahan said, “If we’re trying to raise consciousness about Jesus Christ, and we believe Jesus Christ is the center of our lives and of our faith, then why wouldn’t we ask for people to give of themselves and their treasure to support Jesus Christ and his church?”

Facing challenges

While overseeing the Catholic community in southeastern Wisconsin did not overwhelm Bishop Callahan, as archdiocesan administrator, something did challenge him – himself.

“You can become lost in a fear of not doing the right thing, lost in the fear of doing something that somebody is not going to like,” he said. “Fear can be a high motivator. Jesus reminds us, ‘Do not be afraid.’”

He said that fear came from his own “inadequacies.”

“I look and see some of the scholarship of our past leaders and of some of my contemporaries in the episcopacy and I think, ‘Callahan, what do you bring to the table?’” he said. “I am a parish priest. Hopefully, I bring the love and service of a parish priest to the ministry of bishop to teach, govern and sanctify in service of the mystery of the church.”

Learning process

Asked what he has learned about being a bishop since his appointment two and a half years ago, Bishop Callahan laughed, and replied, “All things are better handled with patience and love. There is no sense in becoming perturbed; nothing is accomplished by making my problems or my difficulties to understand situations the problems or difficulties of others.”

He gives listening high priority.


Bishop William P. Callahan talks with sisters Gati and Rhobi Manamba during the presentation of candidates during the Rite of Election at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, Feb. 10, 2008. Looking on at right is Sedigheh Nahaie Ghanad. (Catholic Herald file photo by Allen Fredrickson)

“I am surrounded by good, talented, creative and holy people. I’ve made it my business as a priest, pastor and now as a bishop to take advantage of the situation of having good people around who are working for the good of the church, he said. “So we do this together, so listening has been very important.”

Bishop Callahan praised two of his teachers, Archbishops Dolan and Listecki, for the perspectives they provided on contemporary life – the former as a historian, the latter as a lawyer.

“Both Archbishop Dolan and Archbishop Listecki are bold in their approach to speaking for the church,” he said. “Both of them, each from his own perspective, are driven by the Gospel and by their passion for Jesus Christ. No matter where they take us on the journey, they arrive at the same place.”

Life in La Crosse

Bishop Callahan, born and raised in Chicago, and a self-described “city boy,” said he looked forward to being part of a rural diocese, and that being “more aware of rural issues” would be a key part of his episcopacy.

“My vocation is not to be a farmer, but my vocation depends upon farmers. My vocation is founded upon people who sow seeds and produce food for people to eat. It’s not too difficult to extrapolate from the things these people do to the Gospel that we preach,” he said.
As a priest serving in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., Bishop Callahan said he learned how corn grows, and blessed cows and cow barns.

“I’m not afraid of cow pies,” he added.

Asked what Archbishop Listecki, bishop of La Crosse for four years before being appointed to Milwaukee, told him about the diocese, Bishop Callahan said, “He said, ‘They are loving, good people, and a wonderful, caring, cooperative presbyterate.’ Every bishop’s dream.”

Good memories

Bishop Callahan likens the memories he accumulated during his time at St. Josaphat, first as a an associate following his ordination to priesthood in 1977, and then as pastor from 1994 to 2005, and as auxiliary bishop to a scene in the movie version of “Our Town.”

“I think about Emily Gibbs in ‘Our Town.’ She comes back (from the dead) and wants to relive her 16th birthday,” he said. “She is given that gift and relieves that day. She tells the narrator to slow it down. She says they’re not appreciating what is happening; she wants to slow it down and savor it.”

So does the bishop.

“I’m looking back on a lot of things and thinking, ‘Gosh, I wish I could slow this down and savor some of these memories.’ Thanks be to God, a lot of the memories get sorted for good. I don’t have a memory for bad things,” he said. “I don’t have a vengeful, spiteful, ‘I’m going to get you for what you did to me’ kind of memory. Bad things happen in everyone’s live, but that doesn’t become what motivates me or colors my relationship with people.”

Whatever the good memories, he expects they will serve him well.

“I savor all of these wonderful memories and hopefully, when I need them, they’ll come back and help me in terms of what I’m doing,” he said.