Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki is a man happy in his work as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He is even more joyful now that he has a pair of Auxiliary Bishops to help him serve the more than 560,000 Catholics in nearly 200 parishes in this 10-county archdiocese.
As he prepared for the ordination to bishop of Bishop-elects Jeffrey R. Haines and James T. Schuerman, Archbishop Listecki called the Jan. 25 announcement from Pope Francis a belated Christmas gift.
After waiting two years following initial Vatican approval of the two auxiliaries, having a greater presence to parishioners is vital, he said.
“It is important that the episcopal presence shows that we are connected to a Universal Church, not just a particular community,” Archbishop Listecki said.
“When a bishop is present, that is reflective of the fact that there is a connection to the Church Universal. If you are attending ceremonies where I am present, you will see I wear a pallium (a circular band, worn about the neck, breast, and shoulders) and this is a symbol of my connectedness to the pope. Whenever I am wearing that it is a statement the archdiocese is connected to Rome.”
There are many ceremonies and event that call for special attention.
“One of the things in any archdiocese or diocese is that there are a lot of ceremonies and events that demand episcopal presence,” the Archbishop said. “When a bishop is there it displays the whole archdiocese. I’m very aware when I go to a confirmation or an anniversary, I am representing the unity of the archdiocese in that place.”
The auxiliaries will allow the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to be of service to more people. And that is the reason for joining the priesthood.
“You don’t enter the priesthood looking to be a bishop,” Archbishop Listecki said. “You enter the priesthood looking to be in service to the Church and the Church decides if there is a call to assume that leadership role.
“St. Paul and others have said the priest is the servant. All of the priest’s energies are to serve the person of Jesus in the Church. A priest should be ambitious to carry out the mission of the Church, to be able to see that the Church succeeds.”
The Episcopal Ordination at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral on March 17 should have a special significance to all in the archdiocese.
“It is a tribute that two of your own have been chosen,” Archbishop Listecki said, pointing out that Bishop Haines and Bishop Schuerman are both products of the local area.
“Pope Francis chose two priests who are life-long members of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee,” Archbishop Listecki said. “In doing so, he recognized the deep faith of the people of the archdiocese, the good work of the religious, the devotion of the deacons and the priestly contributions of the presbyterate.”
The lives of Bishops Haines and Schuerman will change as they begin to focus on a larger flock.
“It is a different type of leadership,” Archbishop Listecki said. “The interesting thing is when you are a parish priest, and both of our two auxiliaries are wonderful pastors, is that you are engaged with people on an ongoing day- to- day basis. You are engaged with the elderly, married couples, singles, young people with children in the schools. You are engaged as their pastor, their priest. When you become a bishop, an auxiliary, your parish is the whole archdiocese. So you are dealing with a different leadership mode. That switch is different and it is an adjustment.”
The Archbishop relayed a personal story to amplify.
“It was kind of joke that in Chicago when I was first named an auxiliary, I would go to a meeting and someone would say, ‘The bishop is here.” and I would turn around and look,” he laughed. “Wait, I am the bishop. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to this new treatment. The respect is not given to you because you deserve it but given to the office, because basically the office deserves it.”
The world is swirling around rapidly for the two new auxiliaries. Besides the new duties of ministry, there are a few personal things to remember also.
“The first thing I shared with them is to relax,” Archbishop Listecki said. “Because every individual who is called to episcopal service knows that they are inadequate for the job. That is a part of it, you feel inferior to the task. You have a deer in the headlights frame of mind and you freeze. You think, why me when there are so many others in your mind that are much more worthy.
“You are humbled by the selection. But you have been chosen, now you have to relax and get over it and basically begin your episcopal ministry.”
The new bishops will aid Archbishop Listecki with a part of his ministry that has been pushed into the background.
“My own personal preference is that I am a lingerer – some come in, do their role and want to take off,” Archbishop Listecki said. “I am a lingerer, when I come to a parish or an event, I like to stay and spend time and talk to people. In the last two years I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve had to go to the exit, because usually I have had to go to another event. This will free me up to be a little more present to some of the events that will be on my schedule.”