A reflection from the bishop
My heart is full of gratitude to God as I mark the 50th Anniversary of my Ordination to the Priesthood. On June 6, the actual date, I celebrated the joyous Baccalaureate Mass for the 2014 graduates of Bishop Noll Institute at Holy Angels Cathedral. All are invited to join me in celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving for 50 years of priestly ministry, 31½ years of episcopal ministry, and 22 years of privileged episcopal ministry in the Diocese of Gary on Wednesday, June 25, at 4 p.m., at Holy Angels Cathedral.
Our editor asked me to use this occasion to share some reflections on my life as an ordained servant of God’s priestly people. God is good all the time. Every day my first prayer is one of gratitude to our all-loving God for the gift of another day, the gift of faith and Baptism, the gift of Jesus Himself who loves us so much that He gave Himself unto death and never tires of forgiving my own sins and shortcomings.
I then thank Jesus for the gift of the Church and for calling me to serve His people as priest and bishop. I find my peace and serenity in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and I ask Jesus each day to touch me very powerfully during Mass and equally as well every person that will participate at Mass.
I was ordained as priest and bishop to be servant leader of the faith community entrusted to me. My first priority is to grow deeper in the love of Jesus so that I might share His love with those whom I serve. It is very important for me to spend 45 minutes in prayer at the beginning of each day and an hour in prayer later, in addition to celebrating Holy Mass, praying the rosary, and various other devotional prayers.
My goal through these past 22 years and throughout my 50 years of priestly ministry has been, above all, to help God’s people appreciate that all of the baptized are the Church, the living presence and Body of Jesus in the world today. All of the baptized are called to grow deeper in the love of Jesus and to actively share Jesus’ love with others in accordance with the gifts and talents that God has given them.
Jesus calls all of us, through Baptism and Confirmation, to mission. We are all called to become actively engaged in our parish and beyond our parish through prayer, word, and action in order to make our world a better place.
I cherish great memories of ministry during my first 11½ years in two different parishes. My first parish had 2,850 families, an 18-classroom school, 3,000 young people in grades 1-12 religious education, and a 400-bed active emergency hospital for which I was also responsible. The Second Vatican Council ended after my first full year of priestly ministry, and we had the exciting privilege of implementing the powerful teachings of the Council.
I loved visiting the classrooms in our school each week and the classrooms in the eight schools where our young people attended religious programs. I thoroughly enjoyed our many adult faith formation sessions where we shared the new theological and pastoral teachings of the Council, and together implemented the Parish Pastoral Council and Commissions and the very welcome liturgical changes: Mass in the vernacular and facing the people, reception of Holy Comm under both species, implementation of ministries of reader, extraordinary distributors of Holy Comm, ministers of welcome, greater participation in the sung and recited responses, weekly visitation and Holy Comm for the sick, and peace and social justice outreach.
It was an enormous privilege to enter so deeply into the lives of individuals and families at times of joy preparing and celebrating Baptisms (17 on every Sunday was not unusual), First Confessions, First Comms, Confirmations, marriages, and in moments of sadness – comforting the sick, dying, and those who mourned the death of a loved one.
In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, we offered leadership in standing up to the challenges of racism. In those days before rampant secularism, the parish was the very heart and center of the people’s lives, young and old.
After my January 27, 1983 ordination as bishop, I was given responsibility for overseeing 80 parishes with 600,000 Catholics in the Northwest region of the Archdiocese of Detroit. It was a joy to confer the fullness of the Holy Spirit upon the young people in those parishes and to work closely with the priests in the seven deaneries in my region.
A most challenging yet rewarding experience was to serve as Director of the September 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II, now St. Pope John Paul II, to Detroit. While I had already visited with him at the Vatican on several occasions, the Detroit visit was an opportunity to spend considerable time with him during the speaking and liturgical events in seven separate locations.
I love changes, challenges, and surprises. The most dramatic in my life came when the Papal Nuncio called me on August 19, 1992 at seven in the morning. In his broken English, he told me that the Holy Father would like me to serve as bishop in the Diocese of Gary.
I believe deep in my heart that we should always do what the Church asks us to do, and thus I immediately said yes, I will accept. When I asked the Papal Nuncio “When shall I go?” he said it would be best if you would go today because the current bishop, Bishop Norbert F. Gaughan, has been disabled with a series of strokes. I asked, “What does this mean,” and he responded, “Just go be the bishop.” I began ministry in the Diocese of Gary that day.
There was no time to think about the challenges that would lie ahead. I believe firmly that Jesus never abandons us and always strengthens us for any challenge with the Holy Spirit. Thus, I tend to focus not so much on challenges as opportunities.
My time with you has been blessed with many opportunities to build the Body of Christ through teaching (homilies and weekly articles), sanctifying (Masses and Sacraments), and leading (governing). I never felt alone. Not only is Jesus always with me, but I have the splendid cooperation of our priests, deacons, religious, and lay faithful.
Together, we are Church, continuing the mission of Jesus, witnessing to the Father’s love for every person among us and beyond us. Together, we help others grow in the love of the Lord Jesus and in the joy of living as His disciple.
I am especially grateful for all who take active roles, whether in liturgical ministries, teaching in Catholic schools, religious education or youth ministry programs, in RCIA or adult faith formation programs, reaching out to the needy or in peace and social justice programs.
I am likewise grateful to all who serve on parish and diocesan consultative bodies such as Parish and Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Commissions, Personnel Boards, Councils of Priests and Deacons, the Diocesan Finance Council, the Diocesan Stewardship Commission, Catholic Charities’ Board and many others. I particularly commend those who have worked very hard to strengthen catechesis at the high school and young adult level.
All together we are Church. The Church in the Diocese of Gary has so much vitality because of all of you who take your Baptism and discipleship very seriously. Thank you so very much.
What does the future hold? I submitted my letter of resignation to Pope Francis just prior to my 75th birthday on November 9th as required by Canon Law. I did so with profound gratitude for the opportunity to serve God’s priestly people as priest and bishop. When the consultation process has been completed, Pope Francis will name the fourth bishop of the Diocese of Gary.
I believe changes in episcopal leadership and changes of pastors are a very good thing. It reminds us that the Church is God’s and we have been called to be stewards for a period of time. God will see fit to appoint another shepherd who will have a different set of gifts and talents that God will use for His purpose.
I plan to place myself at the disposition of the new bishop and the needs of the parishes. I trust that through them, Jesus will reveal how I am to continue working at transforming my mind, heart, and will in accordance with His own. Please pray for me. You can certainly count on my continued prayers.
God’s blessings in abundance upon you!