All good things must come to an end, so the saying goes, and it is true. When you read the next issue of the West River Catholic our new bishop will have an article for you to read. At least, I hope that is what will happen. Come to think about it, he will be very busy with an ordination, hosting his family and unpacking his life. Well, whether you read an article from me or not next month, this is the last Sede Vacante column, because we will have a new bishop. I am excited for him and for our whole diocese. I know we have been blessed once again.
Almost a year has passed since Bishop Robert Gruss left us and the Consultors elected me as administrator. The challenges have been many but the blessings more. One of the gifts that I have received in this journey is the privilege of connecting once again with my brother priests. We minister together but are not always good about staying in touch. Being the administrator has invited more communication, and I have enjoyed that. I truly love these men that I share ministry with in our diocese and am grateful to God for the privilege of leading them this last year. Their support has been a great gift.
I am also grateful for the opportunity that I was given to meet and interact with the bishops of Minnesota and North and South Dakota. I have also met bishops from around the country. I am amazed, on the one hand, of how ordinary they are and how easy it has been to spend time with them. On the other hand, I have been touched by their deep faith and hard work. Their love for the Lord and their desire to serve him is so clear to me. I have been blessed in my priesthood to work with good and holy bishops from our diocese. Now I have widened that circle. My deepest respect is extended to these brothers in the ministry who carry an enormous burden with grace and dignity.
Another of the highlights of this year was the Ad Limina visit to Rome. Meeting the Holy Father was an experience of a lifetime. Sitting with him and the bishops for a two-hour conversation was something I assumed would never happen to me. Pope Francis’ compassion and kindness were so evident. So, too, were his intellectual acumen and quick wit. His joy in the Holy Spirit shone through, and I will always thank God for that time with him. In addition, I enjoyed learning all about the various offices of the Vatican. I came away knowing that the people who work in the office of the Vatican truly care for us and are there to serve even our little diocese.
Yet another gift to me as been working with the Chancery staff. It has not all been easy, especially in the difficult decisions that had to be made in balancing the diocesan budget for this coming year. The support from the staff has been evident. I have often said, “they make me look good,” and that is the truth. As a whole, the diocese has a dedicated diocesan staff. I have always known that, but now I have a more personal awareness.
As I reflect on all these experiences and so many more, I also have to offer gratitude for all the people of God in our diocese. So many of you have offered your support, your prayers, and your heartfelt gratitude for the administration I have done over this past year. Your care and concern have bolstered me many times over, especially in those moments when I have been most burdened. You probably are not aware of how important your presence is in the lives of all of us priests. We serve God by serving his people and knowing that you appreciate that effort is so important.
On a personal level, these last months have been a journey of spiritual exploration. I have prayed more, asking God to fill my heart with confidence in his love for me. I have asked for an openness to the Holy Spirit that will lead me to seek and follow God’s will. This is not easy due to my self-sufficient and controlling nature. God is so good, and he has gently chipped away at these faults. Mind you, there is a lot more hammering needed, but these months of leading the diocese have been a hidden, if at times challenging, exploration of who I am before the Lord and his desire to form me into a disciple of his own making. I hope and pray that I come to the end of this journey more conformed to God’s will than when I began.
No, I have no sense of relief. I will continue at the chancery in whatever capacity the new bishop wants me to serve, or I will find my way to a parish to serve the people of the diocese. I am not finished, not by a long way. I have been blessed with a love for my priestly ministry and, please God, that will continue. Besides, there is another “show” fermenting in my mind. Stand by for further details.