In Dodge, The Teacher Begins
Home to some 60,000 Catholics, the Southwest Kansas church has long been one of the Stateside bench's tougher towns; three of its five past bishops have literally gotten out of Dodge by seeking early retirement, including the post's last two holders. Yet if Rome was looking for someone to break the trend, they might've just found their guy in the understated 52 year-old physicist, who taught science in Wichita high schools for a decade before entering formation and being ordained a priest at 40.
His arrival at the prior night's Vespers heralded by matachines -- a classy nod to the Hispanic presence which, like American Catholicism on the whole, forms an ever-growing half of today's Dodge City church -- Brungardt's background in the classroom was especially on display during his remarks at the close of the ordination rite.
Their lone unscripted moment during the big liturgy, a new bishop's "last word" always reveals something of the person who's been called to the office, and the qualities he brings to the table. Along those lines, Brungardt offered up a true teaching moment with one of the most original, charming -- and, at points, moving -- Ordination Day talks to be seen in some time, thanks to a little help from some of his new friends.
Here it is, in full:
Some months back, these pages outlined a systematic, sweeping reboot of the American episcopate in the wake of the abuse scandals and an epochal shift in the composition of the Stateside church. And, well -- at least, for anyone more interested in the reality of things than simplistic, outdated, even disingenuous stereotypes -- here's just your latest proof.
On a related note, Brungardt's ordination marked the start of a big week for his now-former hometown. In just the last half-decade, the 125,000-member Wichita diocese -- now led by one of Cardinal Ratzinger's cherished collaborators at the CDF -- has seen three of its own go on to the high-hat: a figure that, per capita, is thought to be without peer on these shores.
Come Friday, the new Jayhawk ascendancy reaches its peak with the Oklahoma City installation of another Wichita priest, now Archbishop-elect Paul Coakley. A former spiritual director at Emmitsburg (and vocational mentor to the new Dodge bishop), the 55 year-old incoming Sooner has led Northwestern Kansas' Salina diocese since 2005.
In a profile piece written to open the week, the OKC pick recalled a pivotal moment in finding his call: the drowning deaths of two friends off Ireland's West Coast during a summer study-abroad Coakley took part in when the group were in college.
Thirty-five years later, the tragedy at Inishbofin remains well remembered on the Isle. In subsequent years, however, two of its survivors would go on to become bishops.
PHOTO: Diocese of Wichita