Thursday, April 23, 2009

"Spirit" of St Louis: "Full of Joy"

As the freshly-unveiled archbishop-elect took the "Rome of the West" by storm on Tuesday (photos), the Saginaw community grieved the loss of Bishop Robert Carlson... and that in itself speaks volumes.

Named to the Mid-Michigan post in late 2004, the St Louis-bound prelate succeeded longtime Bishop Ken Untener, whose progressive ways won him both devotion and detraction before his death earlier that year from leukemia at 66.

Going to Saginaw was quite the favor for Rome to ask -- while Untener's critics wanted his successor to come in with a broom, most of the local crowd initially greeted the choice with apprehensiveness. Yet even as the former gently saw some of his predecessor's questionable practices into the sunset, the latter mostly faded as the 140,000-member diocese got to know Carlson's energetic, personable style... and now, he's received the Holy See's seal of highest approval: being asked to do it again on a more prominent stage.

All that said, let the locals speak:
The Rev. P. David Saunders Sr. did a double-take.

'I was passing by a pharmacy's counter when The Saginaw News' headline -- 'Carlson leaving' -- caught my eye,'' said the pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 535 Cathay in Saginaw....

''I immediately thought, 'Oh no, my buddy is leaving!''' Saunders said. ''He's a very amicable man with a spirit full of joy. He didn't mind reaching out and engaging others of varying faiths and ethnicity with a deep and abiding interest.

''He didn't mind rolling up his sleeves to do what needed to be done to make things better for everyone. He understood the issues of the community and was not reticent to do something about them. I'm taking his departure as a personal loss. I'm sad he won't be around to help move this community to the next level.''...

During his four years here, Carlson was a board member of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra, the Saginaw Community Foundation and hosted the monthly interdenominational, multicultural Community Affairs Committee breakfast, known informally as the Bishop's Breakfast.

''St. Louis' gain is definitely Saginaw's loss,'' said Saginaw School District Superintendent Thomas N. Barris, 63. ''I was delighted when asked to join the Bishop's Breakfast, and I've enjoyed the association since. We're going to miss the spiritual inspiration Bishop Carlson gave the entire community, but I wish him well.''

One of the ministers Carlson consulted with through the breakfast is the Rev. Hurley Coleman Jr., 55, pastor of Greater Coleman Temple Church Of God In Christ, 2405 Bay in Saginaw.

''I still can't believe he's leaving so soon,'' Coleman said. ''Bishop Carlson followed in the footsteps of one of the most loved men -- Bishop Untener -- and had to endure comparisons on everything.

''Yet he led with such dignity and grace that it's not surprising that (the Vatican) took him to another level. A lot of times, people wear their titles, but he wore his ministry.''

Former Delta College President Peter D. Boyse echoed Coleman's sentiment.

''It's hard to see a person of Bishop Carlson's stature leave,'' said Boyse, 64. ''It's a nice opportunity for him. The Saginaw community will miss his leadership.''
With the 65 year-old appointee preparing to take the reins of the St Louis "Roundhouse" -- one of Stateside Catholicism's storied chanceries -- one question already on-deck is whether his most trusted aide'll be coming along, too.

A collaborator of the bishop's from his youth ministry days in the Twin Cities, Saginaw chancellor Nancy Werner served as Carlson's vice-chancellor in Sioux Falls before joining him in Michigan.

As archbishop of St Louis, Carlson will inherit the priest-secretary who's served his two predecessors.

Still said to be doing odds-and-ends for Archbishop Raymond Burke despite the former's transfer to Rome, Msgr Henry Breier has held the post for well over a decade, when he was first named to it by then-Archbishop Justin Rigali.

Advisors aside, at least three close friends of the ninth archbishop will be making the move with him: Katie, Erin and Duffy -- his dogs.

Indeed, they even get birthday parties.

* * *

On his 25th anniversary as a bishop in January, Saginaw's quarterly diocesan magazine dedicated itself to Carlson's quarter-century in a high-hat; ordained an auxiliary of the Twin Cities at 39, only one other American prelate has since received the "fullness of the priesthood" short of his 40th birthday.

Along those lines, the Gateway City's ninth archbishop comes to his fourth assignment with a raft of experience practically unmatched for a prelate his age; between them, his three immediate predecessors had a combined 22 years as either auxiliary or diocesan bishops before taking up residence under the Arch.

In an extended interview to mark his jubilee, Carlson talked about one lesson he learned early on:
I've always been someone who enjoys dialogue and discussions of things. Before I became a bishop, my friends would argue back and disagree. Sometimes afterward, they would just get mad if I had an opinion they didn’t like.

I said to one of them one time, “Why are you getting mad at me now? You didn’t get mad at me before.”

He said, “Well, now you are my bishop.”

That was a growth moment for me. You learn that once you become a bishop of the church, what you say carries weight. With that, you have to be very careful that what you say doesn’t hurt people.

As a matter of fact, before you speak, you really have to be a good listener. And you listen all kinds of ways. You listen with your ears. You listen with your eyes. You listen to groups and you make sure you are well read. You always read theological journals, magazines and newspapers of a whole variety of opinions and thought. You must expose yourself to the full thinking of the church. That is how I try to listen.
And that in itself speaks volumes.

PHOTOS: Jerry Nauheim Jr/St Louis Review(1,3)