Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Wisconsin Round-Trip: Milwaukee's Callahan to La Crosse

As Vatican announcements go, folks, some strange timings of late....

First, the Holy See laid out the plans for its Apostolic Visitation of Ireland on the feast of the Visitation (leading one member of the team to remark that he "[wasn't] sure the people would be as eager to find us" as Elizabeth was at the original)...

...and now, on a Friday -- and Sacred Heart Friday, no less -- B16 sent a bishop up to The Cross.

Not as punishment nor reparation for sins, though; in reality, anything but.

Yesterday, the pontiff named Auxiliary Bishop Bill Callahan OFM Conv. of Milwaukee as bishop of La Crosse. At the helm of the 200,000-member church in Southwestern Wisconsin, the Chicago native succeeds now-Archbishop Jerome Listecki, who was named last November to lead Milwaukee's 650,000-member fold following its tenth archbishop's transfer to New York.

The move's an early birthday present for the bishop -- Callahan turns 60 on Thursday. As for the context, while La Crosse's last two ordinaries most prominently hailed from the world of the law -- its eighth ordinary, a native son, now sits as the church's "chief justice" (and a member of the Congregation for Bishops) -- the first "Black" Franciscan ever made a US bishop made his name as a devoted pastor and solid confessor, and one likewise blessed with a knack for the books.

As a friar, Callahan's spirituality is that of a son of Francis. His episcopacy, however, is that of a son of Timothy -- and the first of the line, at that.

Shortly after Archbishop Tim Dolan's 2002 arrival in Milwaukee, Callahan's skills caught the admiring eye of the new ordinary, who oversaw the friar's transfer from the city's largest church, the mammoth Basilica of St Josaphat (whose intensive restoration the then-rector spearheaded) to Rome's Pontifical North American College as a spiritual director in 2005. Two years later, Dolan secured his confidant's return as the Beer City's first auxiliary in nearly 30 years, delegating his first choice for the post to run the shop as vicar-general and moderator of the curia.

Such is the duo's closeness that, for the better part of the year since Dolan's move to Gotham, the Franciscan's name had been prominently circulated for the forthcoming vacancy at Trenton, which went instead to another religious last week. (Further burnishing the Jersey talk was Callahan's bond with the Garden State's top prelate, Archbishop John Myers of Newark, a principal co-consecrator at his ordination, who came to know "Fr Bill" during his days as a pastor in the Newark prelate's native Peoria.)

Either way, the appointee comes to his new charge with a decidedly lower profile than his two predecessors: Listecki and Archbishop Raymond Burke. As a reporter asked the auxiliary a question at Listecki's appointment press conference in Milwaukee, Callahan memorably implored the archbishop, "Please, don't go" as he took the podium to answer it.

That said, the tenth bishop inherits a La Crosse church on a particularly sound footing. For one, Listecki's five-year tenure saw a successful $50 million capital campaign; for another, while most dioceses facing the ongoing waves of church closings execute a realignment plan within a short-term timetable following its announcement, the prior bishop and his team undertook the task in an uncannily creative way: crafting a new pastoral matrix that would reduce the number of parishes from 165 to 75, but keeping it as a "contingency" that would be implemented gradually, and only as future circumstances require.

As the ever-critical front of priestly vocations goes, meanwhile, the incoming bishop might have an extensive background as a formator and onetime vocation director, but the diocese is already yielding bumper-crops; over the last year alone, La Crosse has ordained eight new priests -- a figure higher than many places several times its size.

Likewise on that note, the confluence of the appointment with yesterday's closing of the Year for Priests happens to be especially fitting.

As one of Callahan's friends once summed up the bishop, "I don't know anyone who loves being a priest more than Bill." And come his installation on August 11th -- the feast of the Franciscan "mother," St Clare of Assisi -- the South Side's celebrated pastor will again have a "parish" all his own.

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With La Crosse now filled, as of this writing all of three Latin-rite sees on these shores stand vacant -- a modern low -- with another five led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age.

Remember, gang, it wasn't all that long ago when that combined figure totaled just a hair under 2o. Considering, too, that no less than three prelates soon to reach their 75th either have their successors already in the wings or even fully in place, the docket-clearing operation of the last two years becomes all the more impressive.

That said, a fourth opening arose this week on the death of Metropolitan Basil Schott of Pittsburgh, head of the Ruthenian church in the US.

Leader of the nation's 100,000 members of Andy Warhol's boyhood faith since 2002, Schott, 70, died Thursday after a battle with lung cancer.

As the Slovak-born sui iuris church lacks a synod to elect a successor, the process naming the next archeparch will be overseen by Rome's Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

And on a final bench-note, this coming week brings the USCCB Summer Meeting in St Petersburg, Florida. In keeping with the body's custom every fourth year, however, the coming plenary takes the form of a retreat: no action items nor votes -- and, indeed, no press -- to be found.

Focusing this time on the theme of "the bishop and his priests," among other preachers on-deck for the four-day gathering will be Dolan, Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto and the Vatican's freshly-arrived lead hand on social justice, the Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson.