Thursday, May 26, 2011

Airborne: Davenport Rector to "Rapid"... and A "Beer City" Deputy

Among the Native Americans who comprise a quarter of its faithful, the Rapid City church’s last two bishops were respectively known as “Rustling Wind” and “White Thunder”....

But now, the question begs itself: what will they dub a pilot?

Putting Stateside Catholicism’s longest vacancy to rest, at Roman Noon the Pope named Msgr Robert Gruss, 55 -- heretofore rector of Davenport’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and a onetime vice-rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome -- as the next head of western South Dakota’s 30,000-member diocese: one of the US church’s smallest outposts by population, sure, but a seat whose most recent occupants have gone on to enjoy significant national prominence.

A native of Wisconsin (and the second NAC #2 to be beamed up since February), the bishop-elect worked for several years as a commercial airplane pilot and flight instructor before entering seminary formation. Following his 1994 ordination (at 38) by the Iowa church’s now-retired Bishop William Franklin, Gruss spent a decade in parish work before being named Davenport's Vocations Director, then Chancellor in 2005. Two years later, he was returned to the Gianicolo -- where, not long before, he had studied -- as deputy head of the nation’s Roman seminary. Last July, the nominee came home again, this time as rector of Sacred Heart, whose three weekend Masses include one in Vietnamese.

Notably, Rapid's incoming captain will be welcomed by a familiar face on touching down. Much like his next Boss, the diocese’s interim administrator, Fr Steven Biegler, was formed at the NAC and ordained in his mid-30s (a year ahead of Gruss) and subsequently returned to the College, in his case as Director of Pastoral Formation from 2003-2006. Having served as chaplain to the see-city’s Catholic schools and Newman center since his return, following his election to look after things following Bishop Blase Cupich’s June 2010 transfer to Spokane, what one local called Biegler's "low key-super organized job" has garnered high reviews among his own.

As noted above, even for the diocese's small population, its last two bishops have garnered an outsize standing in the wider church even before subsequent assignments. Named to the Black Hills at age 43 in 1988, Rapid City's sixth bishop -- now-Archbishop Charles Chaput OFM Cap of Denver -- had already carved out a national reputation for media-savvy candor before getting the call to the Rockies in 1997. And not long after his 1999 appointment, Cupich's more progressive profile as a keen "conference man" and management guru began to take flight, culminating in the Omaha native's continuing stint as the US bishops' point-man on clergy sex-abuse.

In accord with the norms of the canons, Gruss' ordination and installation must take place within four months.

* * *
At the same time, continuing the aforementioned crop of auxiliaries recent months have produced on these shores, this morning B16 named Fr Donald Hying, 47 -- rector of Milwaukee's St Francis Seminary since 2007 -- to aid the Beer City's Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

Named the archdiocese's chief formator by the now-archbishop of New York, Hying's appointment comes less than a year after Tim Dolan's chief Milwaukee deputy, Bishop Bill Callahan OFM Conv, was transferred across Wisconsin to LaCrosse. Among his assignments, the bishop-elect spent three years as head of a mission parish in the Dominican Republic, reflecting the relatively recent priority for Hispanic outreach in Milwaukee given the community's sudden arrival and dramatic growth in the 850,000-member church. Even as the late 2000s saw St Francis' ordination classes grow to decades-long highs, Hying's appointment to the seminary's helm coincided with the spin-off of its academic program to nearby Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners.

The youngest of six, a Marquette alum and sometime blogger on the archdiocesan website, Listecki's new top aide has never served in chancery work, but now takes on a lead role in the wake of Milwaukee's January filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid multiple abuse suits. In recent weeks, attorneys for victim-survivors have sought to clarify the legal ownership of the Cousins Center -- the archdiocesan headquarters (long eyed for sale) -- in an attempt to have the 44-acre property listed among the Milwaukee curia's assets.

Notably, both of today's appointees have spent their priesthoods in local churches among the eight US outposts which have gone the Chapter 11 route; having made its filing in 2006 -- during Gruss' tenure as chancellor -- Davenport emerged from the process after a $37 million settlement in 2008.

While Hying will be ordained to the episcopacy on 20 July, as previously noted, both bishops-elect will be expected to make the USCCB's June meeting in Seattle at which, despite lacking ordination, they'll be able to sit as full voting members of the body by virtue of their appointment.