This will be my last column in The Bishop’s Bulletin after nearly 14 years. It will not, however, be the last you hear from me as I assume the role of bishop emeritus. I will do so in a way that is supportive of our new bishop, Donald DeGrood, the ninth bishop of Sioux Falls, whom we all welcome with great joy.
It has been a profound privilege and a humbling one to be your bishop over these years. They have been years of great pleasure particularly supporting our seminarians, priests, deacons and consecrated, ordaining over 40 priests and permanent deacons, enhancing the role of the laity in our local church, especially youth and young adults, and to just be out and about with all of you who are essential to a spiritually strong local church.
One highlight was our celebration of the 125th anniversary of our diocese, acknowledging the legacy those who went before with faith and sacrifice bequeathed to us. May we pass it on with integrity and appreciation.
I am especially appreciative of our diocesan staff who minister mostly in ways that are unknown. The two principles I have continued to remind them of are family first and parish friendly. We are more than a bureaucracy but rather a continuation of the mission and ministry of Christ both personally and as children of God together.
We have had our challenges over these years. Certainly the child abuse scandal has shaken us all; the changing demographics and reductions in the number of priests which have resulted in the merging of many rural parishes and revealed honest grieving; the numerous personnel matters which in justice require confidentiality that have been among the hardest decisions I have made, though always after prayer. I thank you all for your understanding, patience and resilience of faith.
Sometimes we may wonder why our Lord instituted the Church in the way that he did. Wonderment is a form of prayer. I certainly wondered when I was informed that I was to be your bishop without ever having been to South Dakota. Over these years however, I appreciate more fully that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit guide it all and what the Trinity leads us to do and be is always what is best for us, though we, especially me, wish we had early notification and greater explanation.
While I had never been to South Dakota before I was named bishop, over these years I have become a South Dakotan and have chosen to spend my retirement years here even though most of my life was lived elsewhere. I was born and raised through high school in western New York state, went to undergraduate college in Ohio, earned graduate and law degrees in Wisconsin, served in the military including in Vietnam as an Air Force intelligence officer, had the privilege of being the legal counsel to a governor of Wisconsin, and then was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Madison. As I look back it has been quite a ride. I have been blessed in so many ways. It seems that I have experienced a call over the years to go west which ends here on the prairie with you, my spiritual family.
A priority for me must now be to prepare myself for judgment day in hopes that salvation will be mine with the mercy of God.
When we restored the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, I commissioned a sculpture of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper which is above the cathedra, the bishop’s chair.
“As I have done so you should do,” our Lord told the first Apostles. Bishops are successors of the Apostles. In my time with you I have sought to follow His example as a servant leader. For those times I have been able to do so, I Give Praise to the Lord; for those times I have come up short I ask for God’s and your forgiveness.
Among the powerful moments in the ministry of Christ, two from the cross touch me deeply. To John, “there is your Mother”; and to the repentant thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
A loving Mother and a promise of mercy; everything else shrinks in importance to those two gifts and assurances.
As I move on to whatever God asks of me in this next chapter in my life, I am grateful for the many blessings with which He has gifted me, especially allowing me to be your bishop these many years. Thank you for your support, patience and kindnesses.
Please pray for and support Bishop DeGrood and our diocese. May Saint Joseph our patron watch over him and each of you.
And always, Give Praise to the Lord.