Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Key Interviews Bishop Rhoades on Notre Dame and More

Leon Suprenant is in Baltimore covering the USCCB Fall meeting for The Catholic Key. Below is a report on his interview with Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg, recently appointed to Fort Wayne-South Bend. Check in later today for Leon’s interview with Oakland Bishop Salvatore Cordileone (UPDATE - Here's the Bishop Cordileone Interview).

Rising Star

By Leon Suprenant

This has been quite a week for Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Harrisburg, PA. On Saturday it was announced that he has been named as the new Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Then at this week's bishops' meeting, he was elected as the new chairman (effective one year from now) of the committee on laity, marriage, family, and youth.

I've had the good fortune of talking with him throughout the week, and this morning I interviewed him regarding his new responsibilities.

His initial reaction to the appointment was one of surprise. He didn't expect any transfer, and he certainly had no idea that he was being considered for Fort Wayne-South Bend. It just wasn't on his radar screen. He had a few weeks' notice before the official announcement. He used that time as an opportunity for prayer, and he is very much at peace with this new challenge.

He says it's very much like his "leaving home" experience when he entered seminary. This time he is leaving behind a diocese that he has served as an ordained minister for over a quarter of a century, over which time he has developed many close friendships.

He sees this new assignment as the Lord asking him to follow Him in a new and total way, much like the apostles who were called to set aside the fishing nets and begin a new way of life. So, going to land of the Golden Dome as shepherd is what the Lord is calling him to embrace and, in common parlance, he's good with it.

Bishop Rhoades is, however, most grateful for the welcome he has already received from Bishop D'Arcy and others in his new home. He recognizes that he has big shoes to fill, but he says Bishop D'Arcy is a "gracious, kind man" who is making the transition very easy for him. The two of them have been seen together multiple times during the bishops' meeting, as Bishop D'Arcy clearly has been offering him fatherly wisdom as the torch is passed. Bishop D'Arcy is in good health, and Bishop Rhoades expects him to continue his service to the diocese while in his retirement.

But what about Notre Dame? Bishop Rhoades says he was one of the 80 or so bishops who expressed concern about ND's honoring a pro-choice politician. Bishop Rhoades says he communicated with Fr. Jenkins privately. Later, as the controversy developed, more public commentary was provided with the assistance of Paul Schenck from his pro-life office, as described here.

He rejected the claim that many bishops disagreed with his views on the subject, confidently asserting that the "great majority" of bishops were with him on the subject. He points out that his position on the matter is that of Bishop D'Arcy, as reflected in the latter's piece in America.

He sees the promotion of "the Catholic identity and mission" of Notre Dame as his role when it comes to Notre Dame, while emphasizing the pastoral dimension and his (and Bishop D'Arcy's) great love for Notre Dame and its potential for good.

The biggest difference in his new assignment is just that--the colleges. While Harrisburg and Fort Wayne-South Bend are comparable in terms of size, Harrisburg has no Catholic colleges, while Fort Wayne-South Bend has five, including ND. I asked him where he was going to start. He clearly stated that building strong personal relationships has to be foundational. In that regard, he mentioned a social gathering at the conference last Sunday, where he and Bishop D'Arcy were able to have some cordial, constructive conversation.

He believes that bringing out the best in Notre Dame and other Catholic colleges will require such a dialogical approach. He surely understands the challenges and he's not about to cave in on core principles, but his outlook strikes me as being a godly one. In short, I think this is another episcopal appointment that the Church got right.

Before going back into the executive session of the meeting, Bishop Rhoades also spoke briefly of his appointment as head of the laity, marriage, family, and youth committee. He will be the chairman-elect for one year, during which time he will observe and familiarize himself with the committee's work. He notes that one of the bishops' priorities as expressed in their pastoral plan is to strengthen marriage, so Bishop Rhoades anticipates that this will be a particular focus of the committee under his watch.

He also pointed out to me that he has a substantial background and interest in youth ministry, so he looks forward to that aspect of the committee's work. He enthusiastically notes that his committee will be involved with the 2011 World Youth Day in Madrid. He attended the last WYD in Sydney, and heartily looks forward to Madrid as a special moment of grace for the Church.

Lastly, Bishop Rhoades finds it significant that he will be installed as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend on January 13th, the feast of St. Hilary (which he's quick to point out was a male and a great doctor of the Church), only a week before the annual March for Life. And here we see what makes Bishop Rhoades tick. One of his first acts as bishop will be to celebrate Mass for those (including many ND students) who will be taking buses to DC for the March, which will give him an opportunity to preach, to stress the importance of life issues, and in that context invest himself in the lives of ND students, faculty, and staff.

All I can say is, "Cheer, cheer for 'ol Bishop Rhoades!"