I had a wonderful time in Webster Wednesday night with 300 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students in the faith-formation programs of St. Rita, Holy Trinity, St. Paul and Holy Spirit parishes.
We met at St. Rita Church for a two-part program. The organizers asked me in the first part to speak about my vocation or calling: How did the idea come to me? Was it a one-time thing or a process over time? Having accepted the call, how does one become a priest? What kind of preparation does it involve? What were my priestly assignments prior to my ordination as bishop? They also wanted me to bring the two principal signs of the episcopal office, miter and crozier, and explain the significance of each to them.
I tried to respond to those requests briefly and in terminology that would be easily understandable to the students. I know how easy it can be to use technical terms that are second nature to me but with which others, including the young, have no reason to be familiar. It seemed that that portion went reasonably well. I had the impression from the posture and facial expressions of the kids that they were tracking with what I was trying to share with them.
Then came the hard part! I mean the press-conference format question-and-answer session that the girls and boys prepared. I won’t list all of the questions, but I’d like to give you a sense of what was on their minds and a summary of how I responded to them.
1) What happens when you are sick? Who covers for you?
Most often when I am sick my vicars general, Father Joe Hart and Father John Mulligan, cover for me. In 2008, they filled in for me more often than usual because I had two operations during the year.
2) How are you able to pay your bills?
I receive a salary and pay my personal bills from that income.
3) Do you confess your sins? And, how?
Yes, the same way you do.
4) Do you have any brothers and sisters? If so, were they annoying?
I have one sister who is and always was an absolute sweetheart. I was the annoying one.
5) How often do you see the pope?
All bishops see the pope every five years. I also have seen Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI when they visited our country and on occasional trips to Rome.
6) When you were a teenager, did you want to go to Mass?
Yes, I liked very much going to Mass. It was a special way to pray to God and be close to my family and/or my schoolmates.
7) Is it fun to be a bishop?
Ministry always brings a deep sense of joy, but it is not always fun. I often tell my friends that I’ve loved every day of it, but there are some days I hope I never have to do again.
8) Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?
I think that the ability to fly would be of much greater practical value — although there have been times in my life when I wanted to disappear.
I enjoyed thoroughly being in the presence of this young church. On the way home, I thanked God for the enrichment they bring to our lives and prayed they will remain open to God’s call in their lives all through the years.
My prayer also included gratitude for the ministry of Linda Pepe, Mary Haas, Anita Wagner and Tony Ferrera who are, respectively, the catechetical leaders of St. Paul, Holy Trinity, St. Rita and Holy Spirit parishes. They and their coworkers offer a priceless gift to the community for their ministry to our precious young people.
Peace to all.