New 'Catholic identity' bishop for Notre Dame

The new bishop of the diocese that encompasses the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. — site of controversy over its decision earlier this year to award pro-abortion-rights President Barack Obama an honorary law degree — said strengthening the Catholic identity of Catholic universities in his diocese would be one of his “strong priorities.”

But Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, whose appointment to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend by Pope Benedict XVI was announced in mid-November — signaled that he intends to take a positive, forward-looking approach to his relations with the nation’s premier Catholic university. (As bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, he will also become the new ex officio chairman of the board of Our Sunday Visitor, which is a self-owned nonprofit corporation.)

The issue of Notre Dame appeared one of the largest factors in the appointment of Bishop Rhoades, who replaces the nation’s oldest active prelate, Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who had served two years past the ordinary retirement age of 75. In his nearly 25 years heading the diocese, Bishop D’Arcy clashed periodically with Notre Dame’s administration over its hosting on campus of the play “The Vagina Monologues,” which he called “directly opposed to the dignity of the human person and ... antithetical to Catholic teaching.” He boycotted the school’s commencement ceremony with Obama, instead attending a student-organized prayer vigil of protest on campus held at the same time.

Bishop Rhoades, who headed the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pa., for five years, was one of some 80 U.S. bishops who issued statements of support for Bishop D’Arcy in his protest against the university’s decision to honor the pro-abortion-rights president.

‘Pope’s regard’

Bishop D’Arcy seemed delighted at the appointment. He told reporters that the choice of Bishop Rhoades is a “testament to the regard the Holy Father has for this diocese, to send us someone who’s had five years as a bishop of a diocese larger than this.” Harrisburg, a diocese that is also home to a state capital, has about 70,000 more Catholics than Fort Wayne-South Bend’s 157,703 Catholics, who are about 12 percent of the area’s total population.

Bishop Rhoades, who turned 52 on Thanksgiving Day, has higher degrees in Church law and theology, both completed in Rome, and has experience in higher education as a former faculty member, seminary rector and vice president at what is now Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.

Those credentials are likely to be a benefit in his relationship with the five Catholic colleges and universities in his new diocese.

Holy Cross Father John Jenkins, whom Notre Dame’s board of trustees recently re-elected to a second five-year term as university president, in a statement noted Bishop Rhoade’s academic background and said he is “well recognized for his intellect and discernment.”

“We are confident that the ministry of Bishop Rhoades will be a blessing for Notre Dame and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, as was the ministry of Bishop John D’Arcy, and we look forward both to his apostolate and to our friendship for many years to come,” he said.

Moving ahead

Bishop Rhoades told reporters that maintaining and strengthening the Catholic identity of Catholic institutions of higher learning in his new diocese is “going to have to be one of my strong priorities. ... I think it really will be my responsibility — it is my responsibility as bishop — to promote and support the Catholic identity and mission of Catholic universities, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”

But he avoided new criticism of Notre Dame for honoring a pro-abortion-rights president. “I think that’s now in the past,” Rhoades said, according to the South Bend Tribune. “Let’s move to the future. I love Notre Dame. I want to have a close personal and pastoral relationship. It’s such a strong place.”

Several days after the announcement, both Bishop D’Arcy and Bishop Rhoades attended an annual reception by the University of Notre Dame on the sidelines of the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Among the other bishops attending was the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. An impromptu greeting line sprang up for Bishop Rhoades.

John Norton is OSV editor.

Paired Appointment (sidebar)

The same day as the Fort Wayne-South Bend appointment, Pope Benedict XVI named Bishop Jerome E. Listecki of La Crosse, Wis., to be the archbishop of Milwaukee. Archbishop-elect Listecki, 60, succeeds Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who was appointed to head the New York archdiocese in February.

In a statement about his appointment, Archbishop-elect Listecki said he regretted having to leave the La Crosse diocese but was humbled by the pope’s appointment and looked forward “to responding to the challenges presented by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

“The priests, Religious, deacons, curial staff and lay faithful of the Diocese of La Crosse have made me a better man, a more faithful priest and hopefully a good bishop,” he said. “I ask forgiveness of any that I may have offended in my years as the bishop of the diocese, and I beg for your continued prayers.”

Archbishop-elect Listecki, a native of Chicago, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1975. He was named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago in 2000 and appointed to La Crosse in 2004. He holds degrees in civil and canon law and is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves.

In a statement, Archbishop Dolan called Archbishop-elect Listecki “a good friend, and a most effective, generous, faithful, joyful shepherd.”

“For the last nine months, since my appointment as archbishop of New York, I have daily asked Our Lord to send a happy, holy, humble new archbishop to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Today my prayer is simply: ‘Thank you, Lord!’”

He added: “Sorry, Gerry, that I did not leave the archdiocese in better shape, but I was counting on being there a lot longer! You’ve got some of the greatest clergy, sisters and people in the Church … (P.S. In the confidential file in the safe is the list of my favorite fish fries).”

— Catholic News Service and other sources higher education