Archbishop Raymond Burke recently summoned some newly “ordained” women into his office.
They weren’t actually ordained, of course. But Archbishop Burke has taken steps to respond to the actions of “Roman Catholic Womenpriests,” whose latest “ordinations” took place in his archdiocese, the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Archbishop Burke has been the ordinary there since 2004 and has earned a reputation as a staunch defender of Church doctrine and practice, whether it be by stating that he would refuse Communion to a Catholic pro-abortion political figure, condemning a Church charity’s function featuring pro-abortion singer Cheryl Crow or stating that the women seeking “ordination” risk excommunication.
He spoke recently with Register correspondent Barbara Middleton.
Can you tell me something about your mother and father and how they inspired you?
I grew up on a dairy farm outside of a small city in southwestern Wisconsin — Richland Center. I was born in the city of Richland Center in 1948, and the first 10 years of my life were spent there on the dairy farm. I’m the youngest of six children.
We were all blessed to grow up with very good Catholic parents who taught us to pray, they taught us our faith, and they were very faithful about getting us to the sacraments.
They were very loving toward us. They were firm. We had to be disciplined like all children need to be, but they were able to administer that discipline in a way that I think was very effective and also showed their love.
They prayed, themselves. We always prayed at home the prayers before meals and after meals and also the Rosary. And of course the Sunday Mass was very important.
I was very struck as a youngster one time: It was in the winter, we were going to Mass and our car slid off the road. So we had to get back on the road, and by the time we got there the Mass had already begun. I was so impressed with my father. He said that we’ll wait now until the next Mass, so that we can go to the whole Mass. But he wouldn’t think of just going in at the Gospel. And so those are the kind of impressions; that’s just one story of how important parents are in raising their children.
I was very impressed, too, in praying the family Rosary.
When did you develop your closeness to God? When did you first feel the call?
I did feel it at a very young age. I remember when I was a little boy I talked about it, and my family even got a little play-Mass kit that you could get. My family got that for me. We used to play Mass at home with the neighbor children.
I would say at least by second grade I felt a calling to the priesthood. When I started serving holy Mass, it really grew in intensity, very much so.
Did you have any special teachers or priests or nuns who were influential in your formative years?
The sisters, I would say, as a whole, were very influential: the Benedictine Sisters at St. Mary’s School in Richland Center and the Franciscan Sisters at St. Joseph’s School in Stratford, Wis. They taught me my Mass prayers and so forth. They very much encouraged us to think about a vocation.
My parents were very devoted to the sisters. I had a strong sense that my parents and they were working together for my education. … When [the sisters] knew that I was thinking of the seminary, they encouraged me very much to go into the minor seminary.
And then the priests in the parish, too: We had a wonderful old Irish pastor at the Richland Center parish, Father Owen Mitchell.
My father died when he was young, and I was 8 years old. Father Mitchell used to come to my home. My father was dying of cancer, and he was at home. He would bring him the sacraments, hearing his confession and giving him holy Communion. That just made a tremendous impression on me.
He was a very good priest. He was very kind to us children. And then in Stratford, I remember one priest; Father Joseph Udulutch. He had a difficult stutter, and it was very difficult for him to preach, but I still remember some of the sermons that he gave, because he was such a devoted priest. So I was blessed in that way.
Did you go to the seminary right after high school?
I went right after grade school. I went as a freshman in high school. We had a minor seminary, Holy Cross Seminary in La Crosse. There were 84 of us in my freshman class.
What has been the most spiritually rewarding to you about being a priest?
I would say the one thing that constantly sticks out in my mind is the offering of the Mass. It’s just something that I never cease to be humbled at, to be in awe of.
That Christ would use my person to renew his sacrifice on Calvary is just something, that it’s the most powerful part of being a priest.
Closely connected to it has been teaching, helping others to understand the faith: to embrace it, to live it. That’s been very, very moving for me as a priest.
I come from a family with lots of teachers, and I guess that’s one aspect of the priestly ministry that I identify with very strongly.
You were with Father John Hardon shortly before he died, and administered the sacrament of the sick to him. Afterwards, you thanked him for what he had done for Holy Mother Church. What did he mean to you?
To me he was the quintessence of a priest, and of what I would think of a Jesuit priest, above all: one who was completely dedicated to the apostolic ministry and communion with our Holy Father.
Father Hardon was like Pope John Paul II in the sense that he was giving his every last ounce of energy to carry out the mission that Christ had entrusted to him. I just saw that in him. No matter how sick he was, he would never dwell on it. He never talked about it. He was just all for Christ.
How did you learn that you were going to be a bishop?
I was working at that time for the Holy See. I was working at the Apostolic Signatura. One morning the secretary, then-Archbishop Grocholewski came to me and he said that the prefect needed to see me. I went in and he told me that the Pope had selected me to be the bishop of La Crosse, Wisc.
How do you handle the criticism from the media or the dissenting voices within the Church?
I simply have always examined my conscience on the truth that I am called to teach, and as long as I know that I have taught to the best of my ability, I know that I am going to be judged by Christ and not by the media.
How does your prayer life help you through the trials of being a leader of a major archdiocese?
It’s just the foundation of the daily holy hour, regular confession, of course daily Mass, the Rosary. All of those are just mainstays. I count on them.
How has the Blessed Mother influenced your life?
I’ve just understood her to be my mother. That was the way we were raised at home: our spiritual mother … our great intercessor … also, the model for our life. So I’ve just grown and grown in my devotion.
The Rosary is such a powerful prayer. The devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe has really been such a gift to me, especially in these years as a bishop.
Barbara Middleton writes from Shelby Township, Michigan.