Here are some interesting facts seven North American diocesan bishops shared with me about themselves of which you may not be aware.
Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska James Conley, 62, has not only prayed for the end of abortion in front of abortion clinics, but was arrested and taken to jail for his participation in Operation Rescue, a protest movement in the 1980s that involved pro-lifers peacefully blocking the entrances to abortion clinics. Speaking of the pro-life cause he said, “I graduated high school in 1973, the year the Roe v. Wade decision was announced. I recall seeing a newspaper headline that said, ‘Supreme Court Puts an End to the Abortion Debate.’ What a naïve headline that was! Here we are, more than 40 years later, and it is still a hotly debated issue.”
“Because of modern science, the pro-life movement and American society in general understand in a clearer way the developing life in the womb. The ultrasound gives us a window into the womb that we never had before, and we can understand in a better way when life begins. Many don’t accept this, but the science is on our side.”
“If we can see the sacredness of life in the womb, I hope more people will say: what are we doing? How did we get to a point where we destroy more than a million unborn lives a year?”
Growing up, the closest sibling companion of Archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky Joseph Kurtz, 71, was his brother, George, who had Down syndrome. Archbishop Kurtz is the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner, and one of five children, but his three older sisters had married and moved out of the house while he was still young. Hence, “Georgie” was his friend and companion while growing up. Years later, when their mother died, Georgie came to live with his brother while he was both priest and bishop until Georgie’s death in 2002.
After their mother died, the Archbishop related, he celebrated a Mass for her. Georgie must have sensed his sadness at his mother’s passing, so he gave his brother a pat on the back and said, “Don’t worry. Mom is in heaven. You have me.”
Archbishop of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Michael Miller, 71, has done an extensive study of the papacy, and wrote the 1995 book The Shepherd and the Rock: Origins, Development, and Mission of the Papacy. Speaking of how the papacy has changed in modern times, he said, “In the past 50 years, popes have emerged as central symbolic symbols. When you read the secular papers, they mention the pope two or three times a week. This wasn’t true in the 30s or 40s. The pope seemed to be more of a remote individual, not as visibly present in the lives of Catholics. The popes became a more present reality, I believe, beginning with the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.”
“This can be good, but there is also a downside. The pope is not a rock star. You don’t want the Church to become overly focused on a single person and his activity. Pope Benedict was aware of this, and did his best to avoid it.”
In 2008, the dissident group Call to Action placed a full-page open letter in the Wisconsin State Journal criticizing the leadership of Bishop of Madison, Wisconsin Robert Morlino, 70. He said, “I pray for people in Call to Action. I feel badly that they’re committed to what they’re doing as a good. It causes tremendous division within the Church. And, to try to organize the people against the bishop who is doing nothing but what the Church is teaching is a harmful thing. It grieves me.”
Bishop of Springfield, Illinois Thomas Paprocki, 65, is an athlete who has run 22 marathons and plays hockey. He even wrote Holy Goals for Body and Soul: Eight Steps to Connect Sports with God and Faith. He said, “I’ve always had a big interest in sports, and I’m a big hockey fan. I play goalie; my nickname is ‘holy goalie.’ I started running to stay in shape so that I could keep playing hockey. I made the connection between sports and faith, and wrote a book about it. I’ve also been involved in some sports organizations, such as Catholic Athletes for Christ.”
Archbishop of Portland Alexander Sample, 56, lives with and is a part-time caretaker to his 88-year-old widowed mother, Joyce Sample. Over the years he has cooked for her, done her laundry, bought her items at the store and taken her to the doctor. He said, “I can relate very much to families that care for elderly parents. I cook dinner for my mother and myself every night. It is my great honor and joy.”
The father of Archbishop Joseph Naumann, head of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the newly elected chairman of the USCCB’s pro-life committee, was murdered in December 1948, when the archbishop was just a few months along in his mother’s womb. For decades, the archbishop has been active in pro-life activities, supporting a variety of pro-life organizations and even participating in Rosaries prayed in front of abortion clinics. He believes that his mother being in a sort of crisis pregnancy with him 68 years ago has been a catalyst to his pro-life efforts today.