Deacon Reilly retires as director of diocesan administration

Appointed to position by Bishop Zubik, Deacon Reilly served diocesan curia leadership for 11 years

ALLOUEZ — Deacon Tim Reilly, who retires as director of administration for the Green Bay Diocese on Jan. 8, has no trouble recalling how he first came to the post.

It was September, 2004, and Bishop David Zubik had come to Green Bay’s Notre Dame Academy to celebrate a feast day Mass. Deacon Reilly had been president of Notre Dame since 2002 and Bishop Zubik asked him for five minutes in his office.

Deacon Tim Reilly carries the Book of Gospels into Resurrection Church in Allouez, where he has served since his ordination in 1994. He was appointed director of administration for the Diocese of Green Bay in 2005 and retires from the post on Jan. 8. (Scott Eastman | For The Compass)

“He moved quickly into explaining the role he would like me to play,” Deacon Reilly recalled, “and all of the different responsibilities I would have and the meetings I would attend — and I understood maybe about five percent of what he said.”

Deacon Reilly, who hadn’t even known he would be asked to take a new post, added that, even though he had been ordained since 1994, he had only been inside the Chancery once: in 1994. “Otherwise, I had no understanding of the workings of the church offices.”

He asked Bishop Zubik for some time to think about it, but realized, “right from the very beginning, that, if my bishop was asking me to do something, I would have to have a pretty good reason to say no.”

He said yes and began a whirlwind role that “involved virtually everything that’s going on, in order to be of assistance to the bishop. Even in those instances where you aren’t directly involved,” he added, “you have an opportunity to be a sounding board to the bishop as he thinks through the proper course of action.”

Directing all offices

In January, 2005, Deacon Reilly, who had served as a top executive for 20 years at Green Bay’s Fort Howard (now Fort James) paper company, found himself the director for all the offices of the curia. After 11 years in that role, paired with his three years at Notre Dame, he now understands “that you can’t over plan your personal life when you turn yourself over to the service of God and the church. When I was ordained, I had very specific aspects of ministry that I visualized myself being part of. And virtually everything I’ve done in administration, for the last 14 years, has had nothing to do with what was on my list.”

His first task at the diocese involved something that was already in the works: reorganization of the diocesan curia structure. Then followed, in anticipation of the Advancing the Mission fund-raising campaign, a review of the corporate structure of the diocese and its affiliated corporations. Among other things, that meant that each diocesan corporation added a minimum of four lay people on its board.

“What occurred,” Deacon Reilly said, “was that 52 people, who had no involvement with the governance of the church, suddenly came and provided their gifts to the church in helping to guide each of these corporations. …“I see that, as a diocese, we are so much more robust as a result of those 52 lay people. … who have come to the table and helped us make decisions and understand the best way to do things, because that’s their area of expertise.”

After Bishop Zubik was called to serve as bishop of Pittsburgh in 2007, Deacon Reilly and then-Fr. John Doerfler (now bishop of Marquette) became responsible for the day-to-day and canonical work of the diocese — under the apostolic administration of then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee (now cardinal-archbishop of New York).

During the next 11 months, until the installation of Bishop David Ricken, one of the high points of Deacon Reilly’s tenure took place: the opening of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter in Green Bay in the fall of 2007.

Bishop David Ricken, assisted by Deacon Tim Reilly, who serves as vice chairman of St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter’s board of directors, leads a prayer for guests and volunteers at the Micah Center Dec. 12, 2014. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

The need for an emergency shelter had been clear for some time and preliminary work had been done. But, as winter approached that year and difficulties in getting city permits arose, Deacon Reilly, with the backing of Archbishop Dolan, made the shelter a ministry of the diocese and opened the facility in six days.

While he admits that there have been many challenges since, “God’s providence got us through,” said Deacon Reilly. “Now after all of these years, it’s a very well-run organization that not only fulfills our need to offer shelter to the homeless, but has also garnered the support of the vast majority of the community.”

Other highlights under his administration include reorganization of the diocesan employees’ health insurance and the employee and priests’ retirement funds, and formation of the new diocesan departments of New Evangelization and Living Justice.

Deacon Reilly is especially proud of the success of the health insurance plan, which is self-funded.

“We had to do that in order to remain faithful to the religious and ethical directives of the Catholic Church as it pertains to health care decisions,” he explained, adding that what’s especially significant in the plan is the diocese’s partnership with local Catholic hospitals.

“So, in our diocese, we have Catholic health care coverage in 14 of our 16 counties,” he said. “It’s a very unique situation. … We were able to create a plan that was very competitive and very comprehensive and … consistent with Catholic moral teaching.”

Also, while many health care plans have experienced double-digit cost increases in recent years, Deacon Reilly notes that “our average increase has been less than 1.8 percent.”

Business perspective

Twenty years in the corporate world gave Deacon Reilly a unique perspective when he stepped into diocesan administration. He noticed several key differences between the business world and church work:

The notion of success: In the business world, “it’s all about change to achieve success. In the church, we’re not looking so much for success as we’re looking for fruitfulness. Sometimes, even in the aspect of being unsuccessful, there’s great fruit that comes to the soul and to the souls of the faithful.”

Time frames: “In the business world, we always lived for three months. You would focus on your quarterly results. If you had a good quarter, you patted yourself on the back and said, ‘Good job.’ … whereas in the church, the decisions that are made are timeless.”

Decision-making: “When you’re working in the church, decisions you make are affecting the salvation of people. That is a sobering responsibility in this position, as compared to what I had previously done in the business world.”

Focus: People who work for the church, “are focused, first and foremost, on pursuing the kingdom of God and they do that in a fashion that’s collaborative with the bishop. … There’s a unity and a feeling that’s a contrast between here and the business world.”

Competition: “In the business world, it’s a very competitive environment,” both with other companies — and between colleagues in the same company — “to move ahead and advance. … Now, here in the curia, I don’t ever see that personal competitiveness, doing something to make someone else look bad. I don’t see that and it’s remarkable. Instead, I see people — who may have their own agenda and ideas — but they cause those to be subsidiary to the primary mission that the bishop is giving us. So there’s a real selflessness associated with the work of those here in the curia.”

That selflessness and the spirituality that underpins the work of the curia helped Deacon Reilly during the long hours and difficult challenges of his role. Also helpful, he said, was his connection as deacon at Resurrection Parish in Allouez.

“Sometimes I would just run out of steam,” Deacon Reilly admitted, “and Bishop (Robert) Morneau, (Resurrection’s pastor) has always been very gracious in allowing me the space to recharge my own energy so that I can get at it again the next week.”

Looking ahead

While Deacon Reilly and his wife, Sue, will move to Madison, where their family lives, including his son, Brendan, and his wife and two children Jack and Esmé — and his 88-year-old mother, Irene. His son Devin’s family, including new granddaughter, Clare, live in San Diego. Deacon Reily also intends to keep a second residence in Green Bay, so he can continue to serve at Resurrection. He will also be available to be called on “if Bishop Ricken has things he needs me to do.”

The bishop has already asked him to continue on the board of directors for Notre Dame Academy.

In retirement, he also hopes to devote more time to the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. In 1999, the monks sought Deacon Reilly’s administrative skills to help them start a casket-making business.

“The first casket was built in October (1999) and now it’s the business that completely supports all of the monks at New Melleray Abbey,” Deacon Reilly explained. Asked if he’s helped build any caskets, he joked that the monks won’t let him use the power tools.

After seeing the success of the monks’ business venture, the Cistercians Sisters at nearby Our Lady of Mississippi Abbey have asked for Deacon Reilly to help them with their Monastery Candy business.

For the immediate future, he intends to focus on his family, especially his wife.

He believes that his years with the church have provided one great benefit: “I realize that, in the bigger scheme of things, I’m not that important. I’m happy to do whatever I can to help someone, to help the church, to help God, and I’m comfortable with whatever that might be. If I have my option to resume priorities — it’s spending more time with Sue and then spending time on my hands and knees with my grandchildren. That would be a wonderful way to spend time.”

Reflecting back over the years of administration and his transition to retirement, Deacon Reilly said he’s “retiring from the ecclesial work and the ecclesial position in the church hierarchy” and not retirement as a deacon. “I’m not sure exactly what my service will look like,” he added, “but I’m hoping that it’s going to be closer to the point of the service (that deacons offer the church) and have less to do with administration.”

As he spends more time with spiritual reading, he has discovered that even administration has a long, rich history in the life of the church: “The good news is that I was blessed with administrative skills, and the bad news is that is not what I envisioned a deacon to be doing. But now, as I look at the Acts of the Apostles, that’s very much what the deacons were called to do: an administrative thing, in terms of the division of the food.”

Food, shelter, caskets, administration; with the long view, Deacon Reilly has learned it’s all the work of the church and all serves the Lord.