The Cheyenne Diocese, his previous appointment, featured approximately 53,000 Catholics and covered the entire state of Wyoming (97,914 square miles). In contrast, the Diocese of Green Bay has more than 350,000 Catholics in an area of 10,728 square miles.
“There are a lot of Catholic institutions here: parishes, schools, hospitals,” he said. “There are two Catholic colleges, so we don’t need to start one (as he did in Wyoming) and (six) Catholic high schools that I didn’t have in Wyoming, so that’s very good. The challenge here today with all of these is to help them to keep going and for people to still see the tremendous value they still have.”
Impressed by support
Bishop Ricken is impressed by the support displayed throughout the diocese, especially for the Catholic schools.
“I’m amazed at how they manage to persevere, through last minute gifts, lots of answers to prayer and people’s commitment to them,” he said. “It’s a wonderful sign of the faith of the people here.”
The bishop is tackling the adult faith formation element of Catholic education through a pastoral letter he expects to release soon. It will especially focus on catechesis, highlighting the U. S. Catechism for Adults as a central resource.
“I’m going to ask everyone in the diocese to incorporate that into their teaching, their preparation for catechist formation, in some way in preparation for ministry in the diocese, for the parishes, the pastor and priests to teach from and use it actively, for Catholic school teachers and everybody involved in any way with catechesis to have a strong familiarity with that book,” he said. “It’s not just a resource or reference book. It’s really a handbook, a manual for the church’s teaching in the United States’ context.”
Bishop Ricken emphasized education as a priority during his initial press conference in the diocese on July 9, 2008. He also spoke extensively about the need for more vocations to the priesthood, a message he has shared throughout the past year.
“I’m very happy with the fact that we will have 10 new men going into the seminary,” he said. “We have 22 seminarians now. That is just a great joy. We have to pray for them, assist them financially and assist them in their formation at the seminary and pray for their perseverance. We sure need really good priests.”
He praised the work of Fr. Tom Long, vocation director, and Fr. Quinn Mann, whom he named assistant vocation director, effective May 1.
“Fr. Tom is very good at follow-through and follow-up with young people,” he said. “He’s very persistent in his approach to vocations.”
In addition to serving in vocations, Fr. Mann is also the spiritual director for Catholic Youth Expeditions (CYE), an apostolate he developed as a seminarian in 2002.
“CYE has been very fruitful in producing vocations,” said Bishop Ricken. “The fact that Fr. Quinn is going to be in the parishes on the weekends preaching vocations is going to be very helpful this coming winter. He will also be helping at UW-Oshkosh, celebrating Mass there on Sunday evenings. All those different venues will certainly help him to have the contact.”
The diocese will invite international priests to serve in the diocese for a period of time to fill needs, said Bishop Ricken. He regularly discusses the challenges of staffing parishes with Fr. Paul Demuth, diocesan vicar for ministers.
“Thank God we have the retired clergy,” he said. “They are still serving and driving all over the state. God bless them. There will come a time where there won’t be enough retired priests either, so we need to make sure that we provide for the present and the future. We are grateful to the deacons and parish directors as well, especially for stepping into the breach when there is nobody there to care for the communities.”
“Bringing Christ to others and others to Christ,” is another important message, said the bishop.
“I see that as an evangelization principle,” he said. “We always, all of us, need to be working on that.
“As we share Christ and get to know him more deeply, and as people catch that friendship, that intimacy with the Lord, they share with others and refresh us in our walk with the Lord,” he added.
Catholics Come Home
Bishop Ricken points to RCIA and programs designed to bring people who have left the church back into the full practice of the faith as examples. A new diocesan effort is planned for the coming year.
“We need to help the people get reengaged in their parishes, to feel welcome to come to Sunday Mass, to make a commitment to put God first, especially the first day of the week,” he said. “This new effort, ‘Catholics Come Home,’ that the diocese is going to do is going to help us throughout Lent and beyond to reach out and welcome people back into our communities, those that have fallen away and also new members to come in and feel welcome. I’m really hoping and praying for a very fruitful time this coming school year for people to reengage with their parishes, with the diocese and with the Lord most of all.”
Much has impressed Bishop Ricken about the diocese, including the generosity of the people. He listed Paul’s Pantry, support for Catholic Charities, organizations devoted to life issues and volunteerism at the Catholic hospitals as examples of “wonderful philanthropy.”
“When you talk about stewardship – time, talent and treasure – people here practice it,” he said. “They just don’t talk about it.”
Bishop Ricken added that it’s important for the church to play a role in promoting social justice.
He said that he is especially proud of the outreach at the St. John the Evangelist Homeless Shelter.
“Deacon Tim (Reilly, diocesan director of administration) has been a real leader, and Fr. Guy Blair (pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish) gives so much,” he said. “I also commend the board. They are really taking that responsibility. If it hadn’t been for the homeless shelter, there may have been men and women dying in the streets out in the cold. Our purpose is not to be duplicative, but to fill a void to make sure that everyone is cared for. When you get involved with the Gospel mission it converts you too.”
Getting more comfortable
When mentioning the biggest surprise he encountered in Wisconsin, Bishop Ricken cannot help but laugh.
“Forty-eight inches of snow in December really surprised me,” he said “I went to bed at 9 (p.m.) and it was snowing. I would get up in the morning and it was still snowing. Actually, I loved it. It was a beautiful winter wonderland, but the amount of snow was a bit of a surprise.”
Bishop Ricken said that he is becoming more familiar with the geography of the diocese, but is thankful for the assistance of Deacons Manny Torres and Mike Vincent, who serve as masters of ceremonies.
“I would spend a lot of time reading maps or listening to GPS,” said Bishop Ricken. “They get me to the right place at the right time and help me get ready for the celebrations. They are a big help.”
The driving is much less than in Wyoming. He averaged 35,000 to 40,000 miles as the bishop of Cheyenne compared to less than 10,000 miles since coming to Green Bay. Understandably, he does miss some things from his old home.
“I love the scenery in Wyoming, the Teton Mountains and the wide open spaces,” he said. “Here, it’s nice to see the lush green and beautiful landscapes. I also enjoy the many bodies of water. And it’s great to be home in my own bed every night. I’m loving that.”
He welcomes more parish visits in his second year and enjoys the opportunity to meet and interact with the people of the diocese.
Thankful for other bishops
“I’m doing a lot of confirmations this year,” he said. “I love confirmations. Thank God for Bishop (Robert) Banks and Bishop (Robert) Morneau or I would have twice as many. They are so good about helping. It’s great to have other bishops here that I can compare notes with and talk over things. They are very good with advice and providing historical connections. I’m very thankful for both of them being here.”
Bishop Ricken will travel to Belgium within the next year for a visit to the Catholic University of Louvain. He plans to combine the trip with a visit to seminarians in Rome. Bishop Ricken serves as chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for the college and has taken on fund-raising responsibilities. He recently introduced the “Louvain Initiative” to the people of the diocese.
“That’s coming along pretty well,” he said. “We are not at our full goal, but we are getting there. I’m so grateful and impressed by the generosity of the people here that have helped us to move towards that goal. I’m not sure the exact amount we have in donations, but I believe we are about two-thirds of the goal ($250,000).
“We won’t send a lot of students there (Louvain),” he continued, “but I would like to have a good representation from the diocese. There are so many Belgian parishes here in the diocese. I was chosen (as chairman) before being appointed to Green Bay. I’m an alumnus of Louvain and I was sent to a diocese that has all these Belgian parishes. I don’t know if anyone thought that out or if it’s just divine providence. That’s a sign to me that God wants this seminary to continue. That’s why I’m moving ahead with it.”
Bishop Ricken also hopes to return to Cheyenne during the near future for an installation as his former diocese still awaits a new bishop. At home, he will be moving his own office in the coming months as the Chancery building on Webster Avenue closes.
“This place (the Chancery building) has had a lot of memories for people,” he said, “but it is pretty worn out. The move will allow me to be closer to other employees and it will be easier for communication. In the end I think it will all work out well. Leaving a place with so much history is going to be hard for the diocese. We are hoping to be able to say goodbye to the building in a way that is respectful and prayerful.”
New items in the coming year include a pastoral priority planning process in the spring of 2010.
“It will cover parishes, schools, personnel and organizations,” said Bishop Ricken. “It’s not super extensive, but certainly covers the diocese in some way to ask what people would like to see in their church. That will be done of course within the church’s vision of herself. We cannot go beyond those boundaries. There is an awful lot we can do with the charge we’ve been given, the mission we’ve been given to promote the life of Christ, the life of the church.”
He is also looking forward to leading The Compass pilgrimage in September of 2010.
“We are going to see the (Oberammergau) Passion Play,” he said. “I love that part of the world. It will be nice to go with people from Wisconsin. I’ve taken several trips to Italy, Germany and Austria with people from Cheyenne. Now it will be nice to do that with people from Green Bay. Getting to know a few people very well is exciting.”
Bishop Ricken recently had knee surgery and said that his knee is pain free for the first time in quite a while. His family, whom many people of the diocese met at his installation, is doing well, he reported. His sister, Carol, has moved to Green Bay.
“She is going to kind of be my housekeeper and do some cooking,” said Bishop Ricken. “She is loving it here.”
The timing was right for her move, he added. Carol was a Catholic school principal in Cheyenne where she facilitated the building of a new $12 million school. She moved the students to the new building for the second semester. Bishop Ricken’s brother, Mark, a retired educator who “got bored and went to work for a collection agency,” lives on the family farm in La Junta, Colo.
“My nephew, Christian, got married in May, so I flew out to Denver,” said Bishop Ricken. “I saw Mark and his family at the wedding. I hope he comes back here before too long. Now that Carol is here, it may encourage him to come.”
Prior to his anniversary, he has an important task.
“I’m looking forward to throwing out the first pass at the Bishop’s Charities Game (Aug. 22),” he said. “I’ve been practicing a little bit so I hope I don’t disappoint the people. I don’t want to disappoint the fans. What a great thrill to be able to do that. So many historical things have happened at Lambeau Field.”
Bishop Ricken has not planned any major celebrations for his anniversary.
“I have a Mass of evangelization that day, which is kind of fitting,” he said. “I just do (celebrations) really big years, but the first year is an important year.”
Whatever the days ahead bring, Bishop Ricken said he hopes the people of the diocese remain true to their faith.
“Through all of our struggles, we have to keep hanging on to Christ, who is our hope, and not to give in to discouragement,” he said. “Our only real enemy is discouragement, which means there is a lack of hope.
“The greatest gift we can give to our generation is to pass on the gift of hope, hope in eternal life,” he added. “This life is a journey. We should not lose sight of the broader vision of why we are here. We should live and show that hope constantly.”
Catholics offer their congratulations to Bishop Ricken
Our servant leader
Back in 1851, a man by the name of John Babsone Lane Soule exclaimed: “Go West, Young Man, Go West.” In 1865, Horace Greeley wrote an editorial in the New York Tribune rephrasing Soule’s expression: “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”
Well, Bishop Ricken heard a different message: “Go east, Bishop Ricken, go east from Wyoming into Wisconsin and grow the church.” And to our good fortune, Bishop Ricken responded to the Lord’s call and said “yes.” He is now our shepherd, assuming the responsibilities of proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, celebrating the sacraments of the church and governing our Diocese of Green Bay. We are indebted to him for his willingness to serve and be our servant leader.
On Aug. 9, Bishop Ricken joined the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross in Bay Settlement to celebrate the Eucharist. The Mass was in thanksgiving for the sisters celebrating their jubilee. At the liturgy and the reception following, I again observed those qualities in Bishop Ricken’s character that are so appealing: 1) his affability and graciousness in dealing with people; 2) his encouragement and affirmation of the ministry of others; and 3) his love for Jesus and the church. Add to this his competence, sense of humor and good singing voice and we have a winner.
I join so many others in thanking Bishop Ricken for coming east, not the East Coast but east of the Mississippi into our beloved state of Wisconsin. Our hope is that the Lord does not have other plans for Bishop Ricken for a long, long time.
Bishop Robert Morneau
A fresh approach
I am still getting over Bishop Ricken’s inaugural homily with his rendition of “Lord Jesus, drop-kick me through the goalposts of life.” (I think those are the words.) It was a sure sign that his approach to serving this Church of Green Bay would be both fresh and well-centered. The Lord comes first.
Bishop Robert Banks
Miss those parking lot meetings
Our first meeting – in fact, our first three meetings – told me a lot about our new bishop and what our relationship style would be.
Interestingly, they all took place in our parking lots! Friendly, casual, good, “short to the point” but informative, relevant discussions, and fun. In those first encounters I discovered that we looked at the programs from my office in very similar ways. Especially in the direction that we would like to see some of them head. This was particularly evident in our discussion about Theology of the Body materials as part of marriage preparation in the diocese and where we wanted to go with natural family planning. This was a comfort and I definitely felt his support.
Our next “meetings” were at all of the “Fall Leadership Regional” gatherings throughout the diocese. I joked with him that we had at least “upgraded” our meetings to school buildings and had brought them indoors. What I learned and saw at these evenings was a bishop who wanted to be out among his flock as soon as he could. His humor, his caring, his “down-to-earth” approach, as well as his contemplative spirituality and strong prayer life, also came through during these initial encounters.
Since these first “informal” encounters, we have met more formally. Here, I found a shepherd who is one of the kindest men I have ever met, who listens to others’ ideas, opinions and experiences and who is also fair and just. Yet, who questions motives, the best procedures and courses of action and is very clear on what his preferences would be.
To borrow terms from the ministries I am involved in … this first year with Bishop Ricken has been very much a “getting to know each other” honeymoon phase. I am excited at the prospects of the second year when the marriage takes better hold and we start to become more of a family.
Congratulations, Bishop Ricken, on this first anniversary. We pray that there will be many more. P.S., I do miss those parking lot meetings!
Helen A. Scieszka, Ph.D.
Family and Married Life director
What a bishop, what a year
I have found Bishop Ricken to be a humble Spirit-led leader. His demeanor is almost always upbeat and positive, with a great sense of humor. He is a down-home man of faith and prayer, who brings to the diocese a strong missionary spirit. He is a priest and bishop who is constantly wrestling with God – trying to figure out and do God’s will, not one minute sooner or later than God wants. It has been a real joy to serve him and get to know him.
His impact on the department of Stewardship and Pastoral Services has been considerable, especially in the area of pastoral planning. Prior to Bishop Ricken’s arrival, most of the pastoral planning in the diocese focused on how to continue to serve parishes and Catholics in northeast Wisconsin with fewer priests.
Pastoral plans resulted in the reorganization of parishes. They called parish leaders and parishioners to make the best of what was not an ideal situation.
Upon his arrival, Bishop Ricken took a keen interest in our diocesan pastoral planning processes. He realized that the decline in the number of priests was beginning to flatten out. He knew that if we could place a new priority on the recruitment and nurturing of priestly vocations – as well as begin to actively seek out just a few foreign-born priests – that perhaps (instead of a future in the diocese of more parish consolidations) the time had finally come to declare a moratorium on parish reorganizations.
Bishop Ricken challenged the staff to put together a diocesan pastoral planning process that, instead of focusing on our problems and challenges, would affirm the many blessings, gifts and strengths present in our Catholic communities. Building on this foundation of strength, the process would allow parish and diocesan leaders to dream new dreams, while being faithful to our rich Catholic tradition. In turn, this could lead to pastoral plans for the revitalization of our parishes and institutions.
With the blessing and support of Bishop Ricken, the basic outlines for such a pastoral planning process have been approved. In the coming year, parish and diocesan leaders will be working together to flesh out the details of this proposed process. In late spring 2010, it is expected that the diocese will embark on the proposed process. With Bishop Ricken’s leadership and the proposed pastoral planning process, it should be an exciting time to be a Catholic in northeast Wisconsin.
Stewardship and Pastoral Services director
Reverence for liturgy
I have come to know Bishop Ricken through his celebrations of liturgy.
Bishop Ricken is precise in preparing the liturgy and reverencing the elements of liturgical celebration. Although he stands visible at Mass with his miter and crosier, he blends with concelebrants around the altar in their oneness in priesthood. At Masses, he is warmly welcoming to all. He likes to bring many important “themes” to the celebration of Mass for prayer and thanksgiving.
When giving homilies, Bishop Ricken has a scholarly approach to Scripture. He explains the historical elements of readings and moves on to spiritual application for us. He is an expressive homilist.
Bishop Ricken expresses commitments that are important to him: best liturgies, education in Catholic faith, honoring one’s vocation, and discerning and following a call to priesthood. Bishop frequently includes these in prayer and upholds them as on-going goals for the diocese.
Worship and Sacraments director
Supporting lay ministry formation
A few months after his installation in the Diocese of Green Bay, Bishop Ricken scheduled time with each diocesan department in order to become acquainted with the personnel as well as the ministry of each department. The Ministry Formation Department met with Bishop Ricken on Feb. 17. Each staff member introduced himself or herself and then shared what his or her responsibilities are regarding the formation of ministers in our diocese.
Fortunately, Deacon Paul Grimm was chosen to go first. After a description of what he does with deacons in formation as well as continued support and formation following ordination, Bishop Ricken showed his inquisitive nature as he asked many thought-provoking questions in an effort to determine how the diaconate in Green Bay compares to that of his former Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo.
I was next. I tried to give the bishop an overview of what lay ministry formation looks like in the diocese. However, rather than focusing merely on the Commissioned Ministry Leadership Formation Program, I wanted to give him the “big picture” of all that lay ministry formation entails in our diocese. Approximately halfway through my prepared presentation, Bishop Ricken stopped me and told me the story about how a sister from Green Bay had served as a consultant in setting up a lay ministry formation program in Pueblo, Colo., when he was stationed there.
This religious sister had advised the development of a three stage, comprehensive program of lay ministry formation. It was a wonderful program. After he described the program in some detail, a smile came across my face. I asked Bishop Ricken if the person’s name was Sr. Florence Youngwirth. He laughed and said that, indeed, the consultant’s name was Sr. Florence.
With that, I was able to tell Bishop Ricken that the Commissioned Ministry Leadership Formation Program, the flagship of our lay ministry formation efforts in the Diocese of Green Bay, is exactly what Sr. Florence was providing for the people in Pueblo. As an added bonus I was able to tell Bishop Ricken that the Commissioned Ministry Leadership Formation Program is accredited through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Commission on Certification and Accreditation, and that we were the first diocese in the country to achieve this standing.
With many responses of “Good, that’s great!” I knew that Bishop Ricken understands and affirms what we are attempting to do as we provide holistic formation of ministers for parishes. Welcome to the Diocese of Green Bay, Bishop Ricken. It has been a good year! Hopefully there will be many more to come!
Lay Ministry Formation director
We have been truly blessed
My first encounter with Bishop Ricken was on an August evening when he arrived in Green Bay a few days before his installation. I had the great fortune to have dinner with Bishop Ricken, Bishop Banks, Bishop Morneau and Fr. John Doerfler. It was a delightful meal in that I could witness how seamlessly Bishop Ricken could transition among various topics of spirituality, theology, pastoral ministry, education, church governance, linguistics and family.
Upon returning home, I told my wife that the experience was like pulling out my favorite sweater on the first cool day of autumn and feeling all the comfort and warmth that I was looking for. One year later, I can say that the “sweater” is still not only comfortable and warm, but that it also fits perfectly.
Upon his arrival, Bishop Ricken indicated that he would take time to get to know the faithful of the Diocese of Green Bay. He has been true to his word as he has traveled to most areas of the diocese, received countless visitors, attended hundreds of meetings and has developed his own personal relationships with individuals from various locations and walks of life.
He has taken particular time to get to know the needs and concerns of his priests and visiting as many parishes as he can. This investment of time has served us well in the shepherding that I witness as I work with Bishop Ricken on various issues and opportunities at the Chancery.
His prayerful faith in God’s providence and his Spirit-filled inspiration are manifest in the upswing in the number of seminarians, his calling of staff to work in a special way on evangelization in 2010, his passion for catechesis of the faithful at all ages, his support for our homeless brothers and sisters and his wisdom in making the day-to-day decisions that often go unnoticed but profoundly affect the vibrancy of our church.
It was not without trepidation that we anxiously waited for 11 months to hear who the Holy Father would appoint as the 12th bishop of Green Bay to succeed Bishop David Zubik. We have been truly blessed by the unique and generous gifts bestowed on Bishop Ricken to teach, to sanctify and to govern our Diocese in the model of Christ the Good Shepherd.
Deacon Tim Reilly
Diocesan Director of Administration
A welcoming bishop
As we approach the first anniversary of Bishop Ricken’s appointment to the Diocese of Green Bay, I am reminded of how welcoming he was to all of us – first at his announcement and then shortly after his installation – in inviting us to be people of prayer for the work of the diocese.
His presence at our annual retreat last year and his down-to-earth approach to meeting people and making them feel welcome was appreciated by many here at Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities employs both Catholic and non-Catholic employees and overwhelmingly most commented on how at home he appeared to be with those of us who minister here at the diocese, each in our own way.
One particular highlight was his attendance at the Catholic Charities 90th anniversary luncheon sponsored by the Catholic Charities Auxiliary. He sat at the front table while our entertainment group sang and danced a medley of songs from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. He was tapping his foot and on occasion humming along, much to everyone’s surprise.
It was a good opportunity to be with Bishop Ricken in a less formal setting and to observe how fun-loving he is and how quick his wit is with the right opportunity. It was also good for him that day to remind everyone present of what our role is in helping others using Teresa of Avila’s prayer reminding us that we are all the hands with which Christ is to bless all people.
Over the past year, though we have not had an opportunity to have bishop at any of our staff meetings, we have felt supported by Bishop Ricken’s interest in and support of the work of Catholic Charities.
He has joined some of our staff at an informal lunch to talk about the history of our work with refugees and immigrants, he has talked about the work of building families through adoption and has more recently congratulated us on our work in achieving the national Annie E. Casey award for strengthening families. We wish Bishop Ricken well as he embarks on another year of faith filled leadership of our ministries here in the Diocese of Green Bay. This is truly God’s work.
Catholic Charities director
Be assured of prayers
I thank God daily that you have come to be our shepherd here in Green Bay. I count it as a special blessing that I have the privilege of knowing you as a dear friend as well. Congratulations on your first anniversary among us! Be assured of my continued prayers and support in the days and years ahead.
Michael F. J. Lee
Pastoral Minister/Administrative Assistant
Ss. Peter & Paul Parish – Green Bay
Thanks for your service
Congratulations! Thank you for your service to the people of the Diocese of Green Bay. I pray that you may continue to spread the Good News for many years to come.