‘He will be a great bishop,’ says seminary rector

By Jeff Kurowski | The Compass | January 8, 2014

Associates offer positive remarks about Bishop-elect Doerfler

ALLOUEZ — Mixed feelings describe the reaction to Fr. John Doerfler’s appointment as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, Mich., by many who have worked closely with him and those he has provided ministry to in the Diocese of Green Bay. While they are happy that Pope Francis named the Appleton native a bishop, they will miss his presence.

At his diaconate ordination in Rome in 1990, Fr. John Doerfler receives the Book of the Gospels. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)
At his diaconate ordination in Rome in 1990, Fr. John Doerfler receives the Book of the Gospels. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)

In addition to serving as vicar general for the diocese, Bishop-elect Doerfler taught moral theology at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis., and ministered as a spiritual advisor or chaplain for numerous groups.

“Incredible; I was absolutely delighted when I heard the news,” said Msgr. Ross Shecterle, president and rector of Sacred Heart School of Theology. “He will be a great bishop. It’s a great loss for us, but wonderful for the people of Marquette.”

Bishop-elect Doerfler was recommended to teach at Sacred Heart by Bishop David Ricken.

“We were in need of a moral theologian,” said Msgr. Shecterle, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. “I’m sure we crossed paths previously when we worked in Rome, but it was a pleasure to get to know him as a member of our faculty. I was actually out of town when he was appointed. He left me a voice message, because he wanted to tell me directly.

“When I spoke to him, I told him that we could work it out so he could teach one day a week,” added Msgr. Shecterle with a laugh. “Marquette is not that far from Hales Corners.”

Bishop-elect Doerfler was scheduled to teach classes this semester. Losing a faculty member to another appointment is nothing new at Sacred Heart, according to Msgr. Shecterle. In the past, instructors have been called to significant roles or to serve as heads of religious communities. Bishop-elect Doerfler brings much knowledge to his new diocese, he added.

“He is able to address moral questions going on in our society,” said Msgr. Shecterle. “Clearly, to have a moral theologian who is also a canon lawyer is a strong choice as a bishop.”

Two-year-old John and his father, Henry Doerfler, shovel snow at their Appleton home in February 1967.  Henry Doerfler died in 1998. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)
Two-year-old John and his father, Henry Doerfler, shovel snow at their Appleton home in February 1967. Henry Doerfler died in 1998. (Courtesy of Doerfler Family | For The Compass)

Bishop-elect Doerfler will be returning to Sacred Heart to celebrate Mass on Jan. 15. Msgr. Shecterle looks forward to additional visits.

“Once he gets settled in Marquette, we hope that he can do a conference or public lecture on spiritual renewal for us,” he said. “I’m really thankful for the fraternity he shared with the other priests. We will miss that. He provided a strong presence. It’s exciting to have a faculty member become a bishop.”

Msgr. Shecterle may miss Bishop-elect Doerfler’s ordination on Feb. 11 due to a conference for seminary rectors. Sacred Heart will send a delegate to the liturgy.

Seminarians from the Diocese of Marquette have studied at Sacred Heart School of Theology. Msgr. Shecterle sees that relationship continuing with Bishop-elect Doerfler. Seminarians from the Diocese of Green Bay who attend St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee take classes at Sacred Heart.

Bishop-elect Doerfler served as a spiritual advisor for Widows of Prayer, a group founded in 1994 by Mary Reardon of Appleton. The group, of which Bishop-elect Doerfler’s mother, Germaine, is a member, is devoted to the ministry of prayer for priests and church leaders.

“He’s a marvelous man, a very fine priest and very genuine,” said Reardon. “It really wasn’t a surprise that he was named a bishop.”

Bishop-elect Doerfler met regularly with the Widows of Prayer in Appleton. His talks have been recorded on CD to give out to members for “our help and guidance,” said Reardon.

The Widows of Prayer meet on Thursdays at St. Pius X Church in Appleton for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and to celebrate Mass. Fr. Tom Farrell is now serving as spiritual advisor. Reardon said that the prayer group is growing, with Widows of Prayer in Huntington, Ind., Milwaukee, Appleton and Lower Michigan.

Another ministry served by Bishop-elect Doerfler was Legatus of Northeast Wisconsin, an organization for Catholic business leaders and their spouses. He served as chaplain for the chapter, which was chartered in 2001.

“(Bishop-elect Doerfler) has provided confession, Mass and spiritual direction to our membership for the past five-plus years,” said Jeff Pallini, NEW Legatus president. “We are grateful to him for his vocation and friendship to our chapter. He will be dearly missed, but we are very excited for him in his new role as the bishop of Marquette. He is well prepared and deserving of this appointment. We extend our prayers to him and the people of his diocese. We look forward to having him back as a speaker when his calendar permits.”

Bishop-elect Doerfler was spiritual director for Teens Encounter Christ retreats and spiritual advisor for Courage Ministry in the Diocese of Green Bay, a spiritual support group for persons with same-sex attraction. He also served on various diocesan boards and committees.

Msgr. Brian Coleman served with him on the diocesan Presbyteral Council, College of Consultors, additional committees and worked closely with Bishop-elect Doerfler in the marriage tribunal.

“I was happy to hear the news,” said Msgr. Coleman. “I think he will be a wonderful bishop. John is very thorough and has a very deep pastoral sense. Once the people get to know him, I believe they will really like him and appreciate what he brings to the diocese.”

The ministry of Bishop-elect Doerfler in the marriage tribunal and his experience as a teacher will serve him well as a bishop, added Msgr. Coleman.

“In the Tribunal, you are dealing all the time with people who are hurting,” he explained. “There is a lot of anger among the people you are serving. John was able to help these individuals in a very pastoral way. We shared a lot with each other. On canon law, we were almost always in agreement.

“I know that he was very happy teaching moral theology. He’s an excellent teacher, a very systematic, orderly person, which is effective.”

The late Bishop Mark Schmitt, the 10th bishop of the Diocese of Marquette, was also a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay. Msgr. Coleman sees similarities in Bishop-elect Doerfler with Bishop Schmitt.

“Bishop Schmitt was there a good number of years. Because of his pastoral sense, he was able to diffuse and handle some difficult situations,” he said. “John has that same sense.”

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