CHAMPION — A year ago, a celebration at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help was being planned as a day to mark diocesan anniversaries. By the time Oct. 9 rolled around, it had morphed into a day of clergy prayer and reparation.
Six bishops and auxiliary bishops and 90 priests from around Wisconsin and beyond joined Bishop David Ricken at the national shrine for recitation of the rosary, Mass, lunch, a conference for priests and benediction with the Blessed Sacrament.
In his greeting before Mass, Bishop Ricken asked for “God’s blessings and Mary’s protection and guidance for our dioceses in the years ahead.”
“We have all felt anger, frustration and betrayal,” Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki said in his homily, alluding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. “We are here to seek comfort from Mary and to pray in reparation.”
Also present were Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Bishop James Powers of Superior and three of the auxiliary bishops of Milwaukee: Bishop Jeffery Haines, Bishop James Schuerman and Bishop Emeritus Richard Sklba. Bishop William Callahan of La Crosse had a meeting with his priests the same day, but sent his vicar general, Msgr. Joseph Diermeier, to represent him.
Don Warden, chief operating officer of the shrine, estimated about 700 lay people attended for all or part of the day, which was also one of the days celebrating the 159th anniversary of the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to Adele Brise at the shrine site.
“This event is pretty unique in the history of what we’ve done here,” Warden said.
Bishop Ricken said plans began a year ago to gather together to celebrate the 150th anniversaries of the Green Bay and La Crosse dioceses, and the 175th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“And then, just recently, we decided to do it for reparation,” he said. He also said he was pleased with the turnout and the spirit of the day.
Camaraderie was evident everywhere. Priests chatted in small groups, caught up with personal news as they vested for Mass and introduced themselves to priests they’d never met.
“Mary is the mother of priests, and I am here at Mary’s shrine for solidarity with other priests,” said Fr. Callistus Elue, originally of Nigeria and now administrator of St. Joseph Parish in Crandon.
Fr. Edward Looney thought the reason for the day fit well with Mary’s call for conversion and penance.
“I pray for abundant spiritual fruit,” said Fr. Looney, who is administrator of St. Francis and St. Mary in Brussels and St. Peter and St. Hubert, Lincoln/Rosiere.
Fr. Nathan Reesman, a priest from Milwaukee, said he visits the shrine once a month, bringing prayer requests from the people of his parish.
“Mary always comes through for us,” he said, adding that he hoped the day would engender ongoing healing for the church around the world, as well as deeper zeal for evangelization under the patronage of Our Lady of Good Help.
Mutual support is what attracted Fr. Andrew Showers of Madison.
“This is a great day for fraternal prayer among all of us in the state,” he said. “With all the bad news out there, we forget that there are many, many good priests.”
Bishop Morlino referred directly to the abuse crisis when asked about his hopes for the day.
“I’m hoping that Mary our mother will help us get through this,” he said. “There’s no better place for us (than this shrine), since Mary is the seat of wisdom and mercy — mercy to do justice, and justice with love.”
Among those attending was Marion Mulhall of Ireland, who founded Worldpriest, a global apostolate that supports priests through prayer, especially the rosary. The apostolate sponsors the annual Global Rosary Relay on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the sanctification of priests.
Archbishop Listecki said that silence toward the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and the lack of understanding about the nature of such crimes, “inflicted a wound on the Body of Christ.”
“We must pledge to accept our collective guilt,” he said. “And it’s proper that we celebrate here at the shrine where Our Lady told Adele to look out for the children.”
Archbishop Listecki encouraged a reliance on Mary to get through the church’s difficult times.
“We must remember the very last words we hear from Mary in the Gospel: “Do whatever he tells you,” he said, referring to the wedding feast at Cana.
He said that it’s a mother’s nature to feed, to comfort and protect, and Mary, who also suffered with Christ, should be asked to feed, comfort and protect the church.
“When I confirm students, and the girls take the name of Mary, I always tell them, ‘When you’re good to your mother, she will be good to you.’”
After Mass and lunch, the priests heard a private conference given by Fr. Frederick Miller of Newark, N.J., who is chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md. Bishop Ricken said Fr. Miller was to talk about priesthood, Mary and reparation.