The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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May 25, 2001 Issue
Bishop Banks' Corner

Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

We have reason to be proud

Priests act in many and rich ways to serve the Church of Green Bay

By Bishop Robert Banks

As I write this column, I am feeling particularly proud of our priests here in the Church of Green Bay.

One part of the reason is Fr. Carl Steiner, whose funeral this past week was really a Mass of Thanksgiving for a fine priestly life. The churches at Oconto Falls and Kimberly were both full of appreciative parishioners from the northern and southern regions of the diocese who still remembered his kindness and enthusiasm. A few months ago, Coach Mike Sherman of the Packers, who had seen Fr. Carl in action when he accompanied the team to the West Coast as temporary chaplain, summed it up for me when he said, "Now, there's a real priest!"

Thinking of Fr. Carl brought to mind some of the other fine priests we have buried over the past couple of years. There was Fr. Bill Zimmer, sometimes referred to as the Bishop of Manitowoc by his parishioners. In Appleton, there was Fr. Orville Janssen, whose work with the poor and whose friendship with those in trouble with the law or with life was legendary.

The names of other outstanding priests whom we have buried over the past few years come to the tip of my pen, but the list would be too long. In fact, there is no such thing as a priest who is not well remembered by persons whose lives he touched or even changed.

Fortunately, we are also blessed with young priests who have responded with remarkable courage to new challenges that young priests never had to face before in this diocese. Priests who are ordained less than 10 years can now be asked to handle three or four parishes, or to preside over the merger of two or more parishes. Half a century ago, priests were ordained close to 20 years before they would be entrusted with even one parish.

So there is reason for the bishops, and all of us, to be proud of what our priests have done and continue to do in service of the Lord.

But there is another reason for my feelings of gratitude for our priests. It has to do with the work of the Presbyteral Council this past year. ("Presbyter" is another word for priest that the Church has been using more since the Second Vatican Council. It comes from the Greek word for "elder" and goes back to the earliest days of the Church.)

The Presbyteral Council represents the priests of the diocese and acts as a kind of senate to assist the bishop in the governance of the diocese. My own practice is to seek the advice and approval of the Presbyteral Council for any major pastoral initiatives in our Church of Green Bay.

A perfect example from the recent past would be the decision to use RENEW 2000 as our way of celebrating the Jubilee Year for the new millennium. The Presbyteral Council approved that decision, but only after hearing that the Diocesan Pastoral Council, composed of laypersons, religious and priests, also favored our joining in RENEW 2000.

This past year, the Presbyteral Council approved several important pastoral initiatives, all of which had also been recommended by the Diocesan Pastoral Council. All of them meant that the Presbyteral Council was, in effect, saying that the priests of our diocese are willing to take on new tasks as long as they are for the good of the Church of Green Bay.

The one that impressed me most was the willingness of the Presbyteral Council to commit themselves and all our priests to a new program that will involve looking at the way we preach the Gospel. It is not aimed at making each one of us, priest and bishop, another Bp. Fulton Sheen or Dr. Robert Schuller. It is simply another help for taking the task of preaching more seriously.

At the same meeting, the Presbyteral Council looked at what we as a diocese might focus on after we finish the present two years' theme of "Summoned to Serve." The possible choices that I had discussed over the past couple of months with diocesan staff, priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council were spirituality, evangelization and stewardship. Each one is an important and essential part of the Church's mission, but which one should we choose to focus on in a special way as a diocese?

The leading candidate, after all the discussion, was stewardship. The Presbyteral Council agreed that we, as the Church of Green Bay, should make stewardship a special focus of our efforts beginning in the fall of 2002.

Some concern was expressed about this choice. For many people, stewardship only means fund-raising, but that is not our aim in making this decision. Stewardship is all about a conversion of heart that recognizes how everything we are and have comes from God. Our response is one of praise and thanksgiving that shows itself in the way we live our lives: in prayer, in service, and in the use of money.

Conversion of heart is our aim. We are fortunate in having Bp. Morneau in our diocese, since he has been speaking in dioceses all over the country about the conversion of heart that is at the core of stewardship. He can make sure we stay centered on that essential conversion.

Apart from these two important pastoral initiatives, the Presbyteral Council has also approved some important documents this past year. Alert readers have already seen the documentation on Christian funerals. Soon to be published will be a policy statement concerning alcohol abuse.

I have also been impressed that the Council was willing to take on the very difficult issue of school support. In a soon to be published document on regional schools, we embrace the concept that Catholic schools deserve the support of the diocese and the communities they serve. Wherever possible, parishes can agree to cooperate in supporting a school or school in their area. This, of course, already happens in a number of places in our diocese, but the document provides a clear rationale and procedure for such cooperative support.

So now you can see why I am feeling quite proud of our priests.

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