The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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June 15, 2001 Issue
Local News

Going strong

Retired Green Bay bishop continues serving the church

Related articles:
 • Layman's bishop fosters changes of Vatican Council II
 • CRS pioneer set stage for resettlement of refugees from wars

By Peter Geniesse
Special to The Compass

As retired Green Bay Bp. Aloysius Wycislo prepares to turn 93 on Sunday, he is still going strong.

He celebrates Mass every day, and he walks a mile or so about the grounds near his home. Most afternoons, he can be found in his office in the Green Bay Diocese complex, working on his latest book.

He is slowing down a bit, however. He gave up golf a few years ago. He was still scoring at nearly his age, but rotator cuff pains were cutting into his swing. He lost a couple of fingers on his right hand in a freak leaf shredder accident a dozen years ago, but he's learned to compensate for that. He had major colon surgery last January.

He doesn't get around like he used to, and he doesn't accept as many invitations to speak to groups. He fears his voice will give out before an hour is up.

And he's ready, he says, whenever God's ready.

"My faith has grown stronger through the years," Bp. Wycislo said. "When you reach my age, you wonder why God is keeping you around. Then you realize that he must have a purpose."

Bp. Wycislo believes God was in his life on purpose when he was asked recently to speak to a group of 200 high school students at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Green Bay. His requested topic was the Second Vatican Council.

"I told the religious education director that she was nuts," he said. "Those kids wouldn't know what Vatican II was." But then he sensed an inspiration. He said he would agree to address the students if each one brought along a grandparent.

The session was a resounding success. The grandparents told all about the church that they grew up in, and then the teenagers told of their Catholic experience today.

"My task was to knit them together," Bp. Wycislo said. "It was a tremendous opportunity."

He knows all about Vatican Council II. He attended all four sessions, from 1962 to 1965. He served on three commissions, one studying indulgences, another on ecumenism and a third on Eastern churches. He also wrote a book on his reflections, Vatican II Revisited.

He knows both sides of the aisle of the Catholic Church in the 20th century. His first 50 years were in the old church. The next 40 or so have been in the new church.

Bp. Wycislo, like others in his generation, was at home with the hierarchical church of his youth. He was the eldest of seven children of second generation immigrants from Poland. He grew up in Chicago's Cicero where everyone was Catholic, where the church was the social center, where most attended parochial schools.

"Mine was a total Catholic experience," he said. He attended St. Mary's, the neighborhood parochial school, then enrolled at Quigley junior seminary, and after high school, St. Mary of the Lake Seminary at Mundelein, Ill. Even his post-graduate degree in social work was from The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He spent more than 20 years in Catholic schools.

It wasn't until he went to work for Catholic Relief Services during World War II and lived in Cairo, Egypt, did he come in regular contact with non-Catholics - and non-Christians.

Bp. Wycislo could relate to the nostalgic tales of the church of those grandparents at that religious education gathering at St. Elizabeth Seton. But he also could understand what the high school youths were going through.

It was his job, as pastor and then bishop, to both bridge the generational gap and implement the changes fostered by Vatican II.

The old church was closed. "It was a church virtually without doubt, a church confident in its mode of governance and triumphant in its style," he said.

The new church is open. "It's a church willing to listen as well as pronounce, a church in which ministerial responsibility is shared," he said. "It's a church on pilgrimage."

While the old church was "probably right for its time," he obviously favors the new one. "It's not more secure, more safe, more peaceful or more orderly," he said. "But it is a better church."

The post-conciliar church is "more Christ-like," he said. "It's more conscious of its central apostolic mission and how that relates to the poor and the powerless. It's more concerned with ecumenical oneness in Christ," he added.

"It's more ready to serve the least in our society than to satisfy the comfortable. It's more interested in compassion than condemnation, in praying for forgiveness for ourselves while pardoning all others."

Bp. Wycislo recognizes that Vatican II has shaken the church, and some of the fallout, such as the decline in religious vocations, poses threats to its structure and its mission, as well as to the comfort level of another generation.

The new church, however, "is here to stay, despite the nostalgia of some for a more serene and settled past," he said. "The flow of history will not be reversed."

He believes that the changes haven't yet stood the test of time. "Let the chroniclers of the third millennium place our post-conciliar church on their charts, its peaks and valleys over time that made it a church of the People of God."

The church "will somehow survive as it always has, as has been promised by the Lord himself," he said. "I have a great deal of faith in God."

Bp. Wycislo retired in 1983 at the mandatory age of 75. But the Chicago native, Vatican Councilor, CRS pioneer and once-world traveler didn't sense the urge to move on. He felt at home in Green Bay. He moved into a bungalow on a ridge overlooking the Fox River, just a short walk from the bishop's residence and diocesan offices.

For the past 18 years, the "zealous pastoral bishop," as Chicago's Card. John Cody called him, has never been far from the people he came to love and to serve.

When he was installed as bishop of Green Bay in 1968, he said he wanted to have "a wide vision of things" in the diocese. "I want to draw on the knowledge and talent of all who are willing to work with me," he said.

"I have no vision of the future," he added, "except that it is something that you and I must create together."

Fifteen years later, in his retirement address, the bishop whose episcopal motto is "Caritati Instate" (Be Steadfast in Love), pledged "to remain with all of you in a sacramental bond of service."

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