Retired Green Bay bishop continues serving the church
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
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
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
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
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
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
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