A message from the Bishop
My dear friends,
It has now been nearly one year since I became the bishop of Grand Rapids. The time since my ordination has been a true blessing for me! It’s funny, I would not have chosen to be a bishop or go to another state, but I am convinced this is where I should be and what I should be doing. Of course, it helps when you are told that the pope has appointed you to the task. With faith and trust, I can believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding such choices.
In becoming bishop of Grand Rapids, I am the beneficiary of the faith, generosity, and commitment of its people to this local Church. I am also a beneficiary of the leadership of its bishops over the years. I can detect the positive influences of Bishop Rose and Bishop Hurley in many ways. As immediate successor to Bishop Hurley, I am very appreciative of the goals he set for the diocese early on and how he fulfilled them, especially those goals which entailed challenging and difficult decisions.
In recalling that beautiful day in June at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew when I was ordained and installed as bishop, I am filled with gratitude for all the planning and work that was accomplished to make the various ordination events and activities so prayerful and welcoming, especially for those who traveled from Ohio to attend. Bishop Hurley, Monsignor Duncan and the Cathedral Square staff did a fantastic job! So many countless others made their contribution to this effort as well. To all, I repeat my heartfelt thanks of one year ago!
My first official event was the Catholic Charities West Michigan fundraiser “Let’s Go to Bat for Kids!” at Fifth Third Park two days after I was ordained. That was the first time I stepped foot on a professional playing field. At Progressive Field in Cleveland, I would have been arrested and fined $500. I guess being a bishop makes a difference.
My first official parish visit was the opportunity to share in the joyful 150th anniversary celebration of SS. Peter and Paul Parish, Ionia, on June 29th. So far SS. Peter and Paul is the oldest parish in whose anniversary I have been privileged to have had a part. Other parish anniversaries have followed, and more are sure to come!
Bishop Anthony Pilla, the retired bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, gave me some very wise advice on the day I was named bishop of Grand Rapids. He said, “You don’t need to learn how to be a bishop; you need to remember how to be a pastor.” I have found his counsel to be true. I thank God for the opportunity to have been pastor for seven years of the wonderful parish of St. Joan of Arc in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The parishioners were invaluable in helping me learn how to be a pastor, and I remain grateful to them for those years with them.
There are, however, some aspects of being a bishop that place the bishop on a much wider stage than that of a parish pastor. In September I traveled to Rome to attend a conference for new bishops, along with 107 other bishops who had been ordained since the last conference. I got a glimpse of the universality and diversity of the Catholic Church and its faith. Meeting Pope Francis was quite a thrill, even though he did not speak English and I did not speak Spanish or Italian. He radiates joy and enthusiasm!
I have only attended one meeting of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, so I still have quite a bit to learn about its operation. My brother bishops are friendly, helpful, and welcoming. The bishops on the standing committees and in the administrative positions of the Conference serve with a spirit of generosity, hard work, and competence that I have already come to admire. I will attend my second USCCB meeting in June.
As the bishop of Grand Rapids, I have become a member of the board of directors of the Michigan Catholic Conference. The Conference serves as the official voice of the Catholic Church in Michigan on matters of public policy. It also manages programs that provide retirement benefits, health, dental, disability, and life insurance coverage for lay employees and clergy, as well as property and casualty coverage for the Church throughout Michigan.
The board meets quarterly, and so I am becoming more familiar with this very important organization that provides an impressive array of services for the Church in Michigan. I found that it is best to come prepared for these important meetings!
Over the past year I have begun to see where our local Church can direct its efforts in a new or renewed way: revitalizing our parishes through the vision of the Our Faith Our Future pastoral plan, supporting our Catholic schools, strengthening our Catholic faith in light of the New Evangelization, and beginning anew the permanent diaconal formation program. I will continue to pursue my plan to visit all of our schools and parishes, especially in the northern reaches of the diocese. I now realize what kind of winters we have here in West Michigan! May God bless us all and guide us to continue the mission of Jesus his Son!
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak