“I am returning you to your native land.” Such were the words of Pope John Paul II when he named me the tenth Bishop of Helena in 2004. The joy I experienced upon returning home to Montana 14 years ago remains palpable today as you and I stand at the threshold of another change.
In February, Pope Francis named me the third bishop of the Diocese of Las Vegas. I will be installed on May 15. A new place, new people, and new challenges await me in a diocese that is 15 times larger than our own. For the Diocese of Helena, it will be a time of prayerful anticipation as you await a new bishop.
It is never easy to leave people and a place you love. Immersing oneself in a community is a great joy of being a priest and bishop, but with joy comes the sorrow of parting. As my departure nears, I look back on 14 years and am grateful to God for the grace He has given us as a diocese, not only to weather challenges, but also for growth and renewal. I am aware, as I reflect, of the great work of Divine Providence in these past years.
Faced with sad abuse claims from the past against clergy and others, the diocese confronted its most daunting challenge. The harm to the lives of the victims was incalculable and the way forward was not always clear. With wise counsel, we chose a path of reconciliation and pastoral care, and in the end reached a mediated settlement that avoided a protracted and costly legal battle. The process was not without difficulty and sacrifice; justice and compassion demanded that we make monetary and pastoral provisions for victim survivors. My goal was to do so in a way that, to the extent possible, preserved ministries and allowed the diocese a pathway to rebuild. Ultimately, we spent less than five hours in bankruptcy court and reached a solution praised by the judge as “a singular achievement” in his 30 years on the bench.
In the wake of the settlement, we moved ahead with a master plan for restoring fiscal stability to the diocese. Overhauling our financial structure has resulted in unprecedented transparency and accountability. I cannot overstate how important it was to me, as your Bishop, to put a plan in place for restoring funds parishes lost in the Deposit and Loan. Our creative response was to utilize fallow diocesan property to create the Trinity Development in Helena, an independent business venture that will generate revenue to restore parish funds. It is a long-term plan but we are beginning to see the early fruits. The new hotel, a Hilton Home2 Suites, opened for business this spring. Further development on the property will continue. As the Trinity project begins to prosper, the profits will gradually restore the lost Deposit and Loan funds.
The Foundation for the Diocese of Helena currently manages $28 million in assets that generate income for parish and diocesan ministries. These assets have been built over time through estate gifts, annuities, and other contributions that ensure ministerial support in perpetuity.
We have made unprecedented investments in youth and young adult ministry, and those investments will continue to pay dividends for years to come. This includes strong chaplaincies at the colleges and universities in the diocese as well as a vibrant Catholic Youth Coalition. We recently concluded a successful silent campaign to preserve Legendary Lodge. Nearly $4 million in gifts and pledges will ensure the Lodge remains a cornerstone of youth ministry in the diocese into the future.
I had the privilege of ordaining 14 men to the priesthood and 18 men to the permanent diaconate for the diocese. Through all of these vocations, the Lord has called shepherds and servant-leaders from our own families, parishes, and schools. Currently we are blessed with seven outstanding seminarians studying for priesthood, with a number of other men in active discernment. This really is a tribute to the strength of Catholic Family Life in our diocese.
Lay ministry is flourishing in the diocese as more men and women assume leadership roles in our parishes as paid staff and volunteers. In partnership with Carroll College faculty, the Program For Lay Ministry (PFLM) program enjoys an enthusiastic response to its renewed curriculum. This program is an invaluable resource for cultivating lay ministry and a culture of shared responsibility in our diocesan Church.
Beginning a new era of leadership at Carroll College, recently the Board of Trustees announced the hire of its next president, Dr. John Cech. As college chancellor and a board member, I could not be more thrilled with the selection. President Cech is a seasoned academic professional with a track record of service and success. With John as president and an engaged board, Carroll will be in good hands.
Answering the Church’s call through Pope John XXIII to spread the Gospel beyond the borders of our Diocese, in 1964, then Bishop Hunthausen, established a mission in the coastal highlands of Guatemala. Santo Tomas Apóstol Parish, La Asunción School, and Clinica Maxeña provide pastoral ministry, education, and medical services to people who might otherwise go without them. When I visit Guatemala and spend time among the people we serve, I can see their hearts overflow with gratitude for the resources that make the work of our mission possible.
In the Church’s night prayer we recite the Canticle of Simeon, who said “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled.” I go in peace from Helena because I know the Lord has been faithful to His promises and because I know your future will be a blessed one.
I give thanks to God for the blessing you have been in my life and I ask for your prayers as I embark upon a new journey. Be assured of my prayers for you, especially that Pope Francis sends you a good shepherd, one who will love and lead you and pitch his tent among you. Take comfort from Our Lady, to whom I have turned so often in our past and to whom I entrust your future.