Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Summer reflections"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the July 30, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Summer is half over. This mid-July reference point offers the opportunity to reflect upon these past couple of months and what is to come for the rest of the summer.

Our diocese has seen a number of significant events recently.

On two separate occasions, men have been ordained priests: six Jesuits at St. Aloysius Church, and three diocesan priests at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in Spokane. Nine men have made the commitment to priestly ministry in the Church. What a gift from God!

The blessing of the altar at the new Bishop White Seminary marks a new chapter in our college priestly formation program. I am so very grateful to the faithful of the diocese who have made this possible. Several events over the summer will continue our celebration; for instance, the priests in the diocese will celebrate at Bishop White on Aug. 4, the Feast of St. John Vianney, the patron of parish priests.

On July 10, I attended the meeting in Coeur d’Alene of the regents and trustees for Gonzaga University. During that meeting, Jesuit Father Robert Spitzer was honored with a tribute after completing 11 years as GU’s president. On behalf of our diocesan family, I congratulate him and thank him for what he has done for GU and this local Church. The collaboration of GU with our seminary formation program has been excellent, and Father Spitzer has been an integral part of that collaboration. His unique skills, his great love of the Church and academia, and his gift of fund-raising have been a true blessing for GU and the wider Spokane community. When I bump into people from other parts of the country, they usually know how to pronounce “Spokane” correctly because of GU’s well-known basketball program. Thank you so much, Father Spitzer. Our prayers go with you.

The bishops of the region regularly gather for a few days of relaxation after the Fourth of July. This year we came together in Bigfork, Mont. We went on the “red bus” with an open top for a trip through Glacier Park on the “Going to the Sun” highway. The scenery was spectacular. The next day was an excursion by boat on Flathead Lake, cut short by a pretty significant wind storm. I do have a picture of 12 wet bishops who do not look their finest. All in all we had a great time, and Bishop George Thomas and the Diocese of Helena were wonderful hosts. Next year we plan on meeting in the Methow Valley.

A windstorm abbreviated a trip across Flathead Lake for bishops of the region. From left are Bishop Skylstad, Archbishop Roger Schweitz (Anchorage), Bishop Thomas Connolly (Bishop Emeritus of Baker, Ore.); behind him, Father John Robertson (chancellor of the Helena, Mont., diocese); Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Tyson (Seattle), Bishop Don Ketter (Fairbanks), Bishop George Thomas (Helena), Archbishop John Vlazny (Portland), Father Devin O’Neill (vicar general, Helena), Bishop Robert Vasa (Baker), Bishop Michael Driscoll (Boise), and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo (Seattle). (IR photo courtesy of Bishop Skylstad)

Driving through Eastern Washington always is a treat for me, especially during the summer. This year was no different, and had its own unique moments: seeing a pair of moose off the freeway in Ritzville; a moose trotting through the wheat fields north of Steptoe; and a real first: spotting two tornados just west of Creston on Highway 2 on the way to Okanogan for a celebration of Confirmation/First Eucharist.

As I write this, I’ve recently celebrated Masses in Usk and Ione, as well as St. Anthony Parish, Newport, which was celebrating its centennial. Jesuit Father Bernard Coughlin, chancellor and former president of GU, was there, as was Deacon Bill Sando, a member of our diocese’s first deacon class, now retired in Monroe. Father Coughlin’s presence reminded us of the importance of the Jesuits in founding and serving in the parish 100 years ago. The parish church features a large painting of the patron saint, St. Anthony of Padua, by Jesuit Brother Joseph Carignano. The parishioners provided a wonderful potluck afterwards. Congratulations, St. Anthony Parish!

Looking to the coming weeks, I will preside at the closing liturgy in Cincinnati for the annual meeting of the National Diaconal Institute for Continuing Education (NDICE), as well as deliver the final talk.

In early August I will preside at the golden wedding anniversary of Bill and Jean Eimers in St. Louis. The Eimers family took me into their home for Christmas vacation for 10 years while I was a seminarian in Ohio, because I couldn’t get home during the limited time we had off from school. Bill’s brother was Father Robert Eimers of the Omaha Archdiocese, my classmate, who died several years ago.

In mid-August, I will be traveling to Manila in the Philippines for a meeting of the Asian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, which occurs every four years. I will be representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as a member of the conference’s International Committee. Also attending will be representative bishops from the many bishops’ conferences in that part of the world. After almost a week in Manila I will move on the Vietnam, where I will meet Father Joachim Hiên, the pastor of Spokane’s St. Anthony Parish. We will visit Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I will probably report on that trip in a future column.

At the moment I am waiting for the Holy See to accept my resignation as an active diocesan bishop. My status now is nunc pro tunc (“now until then”), which means that I stay in office until a new bishop is either ordained or installed. Presently, eight U.S. bishops are serving past age 75, when they are required to submit their resignation letter to the Holy Father. In addition, another seven dioceses have no bishop of their own and await an appointment. More and more I think of how I might spend my retirement, and where I might live. And this, as in all things, will come about in God’s good time!

I hope all have a good and productive summer. May it be a time for all of us to appreciate how richly God has blessed, and to live our lives with ever grateful hearts.

Blessings and peace.

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