Boy Scouts presented Bishop
Skylstad with five apple trees.
When Bishop William S. Skylstad was elected vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last November, he frequently pointed out that the election honored not him, but the Church in Eastern Washington.
That sentiment was echoed May 14 during an evening which celebrated Bishop Skylstad’s 25th anniversary of ordination as a bishop. Father Len Forsmann, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Clarkston and recently elected president of the Presbyteral Council, also spoke of the honor being paid the Diocese of Spokane during an evening of reflection on the contributions and impact of Bishop Skylstad, on the Church in Eastern Washington, in the Pacific Northwest, nationally, and now internationally.
The evening began with a reception at the COG on the Gonzaga University campus. That event segued into a dinner attended by some 400 people – clergy, Religious, laity.
In his remarks, Father Forsman reflected on Bishop Skylstad’s life and ministry through the years.
“I’ve known him for 30 or 40 years,” said Father Forsmann, dating back to his own years as a high school seminarian. “He is a man not easily swayed. He is a man of integrity, who lives by values, by his heart, who lives by the Gospel; who listens to people, takes his time, is solid in his decisions, and goes to sleep at night knowing that he has done his best.
“Thank you for these great years, for your integrity.”
The crowd joined in a standing ovation.
Archbishop Alex Brunett, Archbishop of Seattle, said that Bishop Skylstad has “the heart of a missionary – he is always packed and ready to go. It is a great joy, working with him – he will go anywhere, do anything, and has never said no.”
The archbishop described Bishop Skylstad as “very pastoral, loving and caring; compassionate.
“Part of the solution to the problem the Church faces today will be the compassionate, pastoral care of people,” said the archbishop.
“Thank you,” he said, “for being a good, generous friend. I’m proud of you.”
The Mass which followed was celebrated at Martin Centre, also on the GU campus. Some 2,000 people turned out for the liturgical event, including Cardinal Francis George OMI of Chicago and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C.; seven archbishops; 16 bishops; two retired Benedictine abbots; 125 priests. Also present were some 50 deacons, many of them accompanied by their wives.
Offering music ministry were instrumentalists and vocalists from throughout the diocese, under the direction of Steve Schaubel, music coordinator at St. Aloysius Parish in Spokane.
In his homily for the Mass, Bishop Skylstad talked about “mystery and surprise,” how he felt those two words characterized much of his life.
He recalled the difficult times growing up, as his family sometimes struggled to grow apples near Brewster, Wash., with all of the uncertainty afforded a life based on agriculture and the whims of weather and nature. “Hard times,” he said. “But life goes on. The Lord ultimately will always provide.”
He, too, talked about the richness of the Church in Eastern Washington. The celebration, he said, was a rich moment “in our diocesan history.”
That experience of Church, whether from parish, or individuals, or the two dioceses in which he served, has formed him, helped him become what he is today, he said.
“We are profoundly connected to one another in the Body of Christ,” he said. “I stand here as one formed by a community of faith. God continues to work in and through us,” in what he called “a banquet of tremendous, rich experience.”
“The love of God finds its mysterious fulfillment in each one of us,” he said. “Each of us has been chosen.”
He held up a gift, presented to him from inmates at a local prison – a porcelain crucifix.
“The love of God comes to us in so many ways,” said Bishop Skylstad. “It touches us profoundly. We gather, appreciating all gifts, how they touch us, wonderfully.... God continues to work in and through us.”
At the end of Mass, Msgr. John Steiner, vicar general of the diocese and pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, Spokane, introduced each of several speakers who came forward to speak of their own experience of Bishop Skylstad’s life and ministry.
John Powers, mayor of Spokane, and his wife, Bonnie, were among those who addressed the bishop.
Mayor Powers called the evening a celebration of “service and community,” calling the bishop “a strong and noble leader. You call us to core Gospel values: faith, family, and friends.”
Bonnie Powers added that Bishop Skylstad was “the greatest role model I can think of,” particularly in calling the entire community to work together. “We all have to do this together,” she said.
Father Mark Pautler, chancellor and judicial vicar of the diocese, read special greetings from Pope John Paul II to Bishop Skylstad.
In part, the message said that Bishop Skylstad, “as a vigilant father of your household, you have made every effort to dispense the sacraments of salvation to the faithful entrusted to you, instructing them and confirming them in the faith they have received so that daily they may grow in Christian virtues and become capable co-workers in the truth (cfr 3 John 8).
“Particularly deserving of mention is your fraternal care for priests and for men and women Religious, and also your sensitive regard for all persons, which qualities have won for you the esteem not only of your clergy and people, but also of the members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who entrusted to you the not insignificant burden of the office of vice-president.
“Therefore, Venerable Brother, on this solemn occasion in your life, receive Our wishes for future success, which we commit in prayer to the Consoler Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, that He may mercifully safeguard you as a minister of His divine grace and mercy, and sustain you with an abundance of heavenly gifts, under the protective care of the Virgin Mother of God.”
Adding to Bishop Skylstad’s personal theme of “mystery and surprise” – though it’s questionable how much of a surprise was involved – was a gift in the form of a check.
Parish and institutions of the diocese had been asked to take up a collection to help fund construction of a new church in the bishop’s home parish of Sacred Heart Brewster, the parish where he celebrated his first Mass as a newly ordained priest.
Contributing to the collection were parishes of the diocese, the neighboring Diocese of Yakima, hospitals, communities of Religious, and other bishops from around the nation.
That combined check came to $175,000.
Cardinal George of Chicago, who is also chancellor of the Extension Society, rose to speak to Bishop Skylstad and the assembly. He announced that Extension was awarding a grant of $150,000 to the project. He smiled, and added, “That’s $150,000 more than Extension has ever given the Archdiocese of Chicago.”
Cardinal George succeeded Bishop Skylstad as Bishop of Yakima. It was his first post as a bishop. The cardinal spoke of his friendship with Bishop Skylstad, especially in his own early days as a bishop, and their conversations about being bishops. He mentioned Bishop Skylstad’s belief that a bishop is ordained not just for the diocese, but for the universal Church as well.
“He is well-rooted as a pastor,” said Cardinal George. “He is appreciated as a friend.”
Bishop Skylstad pointed out that the evening marked the first time that a president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops had visited the Spokane Diocese in an official capacity.
Bishop Wilton Gregory, Bishop of Belleville, Ill., and president of the conference of which Bishop Skylstad is vice president, spoke of the conference’s hopes as it sought to elect a vice president last year.
He said that the bishops looked for a vice president who was a man of “consummate hope and deep, deep faith.
“Fortunately, we found one in Spokane.”
(To contribute to the gift fund in honor of Bishop Skylstad, send donations to the Brewster church fund in care of the Development Office, Diocese of Spokane, P.O. Box 1453, Spokane, WA 99210-1453.)
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