365 days: Archbishop Hebda reflects on first year since installation

| May 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

May 13 marked the one year anniversary of Archbishop Bernard Hebda’s installation as archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He sat down with The Catholic Spirit to reflect on the past year and to share his goals and vision for the future. The interview has been edited for clarity.

As you look back on the past year, what has been the most important thing you’ve learned?

We’re really a Church that’s blessed with talented people, and I certainly can’t do these things alone. How wonderful it is that we’ve had people who have stepped up to offer their expertise and time in a whole variety of areas. I think that’s helped us to make some progress. What I’ve learned the most is how blessed we are to have such gifted laity here, and priests as well.

What’s been the biggest challenge that you’ve faced as archbishop?

It’s coming and not knowing all of the history that’s here. We certainly had some challenging situations with the criminal charges [in Ramsey County] and also the bankruptcy matter. We were able to have a successful resolution to the charges that had been filed against us — both with the civil agreement and with the dropping of the charges — but we’re still in the midst of bankruptcy. I’m still trying to rely on the lay people in the archdiocese who have some expertise in this area and who are going to be able to help us. Certainly, we’ve been trying to keep our ideals the same, in terms of doing the most for the most, and really trying to bring this to a resolution as quickly as possible, so those who have been hurt can receive some compensation.

Do you have a sense of a timeline for the bankruptcy resolution?

I’m praying all the time for that, as I know a lot of people are in the archdiocese. So, we’re hoping that it will be sooner rather than later. Most optimistic, my advisers would say, is maybe September.

What’s given you the greatest satisfaction or joy in this past year?

It was a great pleasure last May to ordain a class of deacons and to ordain a class of priests, and now to be preparing to do that again. That’s one of the real indicators of the life of this archdiocese — that we continue to have young men who step forward to serve as priests, and they are by no means alone.

Also, I’ve had the opportunity to preside at the [Archbishop Harry J. Flynn] Catechetical Institute graduation, recognizing all of those lay people who have really given of their time to learn more about our faith, learn more about the Church and who are excited about serving.

We also had an opportunity to have a similar ceremony for a Latino leadership cohort, and that was really magnificent as well. I really enjoyed getting to have a deeper understanding of the multicultural nature of our archdiocese, not only with the large and growing Latino presence that brings so much vitality to our Church, but also with those who come from Asia.

You’ve visited many parishes and schools. Do any experiences in particular stand out?

I’ve been impressed with all of the school visits, and I realize how successful our principals and teachers are in working on a shoestring to provide an excellent education. I’m always excited by the enthusiasm of our students and by how clearly they articulate the value of a Catholic education. I often ask the question: If I had a niece or nephew moving to Minnesota, why should I tell them they should come to your school?  Inevitably, they speak about ‘this is a place where we learn about Jesus, where we can pray, and where we’re able to learn what it means to be Catholic.’ That’s even with some of our students who aren’t Catholic, who come from other faith traditions, but they perceive that as well.

What about parishes? I’m thinking of your visit to St. John in Hugo [where a parishioner wrote the archbishop a letter joking he was upset about the potential loss of revenue from the parish’s fish fry after Archbishop Hebda granted the meat dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day. He even included a fake invoice for $2,000, the parish men’s club anticipated loss of revenue, and asked the archbishop to pay or visit.] You went to the fish fry, right?

I did, I did. It was fun. I ate well, but I think they were surprised to see me. I tried going every Friday to a different parish unannounced, and it gave me the opportunity to experience the life of the parish. It’s a wonderful opportunity just to talk to people I don’t know. Most of the time it was fish fries. Our Lady of Guadalupe [in St. Paul] has a wonderful enchilada dinner on Fridays during Lent as well.

Why did you go unannounced?

This way there’s no hype. It’s an opportunity just to have that raw experience of what parish life is like. I think there’ll always be the temptation to pull out the salmon instead of the cod. And this way, nobody gets nervous.

As you mentioned, since your installation the archdiocese has overcome some significant hurdles and made some big changes — the dropping of the criminal charges, the preparation and presentation of a plan for Reorganization, the moving of the chancery to East St. Paul. How have you navigated so many large and pressing responsibilities beyond an archbishop’s typical administration and pastoral care?

The key to that is collaboration. We have excellent assistance here in the chancery. Bishop [Andrew] Cozzens, Father [Charles] Lachowitzer, our two vicars general, have been heroic with what they’ve been able to accomplish. Certainly, the staff has been phenomenal, so eagerly embracing these changes when it comes to the offices. As I mentioned earlier, there’s such talented laity here, whether it be on our Finance Council, our Corporate Board or people in the community who are willing to step forward and offer their time and their expertise. That’s what’s made it possible to really do those things while still trying to stay focused on what would be normal for an archdiocese.

Your residence was sold along with the other Cathedral Hill properties. Where are you living now? What has that change been like?

I’m living in the Cathedral rectory, so I only had to move across the street.

Is that a permanent residence for you?

It will be for the near future. Poor Father [John] Ubel’s stuck with me. He hasn’t complained about my snoring yet. It’s a beautiful building. It gives us an opportunity to use that a little bit more as well. It is an adjustment, I think, for them to have me there, but they’ve been very, very kind and gracious, and we’re looking for ways of being able to accommodate some of the uses we had before.

One of the wonderful things about the previous archbishop’s residence is that it was a good place to meet with people, to bring people in for meals or to have parents of our seminarians, our permanent deacons and their wives. It will be a little bit more limited at the Cathedral rectory without completely disturbing the life of that excellent parish.

You were the administrator of the archdiocese for nearly a year before your installation, and that gave you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Nevertheless, has anything surprised you about being our archbishop, in contrast to being an administrator?

The one surprising thing is how open people have been to collaboration. I wasn’t exactly sure what that would be like. It was easy before, when I was just the administrator, and people thought they were going to get rid of me. Even now as I’m sinking roots, people have been so open to sharing their ideas. That’s a very good surprise.

Prior to your appointment, you held a series of listening sessions to provide information for the next archbishop. How have they informed your work?

That was really a treasure trove of information, especially in terms of the strengths of the diocese and the challenges of the diocese. One of the things that I’ve seen is that the information that we’ve gathered is pretty much right on point, especially when it comes to the challenges. As we try to address the need for evangelization, or as we look at a need for stabilizing our schools, or re-establishing trust in the archdiocese, all of those themes are things that I see now even more clearly, and recognize what an accurate picture the faithful of this archdiocese have of our situation.

What are you happy to have accomplished in the past year? What do you feel is left undone?

It is the large things that make me most pleased that we’ve been able to accomplish. There are minor things as well — being able to go from St. Paul and Minneapolis without a GPS is a great accomplishment in my book. Coming to really appreciate the beauty of the archdiocese, physically and in terms of the people who are here and the history that’s here — as I’ve come to learn that better, I think that’s an accomplishment. The challenges would be to find ways to have better outreach to our priests. We do wonderful things here — our clergy study days and our presbyteral assembly is coming up — but I think we need to be looking for more ways of being able to gather with the priests and to be able to continue that consultation with the lay faithful as well. I’ve had some great meetings with those in consecrated life — that’s been a real shot in the arm. There’s great gifts on their part in terms of seeing how they can contribute to the life of this archdiocese. I’ve been happy with those things, but I realize we need to do more along those lines, too.

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years?

Still, the No. 1 goal is resolving the bankruptcy in a way that enables us to move on with the important work of the Church. I know how eager people are to really focus on social outreach — there’s such great generosity here in our community and I know they want the Church to be more involved in that. Certainly, the work with our schools is going to be something that’s ongoing, and trying to do that in a way that brings stability not just for the schools, but for our parishes that are so often affected by their schools.

Last fall, you said you planned for the Archdiocese to embark on a synod. Have plans been made for that? What would the goal be?

We’re still very much at the preliminary planning part of that. Because it’s such a major effort, my thought would be that we really need to resolve the bankruptcy before we would put our energies to something like a synod. If it’s going to be successful, it’s going to require a lot of attention. We’ve been doing some remote planning. We have some great thinkers on the staff here in the archdiocese who have been consulting with other dioceses to see how they’ve managed to accomplish a synod. It’s been in part to set some priorities and to bring a sense of greater clarity on what the expectations are for me, for our priests and for the faithful.

What would you like to see from parishes in the next year? From your priests? From the faithful? What can we be doing to help further your goals?

For our parishes, it’s really to continue the good work that they’re already doing. It’s where most people have their experience of the Church, whether it be for our Catholics in the pew, or for the Catholics who have drifted who find their way to a Catholic funeral or a Catholic wedding. I’m really hoping that our parishes will continue to be those vital places of encounter and will continue to give great attention to the liturgy in a way that’s life-giving and attracts people.

That they’ll continue to help our lay people find those opportunities for social outreach as well. I’m amazed when I hear about the work that our parishes do, whether it be with food pantries, in helping to work with the homeless. I’ve had a couple good opportunities to serve meals with the Dorothy Day Center, and I always find parish groups there that are so committed to that work and realize how that enriches their experience, not only personally, but also as a parish. We want to do more of those kinds of things.

For our priests, I’m hoping that they will have a greater comfort level with me — a greater trust — and that together we’ll be able to really re-energize some of our programming. I’ve had a really good experience in this first year with our presbyteral council. We actually increased the number of meetings. No priests like meetings, and it’s the same with bishops. But we found that there’s enough there and the discussions were really profitable enough that we should increase the frequency with which we should meet. The priests who serve so generously in that area are then taking the information that they receive back to the deanery meetings, where there’s even more discussion, and bringing the fruit of that discussion back to the presbyteral council. I think it’s been very helpful for me to get a sense for what the priests of the diocese are thinking and some opportunities to communicate better what our hopes are for the archdiocese.

Do you have a particular prayer intention for the archdiocese in general?

It would be for unity. We pride ourselves on the diversity in our archdiocese. My prayer would be that in the midst of that diversity and celebrating that diversity, that we might be able to keep our eyes in a unified way fixed on Jesus, and in that way, move forward as a unified Church. That really offers credibility to the world when they see that we, in spite of our diversity, are unified in our faith and in our outlook, even in those objectives that we think are important for moving the Church forward. I’d be looking for opportunities to have greater dialogue between Catholics who see things in different ways.

What would that look like?

The synod could be one of those instances that would be very helpful. We have a trial this summer because 20 folks from the archdiocese are going to be participating in a national convocation in Orlando, where we’re bring together people from various points of view, different experiences of the Church, that really represent the diversity of not only our local Church but the Church throughout the United States, and to see what kind of fruit comes from an honest dialogue between people who see things differently.

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