Young at heart: Archbishop Hebda at home among youth, college students

| May 20, 2016 | 0 Comments
Archbishop Hebda talks with Peter DeMarais, left, and Jimmy Abbot, right, during dinner at a St. Paul’s Outreach house in St. Paul April 19. Courtesy Meg Miller, St. Paul’s Outreach

Archbishop Hebda talks with Peter DeMarais, left, and Jimmy Abbott, right, during dinner at a St. Paul’s Outreach house in St. Paul April 19. Courtesy Meg Miller, St. Paul’s Outreach

When Archbishop Bernard Hebda — then Father Hebda — was asked by his bishop in 1996 to move to Rome to work on the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, he didn’t want to go. Despite a degree in canon law and experience living in Rome while studying at the Pontifical North American College, the priest was happy where he was: Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh.

There he was campus minister at the small public university’s Newman Center and served at the town’s parish.

“I just loved seeing the vitality of our young students, seeing how they were struggling or grappling with issues of life, trying to make sense out of things through the prism of the Church and our teaching, [and] just experiencing the variety of their gifts,” he said.

He also enjoyed helping them use their talents to benefit the Church — including some jazz musicians who would bring “a little bit of a different flavor” to the Mass. “That sense of involvement was so positive for them, knowing that they were contributing their gifts,” he said.

Archbishop Hebda did leave Slippery Rock for Rome, and found he enjoyed the canon law work. He also found pastoral work as a spiritual director for American seminarians and as a confessor for the Missionaries of Charity.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda takes a selfie with 11-year-old Hubert Nyombi after the 50th anniversary Mass at St. Rita in Cottage Grove April 17. Dianne Towalski/ For The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda takes a selfie with 11-year-old Hubert Nyombi after the 50th anniversary Mass at St. Rita in Cottage Grove April 17. Dianne Towalski/For The Catholic Spirit

Later, as bishop of Gaylord, Michigan, he was known for being able to connect well with young people, and accompanied them on pilgrimages to World Youth Day celebrations in Madrid and Rio de Janeiro.

Pattie Rioux, a faith development field representative for the Diocese of Gaylord, oversees the diocese’s weeklong Christian Leadership Institute program for high school youths. She recalls inviting then-Bishop Hebda to say one of the week’s Masses. He did, but instead of spending a few hours with the teens, he stayed for a few days, she said.

He heard confessions, prayed and talked with the young people, she said, but he also joined in their evening social events, including taking the microphone to sing karaoke. He continued to join the youths during CLI every year he was bishop of Gaylord.

Archbishop Hebda also dedicated time to the diocese’s Just Works program, which educates high school students in the Church’s social teaching. Rioux said he called Just Works and CLI “gems” of the Gaylord diocese and would encourage priests to send their teens to them. Shortly after becoming bishop, he also held listening sessions to learn more about the diocese’s needs, including one for young people.

“He totally supported our teenagers and encouraged the teenagers to be involved and continue to grow in their faith, but he did it in such a fun-loving, welcoming way,” Rioux said.

Dorm living

While in the Archdiocese of Newark, Archbishop Hebda even made his home among young people. Inspired by his experience at Slippery Rock, he moved into a dorm at Seton Hall University.

“I knew that I found it energizing to be with young people and their ideas, their willingness to look at things in a fresh way,” he said, adding that he also benefited from students’ help with technology.

Seton Hall also is home to Newark’s major and minor seminaries, as well as 40 other priests who lived on campus, giving Archbishop Hebda — then positioned to take over as Newark’s archbishop upon the expected 2016 retirement of Archbishop John Myers — a chance to know those priests and seminarians.

He lived in a priest apartment in Xavier Hall, which houses seven floors of upperclassmen. He frequently attended 10 p.m. night prayer there with students, said campus chaplain Father John Dennehy.

“He would meet students where they are at,” he said of the archbishop. “That’s what people need in the world.”

Junior Leigha Wentz, who met the archbishop at night prayer, called him “a really fantastic addition to the group.”

“He’s the first archbishop that I have ever met, and at first I expected him to be really intimidating, but he fit in very easily and did his best to make everyone at ease,” said Wentz, a 21-year-old majoring in international relations and modern languages. “He even took time on another night to meet with the other students on my floor and answer our questions about his life and such.”

Fellow junior Kiersten Lynch, who lived down the hall from Archbishop Hebda, said he was in on the night prayer group’s inside jokes.

“Archbishop is a very, very special priest,” said Lynch, who is studying English and theology. “He is kind, and you can see that he really cares about each person he comes across.”

Archbishop Bernard Hebda visits before Mass April 17 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul with altar server Antonio Guajardo. Looking on is Antonio’s younger brother, Jose Guajardo. Both are students at St. Agnes School and Cathedral parishioners. Dianne Towalski/For The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Bernard Hebda visits before Mass April 17 at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul with altar server Antonio Guajardo. Looking on is Antonio’s younger brother, Jose Guajardo. Both are students at St. Agnes School and Cathedral parishioners. Dianne Towalski/For The Catholic Spirit

‘A man of evangelization’

Since arriving in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Hebda has attended a Lifeline Mass, NET Ministries’ monthly liturgy for high school students. He also spoke at a Tommie Catholic event April 19, where he made it clear he was delighted his new assignment connects him to local Catholic universities.

“I feel very much at home,” he said of being on the University of St. Thomas campus and hosted by a collaboration of campus ministry, St. Paul’s Outreach and the university’s Catholic Studies program.

Prior to speaking at St. Thomas, he had dinner with 20 college students and recent graduates at an SPO men’s house. Although the national organization is based in Inver Grove Heights, Archbishop Hebda was familiar with its campus evangelization because of its presence at Seton Hall.

Peter DeMarais, a Twin Cities native who worked as an SPO missionary at Seton Hall from 2011 to 2014, got to know Archbishop Hebda during the archbishop’s first year living on campus. DeMarais has since returned to Minnesota, and was at the men’s house dinner.

Noting both the archbishop’s affable relationships with Seton Hall students and the rapport he quickly established with the SPO men, DeMarais, 28, said the archbishop is good at putting people at ease by making a joke or recalling a story.

“I’m excited about the prospect of him being a man of evangelization in Minnesota,” he said.

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Category: Welcome Archbishop Hebda