Skip to comments.Bishop leaves cradle of Catholicism for Wichita
Posted on 02/22/2005 12:24:21 PM PST by Lilllabettt
Bishop leaves cradle of Catholicism for Wichita
BY ANNIE CALOVICH
The Wichita Eagle
Monsignor Michael Jackels leaves Rome today on his way to becoming the next bishop of Wichita.
Jackels has been living for the past eight years in the cradle of Catholicism, working for the watchdog arm of the Vatican under one of the most powerful men in the church.
That may sound like heady stuff, but Jackels says being named last month as the bishop of Wichita is what's turned his world upside down.
He'll be installed April 4, the week after Easter, during a Mass at the Church of the Magdalen.
"I had to buy a miter -- the pointy hat -- and I was trying to find the right size, and I thought, 'This looks so strange,' " Jackels said before packing up his apartment last week at Rome's Villa Stritch, where American diocesan priests working at the Vatican reside.
Jackels got lost driving back to his hotel from the mall when he was in Wichita in January to be introduced as the new bishop. He's been here only three times.
He's been used to strolling the ancient streets of Rome, stopping at haunts such as the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva -- built over the ruins of a temple to the Roman goddess of wisdom -- to pray at the tomb of his favorite saint, Catherine of Siena.
For the past few weeks, Jackels has been wrapping up his duties at the Vatican, packing, saying goodbye to friends in Rome and picking out the accoutrements he'll need as a bishop.
His boss for the past eight years was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency that ensures the integrity of Catholic teaching.
After Jackels made his trip to Wichita in January, "I went in to talk with Cardinal Ratzinger. He wanted to know how things went. I said, 'This is very surreal. It's like it's happening to somebody else and not to me.' And it was consoling because he said he had the exact same experience when he was named bishop of Munich and it was not expected."
Faith, friends and food
Jackels (pronounced JAKE-uhls) is 50. He was ordained as a priest of the diocese of Lincoln, Neb., in 1981. He served there for four years before going to Rome a first time in 1985 to pursue a doctorate in spiritual theology. He returned to Lincoln in 1989 and then was assigned to work at the Vatican in 1997.
He'll fly to California today and then to Phoenix to visit his family before returning to Lincoln around March 1. He'll make trips to Wichita from there as he prepares for a permanent move.
Jackels said at his news conference Jan. 28 in Wichita that his 12 years in Rome had left a mark in "getting to know Italian friends and their approach to life in general, like an appreciation for food, shared meals, an afternoon nap, comfort with chaos and driving like a maniac. I hope I don't become too well known by the Kansas Highway Patrol."
Because much of his work at the Vatican was in an office --"you sit in front of a computer and read bad books" -- Jackels made sure he got out into the city to minister to people, hearing confessions and giving retreats.
"He does great work with sisters," said Monsignor James Conley, a Wichita priest who lived across the hall from Jackels in Rome.
Jackels, for example, was the confessor of nuns from missionary countries who attend the Pontifical Urban University. (He heard their confessions in Italian.) He also served with Conley and other American priests as chaplains of the Missionaries of Charity -- Mother Teresa's order -- at the Vatican, where the nuns run a homeless shelter for women and a soup kitchen for men.
"He's Father Tuesday and I'm Father Friday," Conley said, referring to the days of the week they say Mass for the nuns.
For fun, Jackels would join Conley and some of the other American priests in pulling out "a good old American gas grill" and having cookouts on a balcony at the Villa Stritch, drawing the curiosity of their tomato sauce-loving Italian neighbors.
"I'm the baked bean man," Jackels said. "We have to improvise quite a bit because we don't have an oven, and you can't get things like molasses." So he'd pack things like brown sugar and Tabasco on trips back from the United States and cook the beans on a hot plate.
"Then I usually end up washing the dishes. I grew up having to take my turn washing and drying and setting the table, so I'm pretty good at it."
The Vatican's influence
Jackels' priestly service comes with a reputation -- the diocese of Lincoln is known as one of the most traditional in the United States, and the congregation in Rome he worked for is the preserver of orthodoxy. Jackels calls himself a watchdog.
He's used to being ribbed about it.
"It's funny because it's an important congregation and we have to deal with the things that are controversial," he said.
Americans don't always understand, for example, why a Catholic theologian teaching in a university might be censured for writing something contrary to Catholic teaching.
"But for a Catholic theologian, they not only have rights but they have duties," Jackels said.
His boss in Rome has a reputation as "the enforcer."
"You hear Cardinal Ratzinger referred to as a panzer -- a tank -- by people. But he's a perfect gentleman, and I'm not saying this for any reason other than it's true. He's a model of Christian and priestly virtues, and you couldn't meet a more kind and gentle person, humble, a warm smile on his face."
While Jackels worked in the section of the congregation that deals with questions of doctrine, another section receives cases of priests accused of any grave crime, including sexual abuse. What Jackels has seen of those cases has left perhaps Rome's strongest mark as he considers his work as a bishop.
"You read an awful lot about some bishops who are handling the whole thing properly, and they have a good relationship with their priests and they're also very careful to protect children and young people from becoming victims. But there are more priests who feel they have been abandoned or mistreated by their bishops."
Jackels said he thinks that if a bishop takes care of the priests, "they will be more healthy ministers of the gospel and would be better able to respond to families' needs and immigrants' needs, and it just spreads out like the proverbial pebble in the pond. Others feel the effect of that kind of care and vigilance."
Jackels said he has no specific plans yet for change in the Wichita diocese.
"I'm not coming in to fix anything that was broken," he said. "From everything I've heard, it's a healthy diocese, but just like in your health, you have to do preventative maintenance."
Another diocese in safe hands.
I'll pray the Holy Father has someone even better for us, but it's hard to imagine beating this fellow.
It seems the Vatican likes to replace good bishops with good bishops and bad bishops with bad ones. I'd just like to know how NY went from good bishop (Cdl. O'Connor) to a 3rd rate stoogie for Cdl. Law (Cdl. Egan).
Oh, great. Thanks for cheering me up. [not] :-(
Olmstead went to Phoenix to sort out the mess left by O'Brien and he's been replaced by another good man, so it would appear.
So whichever way you cut it, we can still put one more diocese in the "win" column.
"It seems the Vatican likes to replace good bishops with good bishops and bad bishops with bad ones. "
It didn't happen that way in Phoenix. Maybe there is hope for us in the Northwest.