Bishop Daly prepares to take the helm in Spokane

Vocations and renewal are on the agenda for the Diocese of Spokane’s new leader.

Last month Pope Francis appointed Bishop Thomas Daly, 54, an auxiliary bishop with the Diocese of San Jose, California, as the seventh bishop of Spokane, Washington. Daly will be installed in his new position at Spokane’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes on May 20. He succeeds Archbishop Blase Cupich, who was installed as archbishop of Chicago last November.

Daly grew up in San Francisco, a parishioner at St. Brendan Church. The fourth of seven children, he attended Catholic schools from first grade through college with classes taught by religious, including the Daughters of Charity and the De La Salle Christian Brothers. He had planned to marry and become an attorney, but due in part to the example of priests he’d met, he opted to enter St. Patrick Seminary in Menlo Park, California instead. 

He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of San Francisco in 1987. He has served in a variety of roles since, including vocations director, rector of St. Patrick’s, and president of Marin Catholic High, one of four San Francisco archdiocesan high schools. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of San Jose.

Bishop Daly recently spoke with CWR about his new appointment, his work fostering vocations, and recent controversies affecting the Church in the Bay Area.

CWR: How familiar are you with the Spokane area?

Bishop Thomas Daly: In my previous role as vocations director for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, we sent some of our seminarians to Bishop White Seminary in Spokane, which is across from Gonzaga University. I traveled up there eight or nine times, and got to know some of the people, such as the rector of the cathedral. Also, some of the students I met while working at Marin Catholic are studying at Gonzaga.

CWR: What are the most pressing issues you think you’ll face when you become bishop of Spokane?

Bishop Daly: First off, the diocese is emerging out of bankruptcy, which brings many challenges. The bishop’s home was sold as part of the process, as was the chancery office. After having three floors in the chancery building, the diocese now rents one floor back and has much less office space with which to work. Bankruptcy also affects a diocese’s ability to finance programs. Fortunately, no parish properties were sold, as the people rallied to raise the funds needed to prevent it. Bankruptcy places a great burden on both priests and people, from which it takes time to recover. There is a lot of healing that needs to take place.

Additionally, the rector of the diocesan seminary is retiring, and I will have to appoint his successor. This is the most significant appointment I will make.

I’ll also have to focus on vocations to the priesthood. I’ll ordain two men to the priesthood this year, but there are only three or four seminarians for the entire diocese.

CWR: Does this low number concern you?

Bishop Daly: Yes. When I was first named vocations director in San Francisco, we had seven or eight seminarians for the archdiocese. Over the next nine years, we got it up to 21. Our focus was on “homegrown” vocations, rather than bringing in priests from outside the archdiocese.

CWR: And how did you achieve this success?

Bishop Daly: It’s not so much about programs, but prayer. I asked people in our parishes to pray for vocations, and stressed the need for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I like to stress Eucharistic adoration; God will not give us the priests we need if we don’t put the Eucharist in the center of our lives.

We put the word out on Immaculate Heart Radio [which broadcasts in San Francisco], asking listeners to pray a decade of the Rosary for vocations to the priesthood. We took a pilgrimage to Lourdes. It all begins and ends with prayer. I’m pleased to say that at Marin Catholic we have our fourth young man going into the seminary.

I also believe in the importance of a personal invitation. Once you get a solid core of younger guys in the seminary, they reach out to other young guys and invite them to come to the seminary.

We’ve made some progress in the Bay Area. We had a discernment weekend recently at St. Patrick’s Seminary, for example, and we had 62 men participate, the most ever. They were a good age range, and about a third Anglo, a third Hispanic, and a third Asian. It was very encouraging.

We need to make vocations to the priesthood a priority. I spent 24 years of my priesthood serving in the suburbs of San Francisco. When parishes make vocations a priority, you can see that it really makes a difference. 

CWR: Who’s entering the seminary today? Is it older men and men born outside of the United States?

Bishop Daly: At one time, yes. But we’ve seen a shift, the coming of the next generation. When I became vocations director in 2001, most Northern California dioceses relied upon foreign-born students to become their seminarians. Today, the focus is on getting men from within the diocese to go to seminary. We now have more homegrown vocations. And, generally speaking, the younger guys we’re seeing enter the seminary are more traditional, with a great sense of self-sacrifice.

CWR: Has the formation of priests changed since you were in the seminary?

Bishop Daly: Yes, our program for priestly formation has been revised. I believe our seminary system today is healthier, stronger, and more focused.

But, on the downside, the world outside the seminary has changed. When I graduated in the 1980s, I entered into a world that was more supportive of the priesthood and the Church. Today, our new priests are facing a world that is more secular. Society is more indifferent or hostile to the Church than a generation or two before.

CWR: What other challenges does a newly ordained priest face?

Bishop Daly: One issue is that there are fewer older priest mentors to help him when he first arrives at his parish. When I was a young priest, I benefitted from the influence of some excellent older priests who taught me what it meant to be a good pastor. Many of our new priests don’t have mentors today, and are made pastors very soon after being ordained.

These young pastors may be full of zeal and anxious to implement changes in their new parishes. The lay staff at the parish, however, may not like those changes. So, you have a strong priest, ready to serve, come head-to-head with a lay parish staff member that says, “Hey, this is my paid job, and you’re not respecting me.” The new pastor’s actions, then, are interpreted as clericalism. When I was Vicar for Clergy, it was something I saw often. What a new pastor may have to do is put up with the smaller things he doesn’t like and focus on correcting bigger problems.

Complicating matters is that these new priests may be assigned to work with priests born and educated in other parts of the world. We have cases where we have three priests living in a rectory who were taught at three different seminaries.

CWR: Parents who are faithful Catholics want their children to receive a high-quality Catholic education. You were a teacher, a campus minister, and a high school president. What is the best way to ensure that Catholic schools are teaching young people authentic Catholic doctrine and morality?

Bishop Daly: At Marin Catholic, a priest I knew became president and asked me to come help him. The theology department was, let’s say, “troubled.” So, to reform the situation, we focused on hiring. It all comes down to hiring. You must hire teachers, especially of religion and theology, who are living and teaching the Faith as the Church teaches and do not come to the school with an agenda. You have to be careful to look at where they studied and what they studied.

We were also able to bring in the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who have done a tremendous job. The key to a successful Catholic school are faith-filled teachers who are loyal to the Church and live the Faith.

CWR: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has made some highly publicized efforts to ensure the Catholic identity of his four archdiocesan high schools. The secular press in the Bay Area has been highly critical of him on this issue, as well as a variety of others. Do you think the press has been unfair to the archbishop?

Bishop Daly: Absolutely. One of the most recent issues was about a sprinkler system which sprayed the homeless at St. Mary’s Cathedral. But the issue had nothing to do with him. It was installed by a former rector.

The complaints you’re hearing about the archbishop and Catholic education are not coming from within the four archdiocesan high schools. The press is choosing to focus on a segment of a population who are within schools that are not under the control of the archbishop [there are 10 high schools in the archdiocese that are run by Catholic religious communities which the archbishop does not oversee]. But you have to ask: why are they in Catholic schools if they are not with the Church? We believe the Church has a right to teach what it does, in charity; the press is saying, “We’re going to tell you what to teach.”

CWR: The archbishop has also been criticized by local politicians.

Bishop Daly: Yes, and some of those leading the effort have been educated in Catholic schools. We’ve had no support from Catholic politicians in San Francisco.

CWR: How has the archbishop taken the media abuse?

Bishop Daly: He’s holding up, although I know it’s burdened him greatly. I saw him at a recent seminarian basketball game, and I know he enjoyed getting away and being with friends. He’s had many people offer him their support, and I know it helps.

I know, however, that he’s sad that I’m leaving the area and province to go to Spokane.

CWR: What’s the best way for the faithful to support our bishops?

Bishop Daly: Please pray for us. Offer a decade of the Rosary for us. I’m reminded of the story in the Scriptures in which Jesus, after the Transfiguration, casts a demon out of a boy. The disciples then asked Him why they were not able to cast the demon out. Jesus responded that the demon could only be cast out by prayer and fasting. Keep us in your prayers, and we’ll pray for you.

Also, in your private conversations, we’d ask you to speak the truth in pastoral charity.

CWR: Many Catholics throughout the country, including members of the clergy, have been involved with 40 Days for Life. Would you encourage Catholics, both lay and clergy, who have an interest to join in the work of 40 Days for Life?

Bishop Daly: Absolutely. 40 Days for Life has been an important movement within the Diocese of San Jose, and I’ve participated in it several times. I would encourage priests, seminarians, and lay people to participate. We don’t shout at people, but quietly pray the Rosary and offer witness to what is going on in these abortion clinics.

CWR: Who are some Catholics, either living or deceased, that you particularly admire?

Bishop Daly: I have a great devotion to St. Vincent de Paul. He is known for his work with the poor, but he did much to reform the clergy, which is needed in our day as well as in his. Until the 1960s, the Vincentian Fathers did most of the teaching in our Catholic seminaries. The Vincentian spirituality really emphasizes faith in action. I realize it is an overused term these days, but St. Vincent really called priests to servant-leadership. 

I admire Pope John Paul II, particularly because of his efforts to reform priestly formation. I’ve known some fine bishops, including Archbishop Cordileone and Bishop Mike Barber of Oakland as well as Archbishop George Niederauer for his commitment to vocations, invitation to the Dominican Sisters and his support of Catholic education.  I also admire Bishop Patrick McGrath, who welcomed 40 Days for Life and asked me to work with them, and Cardinal William Levada, who appointed me to all the positions I held prior to my appointment as bishop.

Many priests, both when I was growing up and as a young priest, have had a wonderful influence on me.  Fr Kevin Gaffey, for example, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and a mentor, not only for me but for seminarians.  These men have been a strong influence.

We have some outstanding seminarians for both San Jose and San Francisco, who are ready to lay down their lives for Christ and his Church. And I’ve know some terrific Catholic lay people, such those I’ve gotten to know through the Legatus apostolate.

CWR: Are you looking forward to going to Spokane?

Bishop Daly: Yes, but I don’t expect leaving the Bay Area to be easy. I have to leave my family, with whom I’m very close, and many friends. But my motto is: “Into Your Hands, Lord.” That motto has been guiding me throughout my life. God has called me to head this diocese, and I’m happy to say yes.


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About Jim Graves 173 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.