Bishop Joseph Strickland, 59, has served as bishop of Tyler, Texas, since 2012. A native Texan, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Dallas in 1985. His first assignment as a priest was to Immaculate Conception Parish in Tyler, which would become the cathedral of the new Diocese of Tyler when it was established in 1987. He served in a variety of parish and administrative assignments before being named bishop of Tyler by Pope Benedict XVI.
Tyler is located in the northeast corner of Texas, known as the Pineywoods section of the state; its pine woods and rolling hills making its landscape different from much of Texas. It is home to 68 Catholic parishes and 120,000 Catholics, about half of whom are Hispanic. Less than 10 percent of the region is Catholic; many in the area are Evangelical Christians, including many Southern Baptists. Eighty active and retired priests serve in the diocese, with a significant number coming from India, Ireland, and Colombia.
Bishop Strickland recently spoke to CWR.
CWR: How is the Diocese of Tyler doing for vocations to the priesthood and religious life?
Bishop Joseph Strickland: We have 14 seminarians. I stay in close touch with them, especially with all the turmoil in the Church of late. We want them to become virtuous priests who can share the message of Jesus Christ.
We’d like to double our number of seminarians, and towards that end we’ve launched Campaign for Priests Tomorrow, the diocese’s first-ever capital campaign. We want to create an endowment of $10 million, and use the interest to support an additional 14 or more seminarians. We’re about a third of the way into the campaign; people have been very generous.
CWR: As a young man, why did you decide to go to the seminary?
Bishop Strickland: My father was a native of east Texas. He was raised Southern Baptist, but converted to Catholicism. My mother is from Sydney, Australia, but has an Irish Catholic background. So, I grew up with strong Catholic roots from the Irish, imported by way of Australia. In fact, there were two priests and one religious woman who were part of my maternal grandmother’s family.
I was the fifth of six children. We were raised to understand what a treasure our Catholic faith is. My brother, 12 years older than I, went to the seminary for a time, but ultimately was not ordained. I think that planted a seed for me.
I was a regular high school kid; I played football and dated a bit. But, I also was thinking about a vocation to the priesthood, and at age 18, I decided to give the seminary a try. I went to Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas; I was there for eight years and was ordained a priest in 1985.
CWR: You laid out a road map for evangelization for your diocese, including a Constitution on Teaching the Catholic Faith and the establishment of the St. Philip Institute. Can you explain how this came about?
Bishop Strickland: We started developing the road map after I’d been bishop three years. We lose many Catholics through poor catechesis; they leave the Church without knowing what it really is. This realization has led me to focus on teaching.
So, we wrote the Constitution as a road map to refocus the diocese on the mission of teaching, sharing the truth of Jesus Christ. An important component, for example, is learning about the liturgy. While the documents of Vatican II speak beautifully about the renewed liturgy, I think many of our parishes got sidetracked in the turbulent time of the 60s and 70s.
We introduce a balanced approach to the use of Latin in the liturgy. Latin is the language of the Church, and its use by people of different linguistic backgrounds can make for a unifying aspect of the liturgy. I’d like to see Latin returning to the Ordinary Form of the Mass in a few areas, including the Sanctus, the Lamb of God, and perhaps the Gloria or Our Father. We also can use Greek for the Kyrie. We want to get our people comfortable using the Latin again.
We also teach about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the sacraments as Christ at work in his Church. The St. Philip Institute is just a year old, but it has already accomplished a lot.
CWR: You’re active on social media. Has it been an effective means for you to teach?
Bishop Strickland: My website has been effective, but I think the tweeting has been more of a mixed bag. My goal with social media is to focus on spiritual enrichment, such as asking people to pray for those affected by Hurricane Michael in Florida, rather than politics.
CWR: On August 26, you directed your parish priests to read a letter about Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s allegations concerning ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick, which you described as “credible,” and you called for an investigation. What prompted you to issue this statement?
Bishop Strickland: I was motivated by a concern for the flock in eastern Texas. A series of things were happening, including the McCarrick controversy, the report on priest sex abuse from Pennsylvania, and the Vigano letter. People were heartbroken about what they were seeing and hearing. Some wanted an investigation. That’s why I spoke quickly. But with modern communication, while my intention was to speak only to my flock, in an instant my statement hit the global scene. Some people disagreed with what I said in my letter, but most were supportive and thanked me for speaking up.
I think it’s important in these cases to keep the victims in the forefront. Lives have been damaged, even destroyed by abuse. It is so contrary to what we in the Church are called to do.
CWR: One of your diocese’s responses to the scandals was to bring back Ember Days.
Bishop Strickland: Yes. I previously didn’t even know what they were. I did some research, and came to discover that they are simple reminders that every day is a gift of God. They give us a chance to pause and do penance, to give thanks for passing season, and to ask God’s mercy and strength as we transition to the next season. They are a beautiful part of our Catholic heritage.
Personally, I also did a novena of repentance for myself. As bishop of the diocese, I thought it was something I needed to do. Fasting, abstinence, and mortification are all part of our heritage that we need to rekindle.
CWR: We just marked the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. What are your thoughts on this anniversary?
Bishop Strickland: I was 10 years old in 1968, the year Humanae Vitae came out. It was, by and large, ignored and contradicted. I think that much of the harm that has come to the world through the Sexual Revolution is due to ignoring Church teaching on matters of sexuality articulated by documents such as Humanae Vitae. In one of the paragraphs, Pope Paul VI makes a series of predictions of what will happen in the world due to widespread use of artificial contraception. We’ve certainly seen that these predictions have come true.
CWR: Earlier this year you participated in an Extraordinary Form Mass at the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul. What sparked your interest in this Mass?
Bishop Strickland: It was the first Latin Mass I remember ever attending. I may have been brought as an infant and a small boy, but I don’t remember it. People of my generation have not been exposed to it at all. I participated as a way to educate myself about this older form of the Mass. I was struck by its complexity, the amount of work it takes to do the Mass correctly.
While I’m not advocating a return to the Latin Mass, I think it is important to look at the Extraordinary Form as a means of enriching what we do in the Ordinary Form. While the Ordinary Form in the vernacular is the bread and butter liturgy we use in the Church today, we need to be aware of our roots.
CWR: Who are some Catholics you particularly admire?
Bishop Strickland: I admire both my mother and father. They were average, everyday people who embraced the beauty of the Faith.
As far as saints, I particularly like St. Maria Goretti, who gives us such a beautiful model of chastity, which is certainly a great challenge for many in our modern world.
I also admire Padre Pio. We recently had his relics visit our cathedral, and we had the biggest crowd there that I’ve ever seen. People were there from 9:30 am to midnight, venerating his relics, coming to Confession, and seeking to live the life of Jesus Christ in a deeper way.
I also particularly like the example of St. Maximilian Kolbe.
As far as living Catholics, I have great respect for Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. I see him as a model for what I’d like to do as a bishop. He is very clear about what the Gospel teaches.
CWR: Is there a program of basic spirituality you like to recommend to lay Catholics?
Bishop Strickland: The Rosary is important. Our Lady has asked us to pray it in her many apparitions. Pope Francis has recommended it as well. It is important to read and try to understand Scripture. I also like the Stations of the Cross and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
To live the Christian life, we must recognize our sins and repent of them, live the Gospel, and be people of prayer. If we do, we’ll be living beautiful lives.