Bishop Donald Hying, 55, will be installed as the fifth bishop of Madison, Wisconsin on June 25. He replaces Robert Morlino (1946-2018), who died last fall after a cardiac event.
Bishop Hying grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. The youngest of six boys, he attended Catholic grammar school and public high school, before entering the seminary for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He was ordained a priest for the archdiocese in 1989. He served in numerous roles since, including rector of Milwaukee’s St. Francis de Sales Seminary from 2007 to 2011.
He was ordained a bishop in 2011, and became bishop of Gary, Indiana in 2015.
The Diocese of Madison is home to 270,000 Catholics, a quarter of the population, with 104 parishes and 142 diocesan and religious order priests.
Bishop Hying recently spoke with CWR about his new appointment.
CWR: What are your thoughts on your appointment to Madison?
Bishop Donald Hying: I’m excited and energized by it. It is bittersweet, as I will miss the people and the Church of Gary; it is always hard to let go of a place where you have invested yourself.
I do have some connection to Madison; my father grew up in the diocese working on a farm. He later worked in a factory in Milwaukee, where he met my mother, who was a nurse. I recall going to visit my grandparents who lived there.
Wisconsin is a beautiful, dynamic state. Madison has both the state capital, and is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It’s a great opportunity.
CWR: Did you know Bishop Morlino?
Bishop Hying: I recall my first meeting with him while I was rector of St. Francis Seminary. I was visiting Wisconsin’s bishops, asking them to send their seminarians to our seminary. He had just learned that I had been named auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee. He gave me one of his pectoral crosses, and was very kind to me. Later on, I’d see him at state and national bishop’s meetings.
CWR: What are you doing now to prepare to leave Gary and go to Madison?
Bishop Hying: I’m wrapping up my time here in Gary. I’m trying to pull loose strings together and finish some projects. I’m saying goodbye to people in Gary, and beginning to get to know key staff in the Diocese of Madison. I’m planning my installation Mass, and coming up with a guest list. There’s a lot of motion in both dioceses; I have a foot in both worlds.
CWR: Do you see any needs in Madison that you’d like to address, or do you have any initiatives you’d like to launch?
Bishop Hying: I think it’s premature to answer this question. I have no pre-fabricated plan or agenda. As would be the case with any diocese, I want to find out how we can engage young people and get them involved in the Church, reach out to the 70 percent of Catholics who are not attending Mass, build a culture of vocation, and build a culture of life…all of that.
CWR: You’re celebrating your 30th anniversary of your ordination to the priesthood. What made you want to enter the seminary?
Bishop Hying: There were four factors. The first was observing my parents’ faith life. They had a relationship with the Lord and modeled it to me and my brothers. Second, when I was age six, one of my brothers died of cancer. That had a deep impact on me.
Third, I had a brother who entered the seminary. He later left, but that left an impression on me as well. And fourth, the election of Pope John Paul II. He had such a tremendous impact on the Church and the world, and is a hero to me personally.
CWR: If you were to offer some advice to a newly ordained priest about being successful in the priesthood, what might you share?
Bishop Hying: The key to success is never to let the passion of your vocation burn out. You need to nourish your vocation with little actions of sacrifice. Don’t let yourself become lax or blasé. Love should be the passion of your vocation.
Also, be open to the needs of your people. Be flexible in how you respond to their needs.
CWR: You called a synod in the Gary diocese on Pentecost Sunday 2017. How did it go?
Bishop Hying: I had come to Gary from Milwaukee, where we did a similar synod in 2014. So, after I had been in Gary a year, I wrote a letter, outlining the diocese’s strengths, and outlining eight synod initiatives: evangelization; sacraments, prayer, and worship; discipleship/formation; social teaching; marriage and family; young Catholics; stewardship; and vocations and leadership formation.
We invited people to have parish discussions in these areas, telling us what they liked about the Church, and what they’d like to see changed. We invited them to share their hopes, dreams, and frustrations. And, we asked each parish to create their own synod plan based on their needs. I think it resulted in a release of tremendous energy and imagination, and led to a re-grasping of the mission of the Church on the local level.
CWR: What have your experiences of the past several years revealed to you about the people of the Diocese of Gary?
Bishop Hying: They are warm and hospitable, and welcomed me with great kindness. They are blue-collar, hard-working people with a rich faith. I’ve fit in well here.
CWR: What do you think some of your accomplishments have been in Gary?
Bishop Hying: The synod would be number one. We’ve also launched a number of new initiatives, both through Catholic Charities and in adult faith formation. We’ve also made progress in keeping our schools vital and flourishing.
CWR: How have you done for vocations to the priesthood?
Bishop Hying: I’ve ordained six priests in five years. That’s not great; we need more priests than that. We have 13 seminarians, and will accept six more this year. One of our seminarians will be ordained this year.
CWR: Evangelization was the focus of a 2016 pastoral letter you released to the Gary diocese. Statistics show that fewer Americans, particularly among the young, are making religion a part of their lives. Why do you think this is?
Bishop Hying: That is a very complex question, to which there is no single answer. I think the increase of sexual immorality, the breakdown of Catholic culture, and the breakdown of the traditional family are factors. I would also point to the pressures of modern life; people are overextended and busy.
I also think for many young people, the virtual world of social media becomes a reality. So religion has less of a hold over people’s imaginations. And I’d point to the prosperity of our country. People are doing well economically, and think they don’t have a need for God.
CWR: You have a special devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux. What impresses you about her?
Bishop Hying: I’ve always been impressed by her unique life, short though it was. She didn’t accomplish anything in the eyes of the world, but she did love God in an extraordinary way in the ordinary things of life. She is the saint of simple people; I’d classify myself as one of those simple people.
CWR: What’s a basic program of spirituality you’d recommend to the average layman in the pew?
Bishop Hying: I’d tell him to start with attending Mass regularly on Sundays and holy days. Go to confession once a month. Pray daily; when you start, it may be for just 10 minutes.
Develop a devotional life. This might mean praying the Rosary, or a devotion to a particular saint, some activity that will feed your heart and spirit. Do some form of service to the poor or sick. Go on an annual retreat.
CWR: As you prepare your remarks for your installation Mass in Madison on June 25, what are you thinking of saying?
Bishop Hying: I want to thank the Catholics of Madison for their lived faith, and tell them that I’m pleased and grateful to become bishop of the diocese. I want to stress that I’m there as a servant, not a master. That should be to role of a leader in our Church, to be a servant to all. I also want to talk about the power of joy and hope and kindness, and that true love is sacrificial. And I might mention that my life as a priest and a bishop has been an amazing unfolding of God’s grace through a sinner.
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