MADISON, Wisconsin — On his first day as bishop of the Diocese of Madison, Most Rev. Donald Joseph Hying took the long view: he looked ahead to contemplate his final day as the shepherd of 280,000 southern Wisconsin Catholics.
To evaluate his work as bishop, he said, he would like to one day ask all of the faithful a question his mother, Catherine, asked on her deathbed in June 2006. Hying described it this way:
About two weeks before my Mom died, she was in the hospital and it was a rare moment where my father, my mother and I were alone in her room, and she turned to my father and she said, ‘Did I love you enough?’ Isn’t that a great question? Did I love you enough? It was like at the end of her life, she wanted to know that she did it right. My Dad said, ‘Of course you did.’
As Hying held back tears, the 1,500 people gathered at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church to witness his installation as the fifth bishop of Madison took in an audible deep breath. It was as if everyone needed to stop and contemplate the sheer emotional power of what they just heard. Tears flowed in the pews as Hying turned to the side to avoid making eye contact with his family.
“I pray that whenever that time ends,” he said, “I can ask you the question, ‘Did I love you enough?’ I pray that answer for all of us, to each other and to the Lord is, ‘Yes, we did our best.’ We love the Lord. We gave ourselves because this is our moment. Just an hour past dawn. The sun is just up, Christ is risen from the dead and we have work to do.”
If Wisconsin Catholics had questions about their new shepherd’s ability to preach and connect with the heart, they don’t any longer. Hying’s moving homily set a powerful tone as he picks up the work left by the late Bishop Robert C. Morlino, who died suddenly in November 2018 at age 71. Hying spent the days leading up to his installation Mass on the phone, reaching out to every priest in the 11-county diocese. He pledged, “You will always have my heart, and you will always have my cell number. I cannot wait to begin to have a great relationship with you.”
The now-former bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Indiana, looks every bit like a man on a mission. “I can’t wait to start,” Hying said. “Tomorrow morning, 6:30, I’m going to be in the office.” Among his first tasks, he said, will be to get to know the faithful as he visits the diocese’s 102 parishes. “To all of you, I pledge my heart and my prayers. How I wish I could sit down in the kitchen of every home and get to know all of you, drink a big cup of coffee and have a great chat,” he said. “That will happen, I hope, one person and one place at a time.”
At the beginning of Mass, Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki handed Hying the gold crozier used by Bishop William Patrick O’Connor, the first bishop of Madison (1946-1967). Hying wore a pectoral cross given to him by Bishop Morlino when Hying was ordained auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in 2011. Hying then took the cathedra, the seat of his teaching and authority, and in so doing officially became the bishop of the Diocese of Madison. The Mass was held at St. Maria Goretti since Madison’s St. Raphael Cathedral was destroyed by fire set by an arsonist in March 2005. At age 55 (he turns 56 on August 18th), Hying is the youngest bishop in the history of the diocese.
The installation Mass was observed by Blaise Cardinal Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago. The papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, read a hand-written letter from Pope Francis to Bishop Hying. Pierre handed the original, written in Latin, to Hying, who walked through the church presenting it to those in attendance. Mass was concelebrated by priests from the Madison and Gary dioceses, and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Bishops from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and as far away as Washington state sat near the altar.
The theme that ran through Hying’s homily tied closely to his episcopal motto, Caritas Numquam Excidit, or “Love Never Fails.” It is taken from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which was the second reading at the installation Mass. In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Hying said this “simple, yet profound question” posed to St. Peter “echoes down the centuries into our own hearts today.”
“We all want to know the we are loved and valued by God and others,” Hying said. “We seek some external assurance that we have been received, accepted and embraced; that our existence matters, that we are not alone. How consoling that God himself asked the same question of his chosen apostles…” Each of the faithful is being asked that same question, and can only answer in the affirmative because Christ loved us first, Hying said. In this divine love, humans discover the meaning and purpose of life — to love God with everything, and serve others with “humble charity.”
“The same charity that chose to be born in poverty, heal the leprous, dine with sinners, raise the dead, wash dirty feet, gift humanity with the Eucharist and lay down on a terrifying cross, and to choose to love a thief, a traitor and a coward,” Hying said. “Such love is so far beyond our human categories of what seems just and proper, it takes our breath away.”
Hying said we are all commissioned to preach the Gospel that fuses love and truth in the person of Christ. “This Gospel which challenges the culture of today, especially when it comes to the dignity of the human person and life and marriage and family and solidarity, the Gospel which challenges our culture of violence and narcissism and materialism.”
Hying’s new mission is a true homecoming. He was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. He studied at Marquette University and St. Francis de Sales Seminary. Before being ordained an auxiliary bishop of Milwaukee, he served as rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary for four years. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1989. Both of his parents grew up in what is now the Diocese of Madison.
Among Hying’s to-do items as bishop will be the rebuilding of St. Raphael Cathedral, which stood on West Main Street a block from the Capitol Square for 151 years before being destroyed by fire. Rev. Martin Kundig originally obtained the land for St. Raphael from the family of Wisconsin Gov. James Doty. The Diocese of Madison has established a fund to raise money toward a chapel and crypt in memory of Bishop Morlino. The chapel would be housed inside the new cathedral and Morlino’s remains would be entombed in the crypt.
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