Bishop Michael Sheridan, 74, has served as bishop of Colorado Springs since 2003. He grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, and was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of St. Louis in 1971. He was sent to Rome for post-graduate studies so that he could teach in the archdiocesan seminary, and when he returned he served as pastor and associate pastor and in parishes in the archdiocese. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop for St. Louis in 1997, and was named a coadjutor bishop of Colorado Springs in 2001. He has served as a theology teacher at the high school, college, and graduate levels, and as a seminary theology professor.
The Diocese of Colorado Springs includes 10 central and eastern counties of Colorado. It serves 176,000 Catholics in 39 parishes and missions. There are 79 priests, including those retired and active outside the diocese, and 13 seminarians.
Bishop Sheridan recently spoke to CWR about his diocese, his thoughts on current events in the life of the Church, and his plans for retirement.
CWR: Last year you did a Facebook Live interview in which you addressed scandal in the Church, specifically the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report alleging widespread abuse by priests, the McCarrick scandal, and Archbishop Vigano’s allegations. Why did you want to address these issues publicly?
Bishop Sheridan: People had been asking me about these issues, and a woman who works in our IT department suggested that this could be an effective way of reaching people. It turned out to be not as difficult to do as I had thought. Many people don’t read newspapers or magazines, but are tied into social media. Many people responded to this interview with favorable comments.
I am grateful to say that Colorado Springs is a young diocese, and does not have a history of scandal. My predecessor, Bishop Richard Hanifen, the first bishop of the diocese, was careful to move on any kind of accusation or allegation leveled at anyone who was part of the diocese. So we haven’t had the problems that exist elsewhere.
Additionally, the three dioceses of Colorado have invited an independent reviewer to look through our priest files and prepare a report of any priests accused of abuse. It’s due to be released anytime now. I don’t think we’ll have a single name from this diocese in that report. I wanted to do this to reassure people in this diocese that we have many good priests who understand their call to live holy lives.
CWR: What other major concerns do you have about the Church today?
Bishop Sheridan: I’m concerned about the ambiguities that have come from the Holy See that cause unrest among our people. I tell our people that if there are ambiguities, I am here to help them through it. The best thing to do when there are difficult statements issued is to interpret them in the light of the received tradition of the Church.
CWR: What are your thoughts on the Amazon Synod?
Bishop Sheridan: I honestly don’t understand a good deal of it. Some are suggesting that we ordain married men or women to the diaconate. I don’t think this would be the end of the Church, but I don’t understand why we don’t meet the difficulties of the Amazon region in the same way our missionaries have done since the Reformation. We need to bring the Faith to these lands and raise up the indigenous people to the celibate priesthood and religious life, rather than open the door to a married priesthood. I share the concern of those who believe we are opening the door to the ending of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church. This would be a tremendous loss, as modern popes have told us.
I am trying to follow what is happening in the Amazon Synod, and I want to see what, in the end, the pope makes of this. It is the post-synodal document that is important. I hope and pray that he can put something together in a way that is helpful, and doesn’t fly in the face of established Catholic traditions.
CWR: Tell us about the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
Bishop Sheridan: I’ve been here for 18 years, and we’ve seen some tremendous changes and growth. When I arrived, we had fewer than 100,000 Catholics; we have 176,000 today. I’ve dedicated 10 churches since I arrived, and established one new parish. I dedicated the churches because the previous churches were too small for the growing parishes.
We’ve also enjoyed a growth in vocations. When I arrived, there were next to none. But, by God’s grace, today we have 13 men in the seminary. That may not sound like a lot, but it is pretty good for a relatively small diocese like ours. We will ordain two men to the priesthood next year, and another the following year. God has been good.
Of the three dioceses in the State of Colorado, ours is the smallest. We’re a long strip of 10 counties, beginning at the Kansas border and heading west for about 250 miles (we don’t reach the State of Utah). The city of Colorado Springs is in the middle, so I can head east or west either way, and at most it is no more than 130 miles to either end of the diocese.
We have urban parishes, parishes in our growing suburbs, and rural parishes. Between our populated areas there is lots of open space, with expansive ranches and beautiful territory. You can drive miles before you see something. Heading east from our suburbs, for example, you can drive nearly 70 miles before reaching a parish, then another 70 miles before you hit the next cluster of parishes. So, we have a lot of open space.
CWR: Why do you think your vocations picture has improved?
Bishop Sheridan: I attribute it to prayer and encouragement. I’ve had two fine young priests who have served me as vocations directors. We have a young presbyterate because of our influx of vocations, which is a mixed blessing. We don’t want to make our men pastors too soon, before they’re ready. But we’re blessed to have some very good men to be our priests.
I also believe the reform of the seminaries inaugurated by Pope John Paul II has given our dioceses and many others the kinds of priests we need to continue the work of the Church.
CWR: You became bishop of Colorado Springs in 2003. What were some of the key initiatives you wanted to accomplish when you arrived, and what progress have you seen?
Bishop Sheridan: When I arrived, I first noticed that we had a shortage of priests. Many of our parishes were without a resident pastor. So identifying and recruiting men to the seminary was my first priority.
Second, I had come from St. Louis, where there were many Catholic schools. In Colorado Springs there were few. So my plan was to sustain the Catholic schools we had, and establish new ones. Studies show that Catholic schools play an essential role in the faith development of young people. But this has been an area of disappointment for me. We had to close one school because of demographics, while we have established two more. So our number of Catholic schools has grown slightly, but not as much as I would have liked.
CWR: Catholics today are having fewer children; are fewer schools needed?
Bishop Sheridan: Yes. Even in St. Louis they’ve had to close Catholic schools. But the archdiocese there had a real sense of the need for Catholic schools. When you establish a parish, people ask, “Where’s the school?” That isn’t the thinking here in Colorado Springs.
I’ve certainly done what I’ve can to establish Catholic schools here, and I hope my predecessor will continue this effort.
CWR: Do you have other priorities?
Bishop Sheridan: Yes. We need a new way of looking at and engaging in evangelization. It cannot be business as usual. We’ve seen a hemorrhaging of our young people from the Church. So in recent years, this has become another of my priorities. We have to take on the characteristics of an apostolic Church, rather than a church enjoying the glories of Christendom.
Our focus must be to make Jesus Christ known and loved. Our pastors can’t be CEOs. We’re not a business. I’ve been pleased to see that many of our priests have responded well to the call for a New Evangelization.
CWR: Tell us about your upbringing, and your decision to enter the seminary.
Bishop Michael Sheridan: I was born in St. Louis, but I grew up in Jennings, which is just outside the City. My parents were both Catholic and practiced their faith. My father worked for a shoe company; when I was a boy, St. Louis was known for two things: shoes and beer. I had a stay-at-home mother, and one younger sister.
I went to Catholic schools from kindergarten to graduate school. Prayer in the home was encouraged. I remember, for example, that there was a traveling statue of the Immaculate Conception that families would take home and before which they’d pray the Rosary.
Prayer was also encouraged in the local parish. There were devotions of some kind virtually every night at our parish, followed by Benediction, and Vespers on Sunday afternoons. We’d go to many of these evenings as a family. In our Catholic school we’d have daily Mass.
I had a typical Catholic upbringing, in which we breathed Catholicism, even if we didn’t think about it. We lived our Catholic life happily and faithfully, and parents would make sure their children were faithful to the practice of religion. I’d say I had a wonderful childhood.
My decision to enter the seminary came a little late. I was close to our priests, who encouraged young men to think about a vocation to the priesthood. I loved the Church and the priesthood, but I think I had some sort of spiritual wax in my ears for a time. If God was calling me, I didn’t hear it.
We had a high school seminary, to which several of my classmates went, but I instead went to a wonderful Jesuit high school in St. Louis. I went on to a Jesuit college, and in the course of my freshman year, the thought or inclination to the priesthood came to me and did not leave. I attribute it to the influence of priests at the school, who encouraged me to pray and go to Mass frequently. At the end of my freshman year, I left that school and entered the seminary as a sophomore. I spent seven years there, was ordained to the priesthood and never looked back. It was clear it was what God was calling me to.
CWR: You studied in Rome in the 1970s. What are your memories of the Eternal City in those years?
Bishop Sheridan: I went to Rome for graduate studies, and to prepare to teach at the seminary which I had attended. I loved my time in Rome. It has a wonderful culture, and gave me the opportunity to come into contact with magnificent history and art. I was 29 when I arrived there, and it was my first time I had ever been out of the States. It was new to me, exhilarating, and I liked it very much.
I had the opportunity to meet Paul VI in a private meeting after a general audience. He was gracious, spoke to us using a few words of English and commented on the beauty of the St. Louis Cathedral. I felt close to Paul VI; he died the year after I returned home to St. Louis.
I met other popes since. I had a couple of opportunities to meet Pope John Paul II. In 1999, for example, after I had been ordained an auxiliary bishop, John Paul visited St. Louis. It gave me the opportunity to see his remarkable practice of prayer. His health was beginning to fail, and he was spending long days meeting with young people. He’d come back to the archbishop’s house late at night, go to bed, but he’d be up at 4 or 5 in the morning in the chapel praying before he’d start another day. It is not an exaggeration to say that his prayer life sustained him. He was a wonderful inspiration to me.
I had the opportunity to meet Pope Benedict XVI during an ad limina visit in Rome, and in February, I’ll have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis in another ad limina visit.
CWR: You’ll be turning 75 on March 4 and will be submitting your resignation to the Holy Father. Do you have plans for retirement?
Bishop Sheridan: I think about it a little more every day. I hope to remain in the diocese, as it has become my new home.
I’ve enjoyed some wonderful years here. I’m grateful to God for all He has allowed me to accomplish. I’m also grateful for the friendship of our priests and people, and for their prayers, love and support. I look forward to spending the rest of my days in retirement here.
I want to help in any way I can, but I’m also looking forward to having some leisure time. I’ve already begun stacking up the books I want to read.
CWR: Any titles you’d like to share?
Bishop Sheridan: Sure. I tend to read more than one book at a time. I’m currently reading Deal Hudson’s How to Keep From Losing Your Mind. He talks about how culture forms the minds and attitudes of people, and how important a classical education is.
I’m also reading Why Celibacy?: Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest by Father Carter Griffin. In retirement I also plan to read books by Cardinal Sarah and George Weigel.
CWR: Who are some Catholics you particularly admire?
Bishop Sheridan: I already mentioned John Paul II; he’s a real hero to me. I’m impressed with St. Therese, the Little Flower, and I’ve been reading her Story of a Soul, which teaches us how to live a simple but saintly life. I also like St. John Neumann, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, because of his simplicity, dedication, and wisdom.
I’m also impressed with Cardinal Sarah, who has said so many marvelous things in his talks and writings. I had the opportunity to meet him once. Ordinarily, you don’t run up to a cardinal at a meeting and ask, “Can I ask you a question?” But, that is what I did one day. He was gracious enough to sit down with me for 20 minutes and gave me the most beautiful answers to questions that were on my mind.
CWR: Are there any programs of spirituality you like to recommend?
Bishop Sheridan: I was trained early on in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. If one is well led, these can be a beautiful source of spiritual enrichment. As far as contemporary programs, I’d recommend the work of Dan Burke of the Avila Foundation, the wonderful Augustine Institute, and the Denver Biblical School.
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