Bishop Earl Boyea: We need to “form the culture, rather than have it form us”

The Bishop of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, reflects on his vocation to the priesthood, the Eucharist, evangelization, loss of Catholic culture, and much more.

Bishop Earl A. Boyea of Lansing, Mich., speaks in November 2017 during a presentation in Baltimore on the centenary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Bishop Earl Boyea, 71, has led the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan since 2008. He was born in Pontiac, Michigan, and grew up in Waterford, the oldest of 10 children. He entered the seminary for the Archdiocese of Detroit, ordained a priest in 1978, and named an auxiliary bishop in 2002.

In 1984, Bishop Boyea earned a Master’s degree in American History from Wayne State University, and in 1987 he obtained his PhD in Church History from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where his thesis focused on the National Catholic Welfare Council (now the USCCB) between the years 1935 and 1945. Bishop Boyea belongs to the Catholic Biblical Association, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, and American Catholic Historical Association.

From 1987 to 2000, he taught Church history and Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, where he became dean of studies in 1990. From 2000 to 2002, he was the Rector-President and a professor at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio.

In November 2021, Bishop Boyea was elected Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. Much of the work of the committee has focused on drafting and getting approval from Rome for the sixth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation, which governs seminary education for priests. Approval was given by Rome in April 2022. The two big changes included in this new program are, first, the creation of an initial non-academic period of formation called the “propaedeutic stage,” and second, after ordination to the transitional diaconate, a period of “vocational synthesis,” designed to be a period in which newly ordained deacons live full-time in a parish or other pastoral setting.

Lansing was established as a diocese in 1937, and is comprised of 10 counties previously part of the Archdiocese of Detroit and the Diocese of Grand Rapids. It is located in the southern part of mid-Michigan and has a population of 1.8 million, 185,000 of whom are Catholic. The diocese has 72 parishes and 77 active diocesan priests and 28 seminarians. The diocese also has several religious communities, including the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.

CWR: Please tell us a bit about your upbringing.

Bishop Earl Boyea: I was raised in northern Detroit. My father was an auto worker. We were an observant Catholic home, going to Mass on Sundays and Catholic school. I remember praying the rosary as a family when I was young, but that didn’t last too long. I wonder if our discontinuing it had something to do with the changes in the Church after Vatican II.

Both my parents are still alive, but not doing too well. My mother has dementia, and my father uses a walker. Most of my siblings are retired and help care for them; although I’m still working, I still come up and try to help out.

CWR: Why did you decide to enter seminary?

Bishop Boyea: From the second grade, I knew I wanted to be a priest. I loved the Church, and I loved the sacraments. My reasons deepened over the years.

I told my parents I wanted to go to the high school seminary, but they initially told me they could not afford the tuition. But my father was working for Pontiac Motors at the time, and received a $6,000 bonus for a suggestion he made to the company. He came home and told me, “You can go to the seminary.”

CWR: What was it like coming to the Diocese of Lansing?

Bishop Boyea: I had two wonderful predecessors, Bishops Kenneth Povish and Carl Mengeling. They were deeply engaged with our clergy, and followed Church teaching. They were friendly, kind men, so when I came into the diocese, it was a positive environment. Additionally, our clergy got along well.

When I arrived, the diocese was in the midst of planning for the future number of parishes. Due to changes in demographics and finances, the diocesan leadership was looking at reducing our number of parishes. I had a choice to accept their plan to close parishes, or start over again. I opted to accept their plan, and from 2008 to 2018, we reduced our number of parishes from 97 to 72.

CWR: Vatican officials just approved the sixth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation drafted by the USCCB committee of which you are a part. Key changes included the addition of a propaedeutic stage and vocational synthesis period. How has seminary formation changed from the time you were a seminarian?

Bishop Boyea: We did not have the same opportunities for one-on-one relationships as seminarians do today; now every seminarian has a spiritual director and formation director. We also did not have as strong peer relationships, a sense of responsibility for one another, like there is today. Academically, my formation was strong. Pastorally, we have more engagement today than I had.

CWR: In 2012, you issued the pastoral letter “Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord”, which seeks to begin the process of “forming communities of missionary disciples who go and announce the Gospel of the Lord” to inactive Catholics and non-Catholics. What are some of the key points of this letter? And what success have you had in the past ten years?

Bishop Boyea: I didn’t initially want to write a pastoral letter, as I thought no one would read it. But we had put together a committee to address this topic, and it was their recommendation I write this pastoral letter. I haven’t written another one since.

The letter has three parts: building up the household of the faith, reaching out to lost sheep, and affecting our culture in positive ways. On the positive side, people are thinking more about discipleship and the mission of the Church than ever before, and we have many more small prayer groups. As far as reaching out to the lost sheep and affecting the culture, we have been less successful. I think many people are uncomfortable sharing their faith, and our challenge has been to form the culture, rather than have it form us.

CWR: Why do you think the number of active Catholics has declined over recent decades?

Bishop Boyea: In years past, many of our people were Catholic because that was the culture in which they grew up and by which they were sustained. They don’t see that they are personally loved and saved by Jesus, which is so necessary to preserving our faith today in a culture that is often hostile to what we believe, so they fall away.

CWR: Your diocese has done well for vocations to the priesthood and religious life when others are struggling. What has been key to your success?

Bishop Boyea: Undeserved grace. We don’t deserve it, but God has graced us with it. We do have our young priests promoting vocations and full-time chaplains at each of our four diocesan high schools, as well as wonderful vocations directors. But, in the end, it is still an undeserved grace.

CWR: Your diocese is home to the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who just celebrated their 25th anniversary. You offered Holy Mass at their jubilee celebrations. Can you talk about this community and what gifts it has brought to the Church?

Bishop Boyea: This community was founded in New York, and their move to Ann Arbor was facilitated by Tom Monaghan and my predecessor, Bishop Mengeling. They have been flourishing. Every year, I participate in ceremonies in which six to eight of their sisters pronounce final vows.

Their focus is on education. They help at two of our high schools, one of our grade schools, and have two grade schools of their own in our diocese. We’d love to have them at more of our schools, but we accept that they have to spread out their work across the country.

They wear the Dominican habit, which speaks quite loudly to some young people, and have a strong sense of community. The sisters never go out alone; you always see them in groups of three, four, or five.

CWR: You’ve taught classes on Scripture. For lay Catholics who might not spend time reading the Bible, how would you recommend they begin?

Bishop Boyea: I’ve led summer Scripture days, in which I’ve given five or six talks on Scripture, including one on Revelation, and I did a biography of St. Paul. We had a Year of the Bible, in which my aim was not to cover the whole Bible, but to walk through certain books with participants.

But I like to recommend that people start by reading the four Gospels, which tell us of the life of Christ.

CWR: You’ve also taught Church history. What was your area of focus?

Bishop Boyea: I did my doctoral dissertation on the U.S. bishops’ conference from 1935 to 1945. This included the years of the Depression and World War II. The conference began different outreach programs at that time, and supported the calls for peace that were being made by Pope Pius XII.

CWR: You celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass?

Bishop Boyea: We have five locations that offer the Latin Mass in the diocese. I’ve given dispensations for the Masses to continue, with permission to the priests to say the Mass, in accordance with Traditionis custodes. I typically say the Latin Mass about once a year, when I’m meeting with these groups.

CWR: Enrollment in your diocesan schools increased 6% last year at a time when other dioceses are closing schools. What has been key to your success?

Bishop Boyea: We insist that our Catholic schools are fully Catholic, and we’ve had some wonderful superintendents. I think our schools have been a draw to many parents because [parents] are disenchanted with the way things are going in our culture. They are looking for a solid Catholic formation and education.

CWR: Why did the Diocese of Lansing’s new policy on “gender identity” needed to be implemented?

Bishop Boyea: We insist that our students be treated according to their genetic gender. As Pope Francis has said, this is the way God made us. While we realize that there are those who struggle to accept that gender, the teenage years or younger is no time to be making final decisions about gender reassignment. Once they’ve turned eighteen, they can then make that decision, although we certainly don’t encourage that they do!

One area that I think these groups don’t talk enough about is what happens if someone is not healed? Jesus asked His Father to be spared from the cross while in the Garden of Gethsemane, which He was not. That is because God can draw greater good from not healing us of a particular situation, just as He did with Jesus going to His death on the cross. I’m all for healing, but don’t be disheartened if you are not. Give yourself totally over to God’s will.

CWR: Any thoughts on the effort to amend the Michigan State Constitution to include a right to abortion?

Bishop Boyea: It was just approved by the Michigan Supreme Court to appear on our November ballot. It is a very extreme measure, quashing any form of parental consent for minors seeking abortions, for example, and shouldn’t be part of our constitution. Our Michigan Catholic Conference has been spearheading this struggle, trying to convince voters to vote no on this measure.

CWR: You offered some words of encouragement to University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh, who not only encouraged his players to be pro-life, but said that he and his wife would raise any child saved from abortion but that they could not raise.

Bishop Boyea: Jim is being true to his understanding of how God created us and to his Catholic faith as well.

CWR: Any final thoughts?

Bishop Boyea: I feel incredibly blessed by our presbyterate as well as the curia staff with whom I work. I also feel blessed to lead the Diocese of Lansing, and look forward to more good years here.

(Editor’s note: This interview has been edited lightly for clarity and length.)

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About Jim Graves 223 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.


  1. “In November 2021, Bishop Boyea was elected Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations. Much of the work of the committee has focused on drafting and getting approval from Rome for the sixth edition of the Program for Priestly Formation, which governs seminary education for priests. Approval was given by Rome in April 2022”.

    In Pope Francis’ new ‘Synodal Path’ era, do American Bishops even have to get any ‘approval from Rome’?

  2. Bishop Boyer says: “We did not have the same opportunities for one-on-one relationships as seminarians do today; now every seminarian has a spiritual director and formation director.” Notice that he did NOT mention that every seminarian is required to have a CONFESSOR whom he is expected to meet with monthly. Does anyone think there might be a correlation to all clergy having a confessor and the length of lines at the confessional in parishes? You’re not about to expect parishioners to make use of the Sacrament if you as a clergy rarely do. My guess is that priests who are abusers of minors, into the homosexual lifestyle and living dissolute lives regularly make use of the Confessional.

    The bishop also refers to his diocese being blessed by God’s grace for the number of seminarians in his diocese. Does that mean that dioceses with proportionately fewer seminarians have NOT been blessed by God? I would say this: dioceses that have the greatest number of seminarians are dioceses that have BETTER bishops. Don’t doubt me; inspect the figures for yourself. When you have a bad bishop word gets around among the clergy…real fast. Those discerning a vocation will be advised, “Go elsewhere.”

    Lastly, Bishop Boyer says this: “I had two wonderful predecessors, Bishops Kenneth Povish and Carl Mengeling. They were deeply engaged with our clergy, and followed Church teaching.” I’d be ashamed if I were a bishop to point out that a certain bishop was “wonderful” because they “followed Church teaching.” I thought one of the munera of the episcopal order was to teach the faith. Now it has become something that makes a bishop extraordinary. Just look at the effects of an heterodox episcopacy on the Catholic Church in Germany as it readies itself for apostasy.

    • The bishop also refers to his diocese being blessed by God’s grace for the number of seminarians in his diocese. Does that mean that dioceses with proportionately fewer seminarians have NOT been blessed by God?
      No it does not mean that at all. Bishop Boyea is simply stating that he is being blessed. And would it not logically say that if every seminarian has a spirtual director and a formation dirctor that either would be also the seminarians confessor?

      • Not at all. My understanding is that it is ill-advised that your spiritual director double up as your confessor.

        As far as why some dioceses are awash in seminarians and some are not, you might offer a causative factor if it’s not God’s blessing that accounts for the differences.

  3. Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mortimer J. Adler were making similar observations about education from the 1930s on. Their contention — and the reason they promoted the “Great Books” program — was that the surrounding culture was having a detrimental effect on education, family life, and religion.

    Hutchins thought that if the income problem could be solved people would return to a more rational way of life and there would be a revival of education, as well as marriage and family and religion. He was especially positive regarding Catholic schools, although this was prior to the Second Vatican Council.

    Adler was more specific. He collaborated with ESOP inventor Louis Kelso in the late 1950s and early 1960s and presented a way people could become personally empowered through capital ownership achieved without redistribution or inflationary government spending. The key to this is a fundamental reform of monetary and tax systems that enable ordinary people to purchase capital on credit, pay for the capital out of the future earnings of the capital itself, and thereafter have a stream of consumption income. This would break their dependence on government or a private sector employer.

    The need for such economic reform to support a moral reform was the same point made by Pope Leo XIII (cited by Adler) and Pope Pius XI. It is the only effective counter to the so-called “Great Reset” proposed by Klaus Schwab and the World Economic Forum that would take God completely out of society and impose a condition of dependency on most people.

    A proposal to counter this in a proven way consistent with Catholic social teaching can be found in “The Greater Reset” from TAN Books:

  4. Bishop Boyea is a great example of humility and discipleship. We are called to “preach the Gospel,” which means discipleship, and he does a great job of living Church teaching. Although we are not part of his diocese, my husband grew up there, and we support Bishop Boyea’s annual appeal. It would be good if more bishops would follow his example as well as the examples of other bishops and archbishops who believe in the Catholic mission on earth and live accordingly.

    • I’m baffled at why CWR is promoting Bishop Boyea, who I have been following for his whole career. I went to the Detroit high school seminary one year behind him, was editor of the diocesan newspaper (1990-’95) when he was dean at the major seminary. Additionally, I have lived in the Diocese of Lansing for the last 21 years and have written almost 50 articles about Church corruption in the state of Michigan. At least a dozen of those articles centered on the deceit and pro-abortion policies in the diocese specifically promoted and encouraged by Boyea. Anyone can look these up on Google.

      I am now working on a rathe long-ish treatment of what Boyea and his brother bishops in the episcopal line of John Dearden done since Vatican II, but that won’t be finished for a while.

      In the meantime, anyone can look up the name 1) La Shawn Erby, the BLM activist who was paid to be executive director of a non-profit in a parish that, it seems, received nearly all of its funding from CCHD. She was paid $ $9K in 2017 and $ 43K in 2018. She is thoroughly pro-abortion and advanced every LGBT thing while on the catholic payroll, supported by Boyea.

      And 2) Fr. Mark Inglot, a long-time homosexual priest and chief of Dignity/Lansing, who was granted senior priest status when the media (that would be Church Militant and me, the local secular press and the tiniest of activist group, the Mary McKillop Coalition) which published facts about Fr. Inglot’s predations that Boyea and his chancery ignored. Anyone can look up these articles and many others.

      I think is unfortunate that CWR is refusing to publish accurate information about Bishop Boyea on the matter of predator priests he has embraced, and other scandals. There is an intentional effort to ignore them, and I think CWR would do well to say what it going on.

      • This is a bit confusing, Mr. McNally, because you authored a June 26, 2020 article for Church Militant that states, at the start: “A heartfelt thanks to our Shepherd and the Episcopal leader of our Casa USA apostolate in the Diocese of Lansing, MI, Bishop Earl Boyea, for his courageous and definitive leadership in these times of great chaos and confusion.” Regardless, while one can argue about whether or a not CWR is “promoting Bishop Boyea” because it posted an interview with him, it is certainly sloppy or worse to say “that CWR is refusing to publish accurate information about Bishop Boyea on the matter of predator priests he has embraced, and other scandals.” Or perhaps you can prove that I, as editor of CWR, refused to publish certain information? (I’ll wait while you look for it.) If not, you are getting close to making a slanderous statement. And this is just another example of why, when I am asked (as I often am), what I think of Church Militant, I say that while CM has certainly broken some important stories over the years, the breathless overstatements and hyperbolic approach that marks far too much of CM’s work is a serious concern.

        • For the record, Mr. McNally has informed me that the quote expressing “heartfelt thanks” to Bishop Boyea was not written by him. I regret the error and want to clarify this point for the public record.

  5. A must read –Bishop Boyea — the Michigan State Constitution to include a right to abortion?

  6. His strong faith, maxim Church forms culture not the present accommodating trend, his dissertation on the Bishops Conference accruing knowledge of management policy and politics qualifies Bishop Earl Boyea to give a tutorial to the Synod on synodality. But then, unfortunately, there’s among papal favoritti Cardinal Claude Hollerich SJ.

  7. – Tender words of support from the heart of a that can effect the culture …pregnant mothers celebratd in the work place , with atleast 3 months of paid leave .. nursery in the work vicinity with the enthusiastic support of the employer … enough break times such that returning to work is not a heart break that one does not want to repeat .. allowing the transition as part time work … marriage preparation courses that deepen the means to deal with the wounds such as in The Passion meditations …. it is shocking how our culture goes out of its way , to accomodate so much of the fallen nature .. ? the chastisement for the negligence in the rightful care to be given for the families .. then again , that is where the enemy has targeted us in these times ..
    Mercy !

  8. There was a statement made by a deacon who said: — that it is ill-advised that your spiritual director double up as your confessor. This was concerning seminarians in training. I disagree with his view. Here is a reponse I recived —“My Spiritual Director at seminary was my Confessor. He knew me and directed me spiritually and Confession is an important part of that direction. It is VERY advisable for a Spiritual Director to be your Confessor. I don’t understand why you would want to separate them. Having said that….. one might visit the Spiritual Director only once a month but would, of course go to Confession more often…..I hope…. and it might not always be convenient or easy to see your Spiritual Director that often….. having said that….. I would go to Confession every time I see my Spiritual Director even if I go to Confession to another priest on other occasions.”

  9. It’s encouraging to learn of good bishops, but I still long for hearing from one with a proposal of how to deal forcefully with apostasy among his fellow bishops and voices higher up that provide life destroying scandal throughout the world. Individual bishops providing their witness is wonderful, but if someone like Archbishop Vigano is to be thought of as anything but an eccentric, there needs to be many public voices that emphatically condemn departures from orthodoxy by high prelates loudly and often. There might not have been a German crisis had this been a common practice over the past 57 years, not to mention a Martini clone elected to the Chair of Peter.

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