By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
From the first day Father Shayne Duvall met Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, he was impressed with the archbishop’s ability to recall names.
“I remember when I took his miter to him for the first time at his installation, he said ‘Thank you Shayne,’ ” Father Duvall said. “Here I was a new seminarian and the new archbishop called me by name.”
Countless other Catholics in the Archdiocese of Louisville and beyond can tell a similar story. Archbishop Kurtz has made it a priority to learn names and faces. And by doing so, he has left a lasting impression with parishioners, staff and all those he encounters.
“At baptism, we ask ‘What name do you give this child?’ Our names are very important,” noted Father Duvall, adminstrator of St. Raphael Church and associate director for vocations.
The experience has stuck with Father Duvall and that gift for names is one he tries to emulate in his own priesthood.
As the 10th anniversary of Archbishop Kurtz’s installation as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Louisville approaches, those who work closely with him describe him as a “pastoral leader” and one who is deeply committed to shepherding the Catholic faithful in central
Leisa Schulz, superintendent of Catholic schools, said Archbishop Kurtz is an “outstanding example of a Catholic teacher.”
“He communicates by ways of personal stories and through Scripture. He always has very current and practical ways that, whether you are a kindergartner or student celebrating confirmation, you can take his insight and apply it to your life,” she said in an interview last week.
Schulz noted the archbishop has been a strong supporter of Catholic schools and has “brought an excellent sense of direction for us.”
“He is very committed to Catholic schools and ensuring we remain true to our mission of teaching Catholic beliefs and also have our schools be accessible to anyone who wants to attend,” Schulz said.
At age 70, Archbishop Kurtz keeps a schedule that would intimidate some people half his age. Benedictine Sister Paula Wolff, executive secretary to the archbishop, schedules all of his appointments.
“I’m amazed at his energy. I don’t know how he does all that he does,” she said in an interview last week.
Sister Wolff said the archbishop rarely turns down invitations to parish or school events and takes the time to listen to people.
“I think that’s what energizes him — when he’s with the people,” Sister Wolff said.
During his tenure as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and before that as vice president, Archbishop Kurtz frequently traveled internationally. Sister Wolff said his world travels serve as a benefit to the archdiocese.
“When he comes back it helps us to be aware that the Catholic Church is a worldwide church, it’s not just here. He’s also brought to me the awareness we are all one united church,” she said.
Bishop William F. Medley of Owensboro, Ky., described Archbishop Kurtz as a “force of nature.”
“I’ve rarely known a man with his capacity and ethic of work. He always acts with a very clear sense of mission, a mission that is one with the church,” Bishop Medley said.
Bishop Medley, a former priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville, recalled that upon learning he had been named the fourth bishop of Owensboro he first shared the news with Archbishop Kurtz.
“Archbishop Kurtz was most gracious, encouraging and affirming in those first few days when I had all this news and couldn’t share it with anyone. He walked me through what to do,” Bishop Medley said.
Father J. Mark Spalding, vicar general of the archdiocese, said the archbishop possesses a “missionary zeal.”
“And because of that missionary zeal, there is a strong work ethic and an urgency to all that he does in the archdiocese,” Father Spalding said in an interview last week.
Dr. Brian Reynolds, who works closely with Archbishop Kurtz as chancellor and chief administrative officer for the archdiocese, said the archbishop’s leadership style can be summed up with three C’s: consultative, collaborative and communicator.
“When making decisions, he regularly seeks input from a variety of perspectives in order to analyze the situation as a whole picture,” he said.
Two areas of focus particularly important to the archbishop — the family and the parish — have had a great impact on Reynolds’ own ministry he said.
“Archbishop Kurtz reminds us how the church approaches the family and how the family interacts with the church,” Reynolds said. He noted that the archbishop often says the archdiocese is 110 parishes working together.
Deacon Scott Haner said he continues to be impressed with Archbishop Kurtz’s willingness to listen to and meet people where they are.
“He continues to learn and to seek wisdom. I think that makes him a better leader, a better shepherd when he is out amongst them,” said Deacon Haner, who serves at St. Patrick Church.
He said the archbishop’s recent pastoral letter — “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst” — is a good example of this.
“It’s getting our parishes to think about where they’ll be in five years, to encourage continued growth. It brings collective energy to the archdiocese,” Deacon Haner said.
M. Annette Mandley-Turner said Archbishop Kurtz has brought unity to the archdiocese.
“He has unified us in ways that perhaps we may not have been as a church. It’s so easy for people to work in their silos, go to church in the communities where we live and to live in isolated and insulated communities,” said Mandley-Turner, executive director of the Office of Multicultural Ministries.
Mandley-Turner noted last September’s prayer service — “A Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace in Our Communities” — which aimed to improve race relations, was part of a nation-wide movement called for by Archbishop Kurtz as the president of the USCCB. His three-year term as president concluded in November of 2016.
“He rallied the whole community — rural, urban and suburban — to gather for a prayer service of peace. All barriers and all brick walls were eliminated because the people of God were coming together as Catholics to pray for something we needed to see happen,” she said.
Ann Marie Kelly, a young adult delegate to the recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders, said Archbishop Kurtz is the type of leader who “gets the big picture.”
“He understands people are on social media — so he tweets. He knows we need more young people in the pews — so he listens to new ideas. He gets it!” said Kelly, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church.