Archbishop Kurtz reflects on retirement

Hope in the Lord — The Service of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, then-president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, greets a child in Anibong, a community in Tacloban, Philippines, Feb. 4, 2014. Archbishop Kurtz traveled with an international delegation of church leaders to assess the needs of communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said his 50 years as a priest and nearly 23 years as a bishop have been an adventure.

He began as a parish priest and then led the Catholic Social Agency, among other ministries, in his home diocese of Allentown, Pa.

In 1999 he was tapped to lead the Diocese of Knoxville, moving to the south with his late brother George Kurtz in his care. Then he was called to become the Archbishop of Louisville in 2007.

As president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2013 to 2016, the adventure hit the national and world stage. He met with President Barack Obama twice in the Oval Office and guided Pope Francis during his 2015 visit to the United States.

He also visited some of the most troubled parts of the world. Among his trips was a 2015 visit to Ukraine following the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014.

To balance his adventures, the archbishop said in a recent interview, he has also sought contentment. He has often shared that he rises early to pray each morning. And during his nearly 15 years in Kentucky, he made monthly visits to the Abbey of Gethsemani for prayer.

Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at the Pontifical North American College in Rome May 2, 2015. The pope is flanked by Msgr. James F. Checchio, rector of the college, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles (behind), and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Marc Ouellet. It was the first papal visit to the U.S. seminary since 1980. (CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

He expects the balance to shift in retirement, which will begin in earnest after the March 30 installation of his successor, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre.

“I’m almost seeing retirement as more of an emphasis on the contentment part, not needing the adventure and to achieve,” he said. “But maybe there will be something new or unexpected. That will bring adventure.”

Retirement, in some ways, he said, may be like “a long retreat.”

“I’m going to write my next chapter slowly,” he said. “Someone suggested I write it in pencil, meaning I don’t have to finalize it right now. I’m looking forward to it.”

Archbishop Kurtz, who is serving as the apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Louisville until the installation, plans to go to his home in Wilmington, N.C., after the installation for five or six months initially. He may return for major events, such as the Chrism Mass or the ordination of a new priest. But generally, he said, he plans to follow the example of the late Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly, who preceded him.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz was feted by archdiocesan staff at the Archdiocese of Louisville Pastoral Center in the fall of 2019 after returning from successful treatment for cancer. In an interview about his upcoming retirement, he said the treatment helped prepare him to slow down for retirement. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

Archbishop Kelly left the archdiocese for about six months and gave “me full opportunity to become grounded,” Archbishop Kurtz said.

When he returns, he plans to move into the rectory of St. Patrick Church, which is shared by several priests.

From there, he said, he will see how he can be helpful to Archbishop Fabre.

“I feel very young, I feel energetic and I feel very full of life,” he said. “My experience with cancer has inadvertently given me a cancer sabbatical. It slowed me down, and maybe God gave me that gift to enter into that new chapter.”

He noted that in preparation for retirement, he’s reading “From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life” by Arthur Brooks. As a person who has always felt driven to embrace his vocation, the book is helping him learn how to find a new balance, much like his experience of slowing down during his cancer treatment.

During treatment, he said, “I found myself being a patient. It was helpful to find myself in a waiting room. It gave me a reflective time to myself, not as an archbishop or as a priest but as a patient, a member of humanity. I was stripped of all the things that surround the vocation. I think that was good for me.

“I was one of many, not called upon to lead anything,” he said. “It was easier for me to think about being in other people’s shoes. I simply needed to care for my body. I needed to be accepting and see life as precious.”

He added, “No one knew if the treatment would be successful. Thank God it was. It was freeing, to place my trust in God.”

On the morning of Feb. 8, Archbishop Kurtz processed out of Mass with his successor, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, at Holy Family Church. Earlier that morning, Pope Francis announced that he accepted Archbishop Kurtz’s resignation — required at age 75 — and had appointed Archbishop Fabre to lead the Archdiocese of Louisville. (Record Photo by Marnie McAllister)

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