Wearing his characteristic smile and stretching his arms and hands wide open, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz declared that his “journey of these 15 years” as Archbishop of Louisville has been joyous.
His joy, he explained during a recent interview about his upcoming retirement, is rooted in serving God’s people. Whether he’s tasked with an administrative duty or scheduled to celebrate Mass, both obligations affect people, he said.
His life as an archbishop is centered on people, in particular on parishioners.
When he was appointed archbishop in 2007, he said, he decided he would prioritize parishes.
“The archdiocese is 110 parishes helping one another,” he said. “One of the reasons I asked that my schedule be in The Record each week is so all people can see what happens in the archdiocese beyond their parish.”
The schedule in this week’s paper shows his plans to meet with deacons and women religious. And it shows he’ll be at nine different parishes in the space of 10 days. That’s a fairly typical schedule for Archbishop Kurtz, who has kept a full calendar since his installation.
He’s also regularly sought the input of parishioners and pastors. He’s made a point to meet with the chairs of the parish councils twice a year and he has made regular rounds to regional meetings of priests.
“We bring critical questions and ask them about something on the front burner,” he noted. “We take the agenda seriously; it’s not pro forma.”
Archbishop Kurtz noted that the Building a Future of Hope Bicentennial campaign, announced in August of 2008, was also rooted in the desire to prioritize parishes. The parish-based fundraising campaign — the largest in the archdiocese’s history — raised $43 million. More than half of the funds went to parish projects, while a portion went to broader archdiocesan ministries that support parishes, such as seminarian education and Hispanic ministry.
In 2017, Archbishop Kurtz’s focus on parishes culminated in his pastoral letter, “Your Parish: The Body of Christ Alive in Our Midst.”
The letter was addressed to the faithful of the archdiocese and told them, “Your parish community is such a great gift to your life of faith: it is the Body of Christ alive in our midst! May this message be a greeting of joy as we seek to renew this great gift.”
The letter served as an impetus for an archdiocesan-wide discernment process that invited all Catholics to prayerfully consider the renewal and growth of their parishes.
The archdiocese also has made strides to become more intentionally parish-centered in a visible way. The former chancery on College Street close to downtown Louisville was moved to the campus of Holy Family Church and renamed the Archdiocese of Louisville Pastoral Center. The location, close to I-264, gives more parishes easier access. It houses the office of the archbishop, as well as agency offices, such as communications, advancement, schools, finance and the Tribunal.
In addition, he noted, the new Catholic Charities headquarters is also keeping the agency within a parish setting, on the campus of Holy Name Church.
Ministries and services provided in those buildings are supported by the Catholic Services Appeal. The CSA supports more than 100 ministries and services. Most of them assist parishes, such as the Office of Faith Formation, while some provide outreach to those in need through programs such as Sister Visitor.
“We need to be proud of the fact that it’s parishes helping one another,” he said.
Archbishop Kurtz’s parish-centered approach to his role developed through years of experience. He began his ministry as a diocesan priest of the Diocese of Allentown, Pa., after his ordination on March 18, 1972. Over the past 50 years, he served as a parish priest, a director of a social service agency and in a variety of other ministries, in addition to serving as Bishop of Knoxville before becoming Archbishop of Louisville in 2007.
On this coming March 18 he will celebrate his golden anniversary with a Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
“I’m so happy that my celebration is only 12 days before the new archbishop is coming,” he said.
On March 30, Archbishop Kurtz will formally retire from leadership of the Archdiocese of Louisville, and his successor, Archbishop Shelton J. Fabre, will be installed at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. The installation Mass is open to the public and begins at 2 p.m. Doors open at 12:45 p.m.