By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Priests and leaders in the Archdiocese of Louisville were delighted to learn of Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s election as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Nov. 12.
Those who know him best said his ability to bring people together and his pastoral leadership style will aid him in his new role as head of the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Dr. Brian Reynolds, the archdiocese’s chancellor and chief administrative officer, said the archbishop has been preparing for the role of USCCB president for a number of years through his service to the national church, first as treasurer of the conference and more recently as vice president.
“One of the reasons the bishops often elect someone who has already been in leadership is because they are familiar with the national questions and already have a good understanding of what the conference is facing,” he said.
Reynolds said the archbishop’s ease of ministering to different groups is a particular gift that will serve him well in national leadership.
“He can be involved in a parish setting and move quickly to a hospital to anoint someone who is ill, to visiting a retired priest in a nursing home and then appear in a pub with young adults,” he said. “His leadership style begins with his personal traits of an easy communicator and an approachable man that people can connect with in all those different settings.”
The election comes as no surprise to Father Paul Beach, the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“His ability to reach out to people from all perspectives and his real ability to unite people and to do it in a way that is charitable, that’s fair and even-handed will give him the ability to be an effective voice for the church,” said Father Beach, who is pastor of St. Martin of Tours Church.
Father J. Mark Spalding, vicar general of the archdiocese, said Archbishop Kurtz will be an effective leader of the U.S. bishops’ conference because of the vast knowledge he possesses.
“Because he has served in a variety of roles on the bishops’ conference, he knows how it works. He will be able to use that knowledge to move the (bishops’) agenda forward,” he said.
Father Spalding, who is the pastor of Holy Trinity parish, will assume some of the responsibilities of Archbishop Kurtz — such as confirmations and administrative meetings — when the archbishop is away due to USCCB obligations. Father Spalding said he’s not sure how often this will be necessary but noted the archbishop said “we will just take it one day at a time.”
“I enjoy visiting parishes and visiting my brother priests. And I’ll enjoy the chance to experience the variety of parishes we have,” Father Spalding said.
Father William D. Hammer, president of the Priests’ Council for the Archdiocese of Louisville, sees the election as an affirmation of
Archbishop Kurtz’s pastoral style of leadership.
“I think he does bring a background of having lived as a pastor in a parish and his work with the poor through Catholic Charities. I do know he is himself around people of need and doesn’t shy away from them. He always has a compassionate, caring heart.
“I think those kind of qualities are needed right now in our nation and within our church. I think these are the values Pope Francis is trying to emphasize. I would think any discussion Archbishop Kurtz is present at, he will want to make sure those kind of values and perspectives are brought to the table,” said Father Hammer, who is pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and of St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky.
Father Jeff Nicolas, pastor of the Cathedral of the Assumption, said the whole nation will benefit from the pastoral sensitivity Archbishop Kurtz brings to situations.
“I quote him all the time when he tells priests, ‘When in conversation with others, always presume the good intentions in others.’ That is the kind of perspective and good will he brings to everything he does,” Father Nicolas said.
Father Nicolas, who shares the same residence with the archbishop, noted that Archbishop Kurtz will still continue to preside at liturgies at the cathedral, including those during Holy Week.
“He may be hosting dignitaries from around the country and the world. The cathedral may have the opportunity to have liturgies around that, which we are excited about,” he said.
Father Patrick Delahanty, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, also said in a statement that the archbishop will bring pastoral leadership to the presidency.
“The election of Archbishop Kurtz fits so well Pope Francis’ desire for an emphasis on the pastoral witness needed today,” Father Delahanty said. “He will be a leader whose actions are sensitive to the pastoral needs of God’s people.”
Norma Merrick, the archdiocese’s vice-chancellor, said the election of Archbishop Kurtz is also a cause for celebration for the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“I think it’s a great honor for a diocese our size. For the bishop of our diocese to be elected spokesperson of all the bishops is a great honor for us,” Merrick said. “People will see all the good things we have done here in our 200-year history.”
Father Christopher S. Rhodes, associate pastor of the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, Ky., and of St. Michael Church in Fairfield, Ky., said that while the election to the head of the bishop’s conference will be a greater responsibility for Archbishop Kurtz, it also marks an increased responsibility for the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
“I think the people of the Archdiocese of Louisville should be very happy they have a leader in the church that is trusted by his peers,” Father Rhodes said. “But at the same we should also be more inspired to lift him up in prayer.”