Next summer it will have been a decade since Joseph E. Kurtz came to Louisville to shepherd the archdiocese here.
And in the nine years that have passed, the Archbishop of Louisville has not only led the people of the local church, but he has brought honor and distinction on the archdiocese, too. As last week’s Catholic News Service article in The Record indicated, Archbishop Kurtz has come to the end of his three-year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Those three years have passed in a blur; in fact, it seems like the blink of an eye since Archbishop Kurtz, then the bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., was named to his current position in Louisville.
When Archbishop Kurtz, now 70, was appointed Louisville’s ninth ordinary and fourth archbishop, reporters and editors made trips to Knoxville to talk with the people of that diocese, to find out just what kind of leader the people of Louisville would be getting.
The lady who was then the editor of The East Tennessee Catholic, the newspaper of the Diocese of Knoxville, was more than a little sad to see her leader go. And she summed up the new archbishop with a short statement.
“What you see,” she said, “is exactly what you get.”
And she was right. What the people of Louisville saw nine years ago was exactly the leader they got.
They saw a no-frills person who seemed ubiquitous — he was everywhere in those first months, as his weekly schedule in The Record indicated. And everywhere he went he took both his smile and his remarkable memory with him.
Rarely did he need to be reminded of the name of someone he’d met for the first time a week or so previously. For instance, in one brief meeting in Manton, Ky., to celebrate an anniversary at Holy Rosary Church there, he was introduced to the wife of The Record’s assistant editor, who was meandering through a small, local cemetery.
Just a week later, their paths crossed again at the Oratory of St. Clare, the archbishop was quick to say to her, “Hey, I’ve already been to the cemetery; it’s a good one.” That he remembered the proclivities of someone he’d met only a week before came to be one of his familiar traits.
People throughout the archdiocese have come to know Archbishop Kurtz’s genial manner; and he has come to know them — literally.
Perhaps it is a sign of his concern and affection for people, a personality trait learned and nurtured in his hometown of Mahanoy City, Pa. It is a mining community built largely by people of Polish or Slovak heritage. It was a place, he said back in that first interview with The Record, a place with a “remarkable sense of family and of community.”
“There was always a sense that we were celebrating something,” he said. “There was a church every couple of blocks and we were always having church picnics or festivals.”
The people of the Archdiocese of Louisville quickly learned the story of Archbishop Kurtz and his beloved brother, George, who was born with Down syndrome. Georgie, as the family called him, passed away in 2001, but the archbishop has never let his memory die for a moment.
He has told how Georgie “not only became an integral part of my life … but during most of the 12 years we lived together, he took as much care of me as I took of him.”
The archbishop has used the example of his brother to teach inclusiveness, tolerance and love for each other, especially for those different from ourselves. His leadership in these lightning-quick nine years has worked to make Louisville a welcoming archdiocese and in doing so, he has led us through time in its flight.