Bishop Tylka welcomed into the family at St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka smiles as he talks about his collection of Chicago Blackhawks jerseys, sweatshirts and t-shirts and how he instructed his sister and nephew from New Jersey to put one on if they wanted to go to a game with him. In the same way, we must put on Christ if we hope to live as a disciple, he said during his visit to St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal on Oct. 11. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

NORMAL — Family is an important concept at St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center, and Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka was welcomed into that family when he celebrated Mass here on Oct. 11. It marked his first official visit to a Newman Center in the Diocese of Peoria since his episcopal ordination on July 23.

He said that in some ways, it was like coming home.

Students at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal were told not to be shy about meeting Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka on Oct. 11 and they weren’t. He took the time to talk to each one about a variety of subjects. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

“One of my sisters graduated from Illinois State University and her and her (future) husband . . . would come to Mass here together and then go next door to Avanti’s every Saturday before going out,” Bishop Tylka said. “I was telling her I was coming here the other day and she was all excited to find out if Avanti’s was still next door.”

She knew the church, the Newman Center, would still be there because it is faith that grounds us and “our faith is always here.”

As most Masses at the Newman Center are these days, the liturgy was celebrated outside in the backyard, with students, alumni, families and staff sitting in chairs spread out on the lawn. Joining Bishop Tylka were Father Geoff Horton, chaplain, and Father Chase Hilgenbrinck, vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria and a native of the Bloomington-Normal area.

After Mass, Bishop Tylka processed to the back of the property to bless a new grotto dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes that was built over the summer. (See the related story here.)

A “COVID-safe” brown bag lunch followed, with time for the bishop to meet and spend time with those who attended.

LIFTING PEOPLE UP

Breaking open the parable of the wedding feast found in Matthew 22, Bishop Tylka spoke about what friendship with Jesus involves.

In the Gospel passage, a guest who was called in from the streets to attend a wedding feast is not dressed appropriately. Rather than address him harshly, the king says, “My friend, how is it that you have come in without the wedding garment on?”

“That ‘my friend’ cannot be lost on us,” Bishop Tylka said. “Once again, Jesus is elevating someone to a higher level of relationship with himself, with the king.”

The need to wear masks didn’t stop these student choristers from making a joyful noise to the Lord during the Mass with Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka on Oct. 11 at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in Normal. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Throughout the Gospels Jesus lifts people up, raising them to a higher level, which is God’s love and mercy, he said.

“However, and here’s the challenge, once we encounter Jesus and we are lifted up, that demands a way of life. That demands a life for Christ. It demands a way of life that takes the values that have lifted us up into relationship with Jesus and then we have to continue to live those values out,” Bishop Tylka told those gathered before him.

The man singled out in the Gospel as a friend of Jesus has not prepared himself well for the eternal feast that God has prepared, Bishop Tylka explained.

“So it is not good enough to say, ‘I am a friend of Jesus.’ We have to live with and for Jesus. We have to live like Jesus,” he said. “I have to raise myself up because God has lifted me up, forgiven my sins, given me a new way of being because I can call Jesus my friend and Jesus calls me his friend.”

Living in a way that demonstrates that friendship includes bringing others into that friendship and calling them to live differently, Bishop Tylka said.

“When we meet the Lord on the last day, may we not only be able to say that he was our friend, but that Jesus knew me and Jesus loved me,” he said. “May we also be able to say, ‘Lord, I’ve lived my life the way you wanted me to. I’ve live my life clothed in your love.’”

COMING HOME

Bishop Tylka meets one of his biggest fans, John Paul Cottingham of Dunlap, who said he wanted to meet him. “He kept saying, ‘Bishop Lou, Bishop Lou,'” according to dad Luke Cottingham. They had seen him during a visit to their parish, St. Jude in Peoria. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Wiillems)

Among those at the Mass was senior Rachel Coppola, who sang in the choir. An early childhood education major at ISU, she has been active at the Newman Center for three years and was received into the Catholic Church at Easter in 2019.

“I think it’s a huge grace that we were able to meet him and this soon, too,” she told The Post. “It’s such a beautiful day that we can all be outside and getting to know him — I know his life is so crazy and hectic.”

Coppola said she wanted Bishop Tylka to know how much of a family they are at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center.

“Grade doesn’t matter, age doesn’t matter,” she said. “That was a huge thing for me being welcomed here, especially not being Catholic. I was just drawn in immediately by the people and the ways they have reflected the Lord. I think that’s unique about us here and really, really special.”

Luke and Hannah Cottingham, parishioners at St. Jude in Peoria, traveled from Dunlap to be at the Mass. Hannah said it was their young son, John Paul, who asked to meet Bishop Tylka, chanting “Bishop Lou, Bishop Lou.”

Luke said they love Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, and are glad that Bishop Tylka has the time to learn from him.

“I know the Newman Centers are such a pivotal moment in our lives,” he said, noting that he and Hannah were married at the St. John Paul II Catholic Newman Center in 2017. “Having the bishop come to the Newman Center is like having our father come home in a way.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: More photos from Bishop Tylka’s visit have been posted to The Catholic Post’s site on Facebook.

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