Bishop Tylka visits Peoria Heights school virtually for Catholic Schools Week

Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka offers a blessing for the Feast of St. Blase on the middle school students at St. Thomas the Apostle School in Peoria Heights during a virtual visit for Catholic Schools Week on Feb. 3. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

PEORIA HEIGHTS — Many of the Catholic Schools Week activities that involve visitors had to be curtailed this year, but where there’s a will there’s a way. With determination and a little creativity, Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka was able to make a virtual visit to St. Thomas the Apostle School on Feb. 3.

Students in seven middle school classrooms and one e-learner welcomed the bishop, who could be seen on smartboards. The 30-minute session was moderated by Mary Cushing, a sixth grade homeroom teacher who also teaches middle school social studies and religion.

Students submitted questions during their religion classes and Cushing posed them to Bishop Tylka. They covered everything from his vocation story and how he prepared to be a bishop to his favorite sports teams, food and colors.

“We were trying to come up with something outside of the box that we could do virtually this year with COVID and everything,” said Maureen Bentley, principal. When someone on their Catholic Schools Week committee suggested reaching out to Bishop Tylka, vice principal Trina Schmidt ran with it.

“It was fun not only to listen to him answer some of the typical bishop questions, but then to be able to learn a little bit about him personally — his love for ice hockey, his favorite foods. That’s how kids relate,” Bentley said. “I think the eighth-graders in particular are going to enjoy seeing him in April when they have their confirmation with him.”

For his part, Bishop Tylka said he was glad to have the opportunity.

“With COVID I am not able to be in a lot of the schools and I’ve been thinking about all of our schools and what’s been going on,” he told the students, adding that he’s been hearing some good things.

THE BISHOP QUESTIONS

The first questions had to do with what it’s like to be a bishop.

“It’s been very interesting being a bishop. I enjoy being able, when I can, to go out into the parishes and meet folks,” Bishop Tylka said. Among the things that are life-giving and fun is being able to celebrate the sacraments, such as Mass and confirmation.

But as with anything else in life, there is a lot of work to do, too, he told them. There are many meetings to attend and a lot of responsibility involved in caring for some 160 parishes and their priests, staffs and parishioners, he explained.

“How do you prepare to be a bishop? That’s a good question,” Bishop Tylka said. “I was never expecting or anticipating that I would be made a bishop and so I didn’t know I was supposed to be preparing to be a bishop.”

In the end, the best preparation is being a faithful follower and disciple of Jesus, as well as “living out your priesthood the best you can and always seeking to do the work of the Lord,” he said.

“It’s all about doing things for the Lord, living for the Lord, living with the Lord, and bringing our own unique gifts and talents to wherever we’re called.” — Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka

“Whether your vocation is to the priesthood and now mine as a bishop, as a religious or to a family, whatever your career path is, it’s all about doing things for the Lord, living for the Lord, living with the Lord, and bringing our own unique gifts and talents to wherever we’re called,” Bishop Tylka said.

When he got the call that Pope Francis had appointed him to be the coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, “I almost fell out of my chair.” But he prayed about it and took time to reflect on it.

“When I turned to the Lord and asked him what he wants me to do it’s clear that this what he wants me to do,” Bishop Tylka shared with the students.

“I’ve adjusted to my new life, which meant I left not only my parish but I left my home,” he said. “I lived all my life up in the Chicago area, but I’m learning what life is like here in north central Illinois and enjoying it very much. And each day is a new opportunity.”

SPIRITUAL LIFE

The St. Thomas students asked for Bishop Tylka’s advice about having a good spiritual life and wanted to know how he prays.

“Prayer is key. We have to be people of prayer,” he said, noting that there are many different ways to pray.

In addition to formal prayer, such as the Our Father, Hail Mary and prayers used at Mass, simply lifting people up to the Lord when they are struggling or a family member is ill is a prayer in and of itself, he said.

“So it doesn’t always have to be a very organized or formal setting for prayer,” he explained. “It can happen throughout our day in many different ways.”

Bishop Tylka told the students his own practice is to spend an hour in prayer in his chapel every morning. That includes the Divine Office, Liturgy of the Hours, morning prayer and sitting quietly for 30 minutes to “focus my mind and my heart on the Lord and see what God has to say.”

He celebrates Mass each day and ends with evening prayer and night prayer.

Bishop Tylka acknowledged that it can take time to get into the habit of praying and suggested that spending five minutes is a good way to start, increasing that over time.

FAMILY, FAVORITE THINGS

The students also wanted to know if Bishop Tylka ever feels sad that he won’t marry and have children.

“There are times you feel lonely, but I have a great awareness of not having a divided heart,” he said, noting that if he had a family that would be his first priority.

“As a priest who is not married and does not have a family I am free to be part of many families, especially the family of the church,” Bishop Tylka said. He called the life of a priest and the life of the church “a great blessing.”

He did speak lovingly of his five older sisters, saying they are his closest friends. He also remembered fondly their family vacations, including visits to Disney World and Florida.

His favorite things include:

  • ICE HOCKEY: He roots for the Chicago Blackhawks and had season tickets last year.
  • BASEBALL: “I’m one of those rare Chicago people who root for both the White Sox and Chicago Cubs,” he said
  • COLORS: Red (for the Blackhawks), blue (“My sisters say I look good in blue.”), and purple (“It’s an interesting, regal color.”)
  • FOODS: Pizza (cheese and sausage) and steak (with french fries). He also admitted to having “a huge, huge sweet tooth,” which he indulges in moderation. He’s not a fan of vegetables “mostly.”
  • PASTIMES: Movies and live theater (Broadway musicals in particular).

Before the session ended, Bishop Tylka offered the St. Thomas students a blessing for the Feast of St. Blaise and said, “I look forward to actually getting to your school.”

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