Bishop Jenky expresses love and gratitude to diocese’s priests at their Assembly Days

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, receives a standing ovation Oct. 20 from Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka and priests from throughout the Diocese of Peoria following his remarks closing the 2021 Priest Assembly Days at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. Bishop Jenky, who turns 75 -- the age when bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the pope -- in March, expressed his personal love and gratitude to the priests, as well as that of Catholics throughout the diocese. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, closed a two-day gathering of priests from throughout the Diocese of Peoria on Oct. 20 by expressing his love and gratitude for them as he prepares to “ease my way back into religious life.”

“There’s a blessing in every stage of life, and letting go and just being able to join you at times is a blessing for me,” said Bishop Jenky, who turns 75 — the age when bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the pope — on March 3.

Bishop Jenky has had limited mobility in recent months because of arthritis and spinal issues. From a wheelchair at his table at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria, he recalled his love for priests — from his childhood on the South Side of Chicago, to his entrance into the Congregation of Holy Cross, to his service as bishop in both the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend and the Diocese of Peoria. He has guided the Peoria Diocese for nearly two decades.

As the 2021 Priest Assembly Days came to an end, Bishop Jenky called the diocese’s priests “a great group of guys” who are beloved by the people they serve. “It hurts me personally,” he added, “whenever the priesthood is denigrated and you are attacked.”

Bishop Jenky acknowledged that Coadjutor Bishop Louis Tylka, appointed to assist (and eventually succeed) him last summer, is now “doing about 99 percent of the work.”

“But I would have a horrible time not being around you guys,” Bishop Jenky told the priests. Noting the COVID-19 pandemic limits on public gatherings until recent months, he closed his brief remarks by saying “I’ve really missed this. Let’s pray the COVID thing declines and we can resume a more normal priestly life. God bless you.”

Bishop Tylka and the priests of the diocese responded with a prolonged standing ovation.

AFFIRMATION AND CONCERN

In his own remarks to the priests, Bishop Tylka thanked them for their warm welcome, adding “I look forward to many, many more of our gatherings together.”

In his considerable travels around the diocese since July, Bishop Tylka said “the people of God have in a very great way voiced their affirmation of you and the way you’ve made a difference in their lives. That does a bishop’s heart really good to hear.”

But Catholics of the Diocese of Peoria have also shared their concerns for the workload that priests are bearing, with many leading multiple parishes and increasing responsibilities.

“They’re very worried about you,” said Bishop Tylka, who has just completed a series of “listening sessions” with parish representatives in each diocesan vicariate. “They appreciate all you do, but they’re also concerned you are going to get burned out. That was a thread I heard across the diocese.”

Welcome the lay faithful’s offers to help, Bishop Tylka emphasized.

“They have many talents and gifts, and they want to put them at the service of their community, their church, and their pastors,” he said, telling the priests that one way they can take better care of themselves is “to think about how we can share our responsibility.”

Bishop Tylka called the process leading to the 2023 Synod of Bishops — the diocesan phase of which was opened on Oct. 17 — “an important moment in the life of the church.” He asked the priests to encourage prayer for this special time of listening and encounter in their parishes.

Regarding the canonization cause of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Bishop Tylka said “there is cause for hope it will move forward,” but gave no specifics. Meanwhile, he pledged to continue to spend time and energy promoting the cause and “the legacy of Archbishop Sheen’s life and work.”

NEW PRIESTS WELCOMED

Also addressing the priests at the close of their Oct. 19-20 gathering was Msgr. Philip Halfacre, vicar general and pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish, Streator. He began by welcoming the diocese’s two newly ordained priests, Father Austin Bosse and Father Nicolas Wilson, to their first Assembly Days, and the more than 100 priests gathered responded with warm applause.

Msgr. Halfacre also noted there are now about 20 international priests serving in the Diocese of Peoria, and welcomed by name eight of them who were experiencing their first Assembly Days. “International priests are a vital part of what we do and we are most grateful for their presence here,” he said.

He expressed his gratitude to all the priests for their cooperation, especially during the difficulties of the pandemic.

“I want to say how proud I am to serve alongside all of you, to assist you in your priestly ministry,” said Msgr. Halfacre.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The next issue of The Catholic Post will include further coverage of the Priests’ Assembly Days, including a keynote talk on the challenges faced by parishes after COVID-19. Other topics discussed during the gathering included vocations, Catholic Charities, the Empower Illinois tax credit scholarship program to support Catholic schools, and the revised penal law promulgated by Pope Francis.

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