Bishop Jenky celebrating 25 years as a bishop; rediscovering joy of community
As Christmas neared 25 years ago, Bishop Emeritus Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, received a gift from Pope John Paul II, although he didn’t fully realize how great a gift it was at the time.
On Dec. 16, 1997, he was ordained to serve as the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana. His new ministry would take him away from the University of Notre Dame, where he was rector at Sacred Heart Basilica and rector of the Fischer O’Hara Grace residential complex for graduate students, and make him rector at St. Matthew Co-Cathedral in South Bend.
Even though he was only 20 minutes away from his Holy Cross community, the university he loved, and “my golden basilica,” Bishop Jenky admits he was homesick for a short time.
The rest of his 25 years as a bishop — most of them given to the Diocese of Peoria — have been anything but miserable, however.
“I will always be grateful to the priests of that diocese and to the people of St. Matthew Parish,” Bishop Jenky told The Catholic Post. “I learned parochial ministry at St. Matthew.”
He is also thankful for the priests and people of the Diocese of Peoria, which he has served since his installation on April 10, 2002.
“I felt at home here from the time I got here,” he said.
Born in Chicago on March 3, 1947, Bishop Jenky attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine School and then St. Laurence High School in Oak Lawn. He went on to the University of Notre Dame, entering the Holy Cross Fathers’ novitiate after his freshman year.
He completed his studies for the priesthood at Moreau Seminary at the University of Notre Dame, earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 1970 and a master’s degree in theology in 1973.
Bishop Jenky professed temporary vows with the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1967 and perpetual vows in 1973, the same year he was ordained to the diaconate. He was ordained to the priesthood on April 6, 1974, at Sacred Heart Church on the Notre Dame campus.
Life as a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross with its common life suited him, he said.
Now Bishop Jenky splits his time between Peoria and his Holy Cross community at the University of Notre Dame.
“After more than 25 years away, I am enjoying going to common prayer, being at table. Their liturgies are beautiful,” he said.
“Believe it or not, I keep my big mouth shut about most things. The people who are my age say, ‘Jenky, you haven’t been this silent since the novitiate,’” he added with a chuckle and a twinkle in his eye.
“I had my turn. I was a fellow and trustee (at Notre Dame). In the community I was always elected to chapters. So I don’t mind sitting there at meals and listening,” he explained. “I don’t mind being, I hope, a prayerful observer.”
Bishop Jenky said he genuinely loved most of what a bishop gets to do, such as preaching, confirmations, and ordinations, which he called “overwhelming.”
“I was a regular confessor next door,” he added, referring to St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Consecrating churches and altars also brought him joy. He took delight in pouring a generous amount of the Sacred Chrism on the top of new altars and wiping every inch with his hands until the oil dripped from the surface.
A particularly moving moment came when he was in Streator, waiting to process into church for confirmation. An elderly gentleman approached him and asked him to bless his wife, who was laying in the backseat of their car. After he offered his blessing, she cried as she kissed his hand.
“They didn’t know me from Adam. It’s the apostolic office,” he told The Catholic Post. “You have those moments and it’s not a head trip. You know it’s not you.”
The hardest part of being a bishop has been meeting with survivors of clergy sexual abuse and removing priests from ministry.
Bishop Jenky said the world wants to describe a bishop as the head of a corporation or the chief operating officer.
“Well, you are, but it’s about the workings of grace and God,” he said.