Monday, May 29, 2017

From A Soup Kitchen to The Panhandle – For Summer Kickoff, Pope Plays Wack-The-Noles

(Updated 1pm ET with Press Conference video.)

Over recent weeks, the growing community at St Ignatius Martyr parish in Austin has been planning a “bash” for their pastor’s 50th birthday.

However, the Pope now sends word that their late June event for Father Bill will now double as a farewell... to Bishop-elect Wack.

In an unheard-of act on a US civil holiday, this Memorial Day indeed brings an appointment – at Roman Noon, Francis named the South Bend-born priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross (a onetime vocation director at Notre Dame) as sixth bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, tapped to lead a minority fold of 70,000 across the broad swath of the heavily-Evangelical Florida Panhandle: a charge spanning two time zones and some 14,000 square miles. (In a shot circulated this past March, the bishop-elect is seen test-piloting the new parking lot on his parish plant.)

Even as Papa Bergoglio has long taken any notion of holiday weekends for the Stateside press to the shredder, today's move is simply on a different plane, and in more ways than one at that.

His ordination reportedly set for late August, Wack succeeds Bishop Gregory Parkes, the Florida State alum sent on a fittingly giant leap across the Sunshine State late last year with his transfer to St Petersburg, the province’s second-largest post. Yet where Parkes was already quite familiar with and devoted to Noles Country from his college days, his successor arrives sight unseen... so in this instance, any expectation that a lifelong son of the Fighting Irish will lead The Chop on Day One might be a bit much to ask.

Described by Whispers ops as “a simply joyful priest” and “the kind of guy you’d want for everything [in ministry],” the bishop-elect’s road since his 1994 ordination has been unusually varied, and features an especially potent example of the identikit Francis has repeatedly demanded for those to whom he entrusts the mitre and crozier.

Before his stint until today at the Austin parish, Wack served for seven years as director of Andre House, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in a Phoenix drug corridor where, according to a recent interview, he and his team would serve more than 500 plates every night on top of caring for the daily laundry and lodging of anyone who came.

Already a veteran of social media – a trait which will serve him well given the spread he inherits – Wack posts audio of his homilies online... his reasons for being “really keyed up” about yesterday’s preach now in the open:

Said by an associate to “not be given to administration” – a common (but not universal) lack among Francis' recent Stateside appointees – that hasn’t stopped the Panhandle pick from making his goal in pledges for a $2.5 million capital campaign for his Texas parish. Still, Wack nonetheless has the good fortune of inheriting a charge where the locals report no major pressing issues. Meantime, with the diocese’s Hispanic population steadily ticking up due to an influx for its service industries, the elect brings ample proficiency in Spanish, a first for the bishop there.

As local media were quietly alerted on Friday – and, Florida being Florida, was then brazenly announced in Pensacola Cathedral at yesterday’s Masses – a 10am Central presser has already been called at the western hub’s Chancery. One of the US church’s few twin-seat dioceses, the joint see cities are some 200 miles apart, a roughly three-hour drive.

Among other aspects, it is of note that Wack’s appointment marks but the latest instance of Francis choosing an American bishop from a remarkably large family. The seventh of ten kids born to a doctor and a nurse, Bill was eventually followed into the CSCs by his brother, Neil, who was ordained a decade later and now holds his brother’s onetime vocations post at Notre Dame. Yet as the brothers' social feeds are each unusually sparse, it's even more salient how both follow the son of another Midwestern "tribe" who ostensibly shepherded this appointment across the finish line from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops – namely, Blase.

All that said, just a few weeks ago, an Austin pastor was but a face in the crowd among the 5,000-odd faithful who converged from across Texas for the church’s annual Advocacy Day at the Lone Star Capitol (above) – an event highlighted by the bishops' breakfast with the turf's first governor from the fold since Mexican rule.

And with today’s move, Bill Wack suddenly becomes Catholicism’s principal voice in the capital of what's now the third-largest state.

Just further proof of how these days, in this church, life really comes at you fast.

As chaos reigns in Raleigh, Indianapolis collects advice for its next occupant – and an ongoing "Auxnado" reshapes the bench's voting ranks more than anything else afoot – six Stateside Latin sees remain vacant, with another four led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age.

SVILUPPO: A feast of "oversharing" – a tendency the bishop-elect easily admitted to – here's fullvid of this morning's presser, which saw the Pope's pick riff at length without a scripted text....