By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published May 2, 2019
For the average Catholic, the sighting of a bishop is a special occurrence. Our archdiocese has slightly more than 100 parishes and missions, so Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and our two auxiliary bishops are spread thin as they administer the sacraments and participate in major parish events. They never have enough time to visit parishes as much as they would like in their role as spiritual shepherds. As a result, our parishioners just don’t see a bishop that frequently.
As a boy growing up in Ohio we rarely saw a bishop but when we did it was in a more formal setting with vestments, a miter and crosier. The appearance of any bishop brings a strong sense of reverence of his role as a spiritual leader. I, like many Catholics, never had a personal relationship with an archbishop or bishop—that is, until I came to work at the Chancery in 2012.
During my very first week, I was waiting for an elevator and when the doors opened there was Archbishop Gregory, or “ABG,” as he is sometimes referred to in the office. I was somewhat taken back and blurted, “Good morning, your excellency!” He smiled and said, “Just call me archbishop.”
The Chancery is the official office of our bishops. Just like in any organization, they are seen regularly participating in meetings. They frequently celebrate noon Mass in the chapel, attend luncheons and share companionship during special events. Our bishops are an integral part of day-to-day life at the archdiocesan offices. We see them a lot. We are with them a lot. They know our names.
One day, I got a call from a friend in one of our smaller parishes asking if I could possibly arrange for the archbishop to participate in a charity golf event. I knew that Archbishop Gregory loved to play golf, but I understood that he had a very busy schedule. Not only is he occupied with running the archdiocese, he is often called to Rome or national meetings. I told the caller that it was unlikely he would be able to participate, but I would make an inquiry.
I saw the archbishop after a noon Mass and asked if he would consider the invitation. He told me to check with his administrative assistant who keeps his calendar. She called back and said he had a cancellation and would be happy to participate. I was both surprised and delighted.
I joined ABG’s foursome and was able to see a different side of our spiritual shepherd. I had never seen a bishop in the garb of Bermuda shorts, golf shirt and ball cap, nor had the people who came in droves to meet him.
We were able to see the human side—the reality that he was a man, a man like me who enjoys life. He was a huge hit with everyone at the event.
Since then, I have been fortunate to play golf with him on several occasions. It has given me an insight into Archbishop Gregory and all bishops that I never had before. I have come to respect both the office and the man more deeply.
As the archbishop takes leave and heads off to a new assignment, I pause to summarize my thoughts about a remarkable spiritual leader and man.
Archbishop Gregory is a solid theologian. He knows his Bible and the tenets of our faith. His three-minute homilies during noon Mass are masterful and meaningful. He is highly intelligent. He has an uncanny way of saying the right thing at the right time in the right way. He is a great, instinctive leader. He is calm and collected. He is also a man who understands the human needs of his flock. He has been a great ambassador for our archdiocese and the church.
And, importantly, he has a permanent smile etched on his face that makes him approachable. We are blessed to have had him as our leader and mentor for all these years.
Our loss is Washington’s gain. He has a big job ahead of him but one that he is well qualified to handle. God bless and watch over Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory—our spiritual shepherd, leader, colleague and friend.
Bill Clarke, former business executive, teacher and senior citizen, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Formation and Discipleship. To send your thoughts to Bill, email firstname.lastname@example.org.