I thought it would be fun to use my blog therunningpriest.blogspot.com to let you all walk this journey with me.
On Friday, September 14, at about 9:30 am I was in my office and the phone rang. I answered as I usually tend to “Fr. Joe” and on the other end of the line a rather soft accented voice said “Is this Msgr. Joseph Strickland?” I said yes and my mind began to race! I have to admit I cannot accurately tell you what the Nuncio said next but the gist of it was that he Archbishop Vigano was calling on behalf of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to inform me that the Holy Father was asking me to be Bishop of Tyler. The Nuncio simply said “do you accept”. After a pause during which I was attempting to restart my heart, untie my tongue and unscramble my brain all at the same time I must have said something resembling “yes”!!!
I must have said yes because Archbishop Vigano then began immediately to talk about what would happen next. He said he would contact Bishop Corrada as the most recent bishop of the diocese and Cardinal Archbishop Daniel Dinardo, the Metropolitan for this part of Texas and inform them. He then said that he would like to schedule the announcement for September 29, 2012. He noted that it was a Saturday but said that should be alright and that it was the best date for the announcement in light of his schedule. My first thought was that I had a class to teach that Saturday morning and I blurted that out to the Nuncio. At that point there was simply silence so I quickly got the message and said “but I can arrange my schedule for the announcement on September 29”.
Very soon after this phone call Bishop Alvaro Corrada called to congratulate me and then also Cardinal Dinardo. Immediately they both began advising me regarding choosing a date for the ordination etc. etc. etc. Believe me there is a lot of etc. there!!!!!!!!!
I will always remember the Cardinal’s kindness in immediately beginning to give me pointers regarding what I should do next. So here I was within the space of an hour going from routine work in my office to working on a “how to be ordained a bishop” to do list.
As you can imagine one of the things that began to sink in was that I could not share this news until September 29th, two weeks to keep the biggest secret of my life. I’m a pretty quiet guy but even for me keeping this a secret for two weeks won’t be easy.
The next day I went to pick up my dear friend Archbishop Michael Sheehan at the airport in Dallas because he was scheduled to celebrate mass and speak at the Cathedral’s Roses and Rosaries event on September 16. You can imagine how my mind raced through various memories during that weekend. A bit of a disclaimer here……….if anyone happened to witness me walking down the hall or on the sidewalk and just laughing hysterically now you know I hadn’t completely lost my mind……….or maybe!!!!!!!???
September 18 & 19
It was certainly interesting to represent Bishop Corrada at the Texas Catholic Conference and meet with the bishop’s of Texas with my little secret. Of course Cardinal Dinardo knew but none of the other bishops were aware or at least they didn’t let on that they had heard my news.
I have to share a funny moment at the meeting. The lay staff and I stepped out of the room as the bishops went into executive session. As we sat in the lobby area of the hotel waiting for the bishop’s to call us back in as you can imagine some of the staff members were asking me when Tyler was going to get a bishop. I gave one of my usual vague responses and one of the ladies just looked at me and asked “Are we talking to him?” I’ve always had a tendency to turn beet red at moments like that so I may have let the cat out of the bag!!!! After I made a feeble attempt to answer the question the group was kind enough to just move on with the conversation.
September 22 and 23
This weekend I participated in the St. Gregory Fun Run and celebrated Confirmation at the Cathedral at 5:30 mass on Saturday and then again at 1:30 mass in Spanish on Sunday. I have to say that it was a great joy to know that in a week it would be announced that I would be bishop of this flock. Joy has been the pervasive emotion I have felt since that phone call on September 14, but I’m also well aware of the great responsibility to serve the people of God that I will take on.
One week and counting until the big announcement. I’ve stayed busy with the usual activities plus things like preparing a Curriculum Vitae for the Press Conference on September 29, preparing remarks that I will give at the Press Conference and writing letters of thanks to the Holy Father and Bishops that will be sent as soon as the news becomes public.
Today I participated in an event for the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County where Leeza Gibbons spoke. As you can imagine my mother who suffered with Alzheimers for ten years was very much on my mind. I know that my parents reaction to the news that I am to be the fourth bishop of Tyler would be a mixture of great joy and concern for the responsibilities the role involves. I have an idea that the reaction of my siblings will very much mirror the joy and concern my parents would have felt. In the later years before my mother became very ill with alzheimer's and my responsibilities in the diocese continued to grow, my mother often said, "I need to talk to your bishop and tell him to quit piling on". I guess I'll be the one "piling on work" for my brother priests to do now. I'll try to remember they have mom's too!!!!!!!!
I will pick up Bishop Corrada at the airport on Wednesday, September 26. As soon as the news hit that Bishop Corrada had changed his original dates for a visit the speculation began to heat up with people asking if an announcement was coming soon. I suppose my primary technique for fielding the questions has been simply to laugh a lot and say that we certainly hope it will be soon. It will be interesting to know how many people have begun to suspect my news. I have never been much of a poker player!!!!!
A nice interlude here with the installation of the Lamb of God window in the Chapel of Saints Peter and Paul (see earlier post for pictures).
I picked up the Bishop Wednesday evening and we had dinner at his home and discuss various details of the announcement and ordination. He was a big help because he has been involved in the life of bishops since his ordination as auxiliary of Washington, D.C. in 1985.
I didn’t’ get much sleep last night, just a busy mind racing with many things. I’m hoping I get a good nights sleep tonight so that I don’t look exhausted at the Press Conference.
More to come as the Journey to the Episcopacy continues.
The Third and Fourth Bishops of Tyler greet
Pope Benedict XVI