Archbishop Jerome Listecki reflects on 14 years as Milwaukee’s ‘Good Shepherd’

WDJT-TV, Ch. 58 [Milwaukee WI]

April 21, 2024

By Mike Strehlow

“I’m not in charge, G-d is.”  words Milwaukee archbishop Jerome Listecki shared in April of 2015 when he was the spotlight story of our very first episode CBS 58 Sunday Morning.  9-years later and just a few weeks after he submitted his required retirement letter to Pope Francis, CBS 58 Sunday Morning caught up with the career clergyman again.

“There we go, okay,” said archbishop Listecki. The sky had already begun to darken as we stepped outside to view the eclipse.

“We can’t see anything out of these things (laughing),” archbishop Listecki said as he adjusted a pair of cardboard glasses.

Also gazing up with glasses were colleagues, some of whom have been serving with the archbishop since he was installed 14 years ago. “What I will miss most is being able to highlight and put a spotlight on the great things that so many of our people do,” he said.

But is there a spiritual dimension to an eclipse? “I would say the great spiritual dimension is when we look at this, we realize that we’re not in charge, G-d’s in charge,” he said.

The eclipse happened to fall on the same day as this year’s Feast of the Annunciation when Christians celebrate the day the Virgin Mary learned she would be the mother of Jesus Christ.

It was then perhaps fitting that we witnessed the spiritual and celestial event standing next to a statue of Mary holding the baby Jesus in one arm and cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in the other.

“We’re very proud of the statue,” said the archbishop. “She’s almost saying, here’s my Jesus and his church, here are the two gifts I give to you. Now what are you going to do with them?  A kind of a challenge to all of us to live out our faith.”

Listecki says his inner faith and the tremendous faith demonstrated by area Catholics have given him the strength to lead during some challenging times including the bankruptcy filing stemming from the clergy sex abuse scandal. 

During our conversation in 2015, the archbishop apologized and pledged to remain vigilant. “But also, that we push ourselves forward to inform the rest of the community.” Now, 9-years later, Listecki believes the archdiocese has demonstrated an openness to inform and protect.

“There’s no entity in this, public or private, that can demonstrate the fact like we have educated a hundred, over a 100,000 people in awareness of sexual abuse,” said the archbishop.

The archbishop says he’s also proud of the respect Catholic charities has earned and increasing enrollments in the archdiocese’ Catholic schools and seminary. 

“This year, G-d willing, we’ll ordain 9 to the priesthood. That’ll be among the largest ordination classes in the country” Listecki said. “Would I love to see greater participation in mass attendance?  Absolutely!”

Milwaukee’s 11th archbishop says the continued challenge for its 12th good shepherd will be to build on the essential Catholic mission, evangelization.

“Pope Francis said you know for a long period of time we were in a type of maintenance mode you know maintain the parishes we have.  We forgot the fact that we’re supposed to be in a mission mode to go out and spread the great gospel message and to pull people in,” said the archbishop.

On his 75th birthday when he signed the letter of retirement, Listecki reflected on 14 years as archbishop and said there’s wisdom in the church’s requirement that an archbishop retire at 75.

“At 75 you begin to take a look and say, ‘do I have the same amount of energy that I did when I came here 14 years ago?’ You and I were talking about walking into this chapel, and I joked I said should we get our walkers.” 

Far from it. 9-years have passed, but the stride remains strong and so is the archbishop’s appreciation for heavenly wonders of the sky. “It causes ourselves to be united with those things that surround us,” he said.

And those right outside his door.

“The view of Lake Michigan never gets old. Does it?” I asked.

“No, no,” he repeated. “It’s such a beautiful blessing for the entire city of Milwaukee. Almost kind of think that G-d might be taking that water from Lake Michigan and blessing the good works that are done here in the city.”