BISHOP MITCH: Thank you, Peggy. It’s great to be here with you today.
PEGGY: And happy anniversary.
BISHOP MITCH: Well thank you very much. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year already.
PEGGY: I know. And I remember when you had just come here, about a year ago, I said to you, my you’re quite popular. And you jokingly said, “until I make a decision.” Now, your goal isn’t necessarily a popularity contest but you have had some big decisions this year. tell us about them.
BISHOP MITCH: Well when I arrived in the diocese I was briefed on so many issues and one of them certainly was the rebuilding of Cathedral High School. And I knew that we had to take a look at not only the rebuilding of Cathedral High School but really, eventually, the whole Catholic education system, here in the Diocese of Springfield. But the presenting issue when I got here was the rebuilding of Cathedral High School and it needed really to be looked at from a perspective of long range. The enrollment had been declining, certainly. And the facility that would be built would be a huge investment by the diocese, perhaps the largest investment the diocese had ever made. So I knew that was a decision that could not be done in a vacuum. It had to be done with great consultation, with talking with the different groups. I knew that there would be upset about it, certainly because there had been expectation that had been set. But it still needed to be done.
PEGGY: Right but you also made a couple of big deals in the sense that you’ve hired a youth minister and you’ve decided about promoting evangelization. Please tell us a little bit more about that?
BISHOP MITCH: Sure. Well, when I arrived here, a series of letters that I received was of the concern for youth ministry in the diocese and the support for the parishes of youth ministers there, coming from the diocesan office. So through a gift that was given to the diocese in a bequest, we were able to put that money toward an endowment for youth ministry. So I was very happy, I was very grateful for that endowment that was given to the diocese and that it gave us the opportunity to reopen the office of youth ministry to have someone there who could be a resource person for youth ministry in the parishes. I felt that it’s very, very important, especially in today’s day and age. (Gina Czerwinski, pictured above, is the new director of youth ministry for the diocese.)
PEGGY: Wonderful. now you also said in your first year you also wanted to visit as many parishes as possible. How’s that going. How many have you been to?
BISHOP MITCH: Well, I think I’ve been to about 60 to 65 of the parishes in one form or another. either for Sunday Mass or for Confirmation or for different events that have taken place at the parish. So I still have a few more to cover, but it’s been a good year being able to just get out to see so many of the parishes, to meet the people of the parishes, the priests, the deacons, the religious who work in the parishes and the parish staffs — seeing very dedicated, dedicated people at work. and to know it’s a boost to me to see the enthusiasm of my co-workers in the parish and of the enthusiasm of parishioners in our parishes too.
BISHOP MITCH: Sure. It’s a pastoral visit that take a good chunk of time – a day or two to be spent at the parish to meet with the pastor, the parish staff, with the different lay groups of the parish, the pastoral council, any of the groups that make, indeed the parish a community of vibrancy – to meet with them. And after that we will give back to the parish our feedback of commendations and of recommendations asking the parish to take, the feedback in terms of a report, to roll that report into their planning for the future.
BISHOP MITCH: Well I enjoy the beauty of nature of western Massachusetts, and even in the midst of this past winter, which we know everybody told me was unusual and that we never have this much snow and this much cold. I do enjoy even winter’s stark beauty so it’s been good to get out and about and around and to be able to see some of the sights here. I’ve been able to visit the Clark Museum, and see that. I’ve been to the Fort Restaurant after that had reopened so that’s been a good thing and a few other places around in our area.
PEGGY: There’s a lot to see and a lot to do in our area. And I’m sure you get lots of recommendations, right?
BISHOP MITCH: I do. Lots of people tell me different things. And certainly what I am looking forward to and experienced last year within the first month of my arrival and installation is the Big E. so I enjoy going over to the Big E and walking around — seeing the different sights there, meeting different people. Everybody had told me about it in the weeks leading up to it, and then the Mass that we celebrate at the Big E was wonderful. So it’s just been a good experience of finding the different – both the large and the little favorite spots of western Massachusetts.
PEGGY: And as you adjust here, what has surprised you the most? You know, “I’m not in Baltimore any more, I’m not in Maryland any more.” Has anything just made you think, hmmm, this is different!
BISHOP MITCH: I knew nothing about the diocese of Springfield when Archbishop Vigano (Apostolic Nuncio of United States of America) called me and told me would be the bishop of Springfield, I knew nothing about it. so everything is new. Everything to me is new. But I have noticed there were great parallels between western Massachusetts and western Maryland. They had many of the same issues I faced as the vicar bishop, the auxiliary bishop, in western Maryland, I’m finding here, as in western Maryland, that industries that had closed down that had really been the lifeblood of the communities for many decades. I found that in western Maryland that it had occurred and that it also had occurred here in western Massachusetts. The declining population happened in western Maryland and again I find it in western Massachusetts. I guess what I was really surprised about was the parallels between those two places — western Maryland and western Massachusetts. They are both very, very beautiful in the scenery, in nature and in lots of possibilities. And it’s good to see that those possibilities are being worked on here in western Massachusetts.
BISHOP MITCH: Well I began my term in November. Actually the November after I was installed here — my term officially began. And one of the highlights of this past year of being the chair of ecumenical and inter-religious affairs was the conference that was held at Catholic University on the document of Vatican II called Nostra Atatae — “In our time.” It’s one of the shortest documents of Vatican II but it has far-reaching implications. And the Nostra Atatae conference involved a gathering of leaders of Jewish groups, and leaders of Muslim groups and reflecting on how the past 50 years has really brought us closer together in our collaboration and our working for the common good.
PEGGY: It’s so needed in this time when everyone just seems to be pitted against each other. I mean look at your own hometown of Baltimore, the violence last year, it seems like the hand of God or the love is needed now more than ever among all people
BISHOP MITCH: Certainly and I think that in our ecumenical and our interfaith relations we really have to show the unity of people of faith — that people of faith are people of hope are people who build bridges between one another and build bridges to others too. So it’s very, very important and I think that Vatican II, the fathers of Vatican II, had a great insight into reaching out to other faiths and to other denominations and saying there are things that divide us, certainly, we cannot deny them, but there are other things that unite us and in those things that unite us, we need to reach out as people of faith.
BISHOP MITCH: First of all I think the parish visits are going to be an important part of my ministry here for next year. Certainly,the evangelization effort of our diocese is going to be a prime goal. Looking at Catholic education as a total system in the Diocese of Springfield needs to be done. So I think I’ll have a lot on my plate for not only next year but for all of the upcoming years as bishop of Springfield.
PEGGY: Any personal goals?
BISHOP MITCH: My personal goals is to be able to — in all the busyness of life — to be able to have that time, to preserve that time for prayer and to make sure that as I am taking care of the spiritual needs of others that I also deepen my relationship with the Lord. It is important because that is not only a personal goal, it is and example for everyone and I feel that it’s a very, very important part of being a bishop.
PEGGY: So are you one of these people that are up at 6 a.m. and to bed at midnight.? Do you get enough rest? What’s your day like?
BISHOP MITCH: Well I’m up early, I’m up early for prayer and for daily Mass. And then breakfast, certainly to get some energy for the morning and depending upon what was on the calendar sometimes the mornings or the afternoons can be out of the office sometimes they need to be in the office. But I find that if I can balance my day amongst prayer and meditation, being out and visiting amongst people, and doing my administrative work, at the end of the day, I feel pretty fulfilled.
PEGGY: That’s good and I hope you take some time for yourself just to read or take a walk or anything like that.
BISHOP MITCH: I do, I try. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes, I’m not. That’s all part of life.
PEGGY: Do you have five year goals? Are you looking that far ahead?
BISHOP MITCH: Well as I’m looking at the diocese and working with the different collaborative groups, for example the clergy commission, the presbyteral council, the finance council — certainly there are goals that are immediate that we mentioned,. They are: evangelization, education, the Year of Mercy in collaboration with Pope Francis calling for that year of mercy beginning on December the 8th. But I think that in working with those goals will certainly broaden out to long term goals in the future. So I think that some of what’s on my plate — while I will get to very soon — will not just be a year but rather a few years out. And then as I work with them, I think that other goals for the long term will become clearer.