April 14, 2023 // Bishop
Vocation as gift of the Holy Spirit: Talking to Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades
By Charlie Camosy
After leading the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for five years, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades was appointed to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, and installed there as bishop in January 2010. Bishop Rhoades currently serves as a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine and the USCCB Committee on Religious Liberty, of which he is chair-elect, assuming the chair in November 2023. He is presently vice chair of the board of trustees of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and is chair of the board of directors of Our Sunday Visitor. Ordained to the priesthood in 1983, Bishop Rhoades received his license degrees (STL) in sacred theology and in canon law (JCL) from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Charlie Camosy: Especially as someone who trains priests, I’ve become hyper-aware of how deeply the administration stressors that parish priests experience can infringe on their work as pastors. I imagine this is a similar problem for bishops but ratcheted up several notches. How do you deal with these competing priorities in your own day-to-day life as a bishop? Do you feel pulled away from the pastoral work you’d prefer to do, as a bishop?
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades: The administrative load of a bishop is indeed heavy and one could get consumed in those tasks and office work if one is not careful. It’s important to hire a good administrative staff to lighten the administrative burdens and give me time to teach the faith and share in the sacraments, which is most life-giving to me and lives at the heart of my episcopal ministry.
Visiting parishes, schools and other communities of the diocese are a priority for me, which is reflected in my schedule and public calendar. It means a lot to the people, and to me, that I am in their midst as their bishop. At the same time, there are obviously many meetings and appointments that need my direct attention, so it’s a matter of setting priorities, neither shirking my administrative responsibilities nor neglecting being among the people as their shepherd — especially in the important ministries of teaching and celebrating the sacraments.
Camosy: I imagine that the original motivation for heeding the Lord’s call to the priesthood is very close to that pastoring part of yourself. Can you tell us a bit more about the story of your calling?
Bishop Rhoades: I tell our teenage confirmation candidates that I first heard the call to the priesthood when I was confirmed in seventh grade, and that I believe this one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit imparted that day: the gift of counsel. It was not until my sophomore year in college though, while praying, that I experienced joy and peace at the thought of being a priest and then applied to the seminary. That joy and peace, I tell the confirmation candidates, are also fruits of the Holy Spirit, validating signs of God’s will. I was open to receive the call since I was raised in a faith-filled family, and my mother and grandmother (who lived with us) were especially devout. We were involved in the parish, and I was an altar server from a young age. I loved the education I received in Catholic grade school and high school where I was also inspired by the example of the priests and religious sisters.
I guess you could say that the ground was fertile for my hearing the call to the priesthood. I attended a good Catholic college where a lot of my questions and doubts, normal for that age, were answered. I came to appreciate the Catholic intellectual tradition and the harmony of faith and reason. While in college, I also started to go to daily Mass and to receive spiritual direction and developed a more mature prayer life.
Camosy: What’s one thing about being a bishop you dislike the most? (Bonus points if it is something that many laypeople assume you must like!)
Bishop Rhoades: The first thing that comes to mind is “the mail”! Most people probably enjoy receiving mail. For me, the huge amount of communications I receive — especially now because these include emails and texts — sometimes makes me feel inundated. I feel responsible to respond to everything, and must get over the temptation of trying to do that, because it can consume every moment. Of course, I enjoy receiving mail and messages from family and friends and the very kind messages and greetings from so many people in the diocese. I’m talking more about “work” mail. Also, the bishop’s desk tends to be “the complaint desk” for so many who are upset about something in the church or their parish. Bishops are often asked to resolve more conflicts than may be managed so, again, this shows the importance of the work of other diocesan staff who can help in these situations.
Camosy: What do you do just for fun, or to express the more personal parts of who you are? Do you watch or stream mindless TV? What about music? Might you follow college or professional sports? Inquiring minds want to know.
Bishop Rhoades: It can be a struggle to find time to just have fun, but I do make the effort. I really enjoy getting together with family and friends on vacation. Since I was transferred from my home diocese in Pennsylvania, it’s really important to me to spend time with the people I love who are not in this area. I’ve always enjoyed going to the ocean, and hiking in the mountains, but I’ve learned to enjoy the lakes in Indiana and have found a hill in my diocese! I enjoy reading, especially history, and I enjoy sports — especially college football and basketball. Notre Dame was always my favorite football team, so I am very blessed to be able to attend many ND home football games each fall. Those football weekends give me an opportunity to reconnect with friends and family. I used to enjoy playing basketball and tennis, but I haven’t played for a while. Speaking of basketball, my second cousin, Mike Rhoades, was just hired as head basketball coach at Penn State!
Camosy: Many of us, I think, struggle to disengage from the seemingly endless day-to-day stressors, calendar invites, and to-do lists — we miss that younger part of ourselves that at least seemed to be more connected to the voice of God. Any advice for best (spiritual) practices for tapping into that part of who we are?
Bishop Rhoades: I’m glad you asked about that. The best spiritual practices for me, outside of daily Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, are quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, “Lectio Divina,” and the holy rosary. I find early in the morning is the best time for more extended prayer. When I pray with the Gospels, I like to imagine myself as one of the Apostles with Jesus, listening to his words and seeing his actions. I find their weaknesses encouraging when I struggle, but I also learn to listen to the Lord speaking to me, encouraging me, correcting me and forgiving me. His love strengthens me for my service to his people. He calms the storms in my life, just like he calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee.
I also find comfort in the maternal love of our Blessed Mother. I find myself naturally turning to her at different times during the day. Since my diocese has two See cities, I drive a lot, and I like praying the rosary while driving and also listening to the prayer app Hallow, which was developed by wonderful young men I’ve known since their time at Notre Dame. I recommend this app to all who are striving to grow in their prayer life.
Charlie Camosy is professor of medical humanities at the Creighton School of Medicine and moral theology fellow at St. Joseph Seminary in New York.
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