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New Catholic bishop finds that hope is grounded in reality and in faith

Bishop Thomas Daly focuses on priestly formation, education.

When he began last May as Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Bishop Thomas Daly found the Catholic community in the area living “in a long winter” following “the cloud of abuse and bankruptcy.”

“It was hard for Catholics to step out of that winter,” he said. 

There were issues that needed to be addressed, but now Bishop Daly said he is ready “to lead the diocese to focus on priestly formation, Catholic education and the spiritual growth of the Catholic faithful in Eastern Washington.”

Media coverage, he said, had an impact, as coverage of religion moved to silence, then to rejection and hostility.  In the late 1980s and 1990s, he said that the Archdiocese of San Francisco shifted from having good relationships with media and city officials to being defensive.

Instead of being paralyzed by impressions, Bishop Daly said, “we need to be realistic, humble and trusting.  We can’t lose our sense of joy or sense of being people of hope.

“Hope is not optimism or wishful thinking, hope is reality grounded in faith and Jesus’ promise ‘I will be with you to the end of the age,’” he said.

“The Pope speaks of the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’ With what happened in the past in the diocese, we have a role to spread joy.  As Pope Francis emphasized, too many Catholics forget Easter and focus on Lent.  It’s like saying we are in winter and need spring,” he said.

Given that a bishop’s role is to teach, govern and sanctify, he appreciates working with school personnel, priests and families in the diocese’s schools.

 In the Archdiocese of San Francisco where he was ordained in 1987, Bishop Daly was vocations director and president of Marin Catholic High. In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI named him auxiliary bishop of San Jose responsible for formation of priests.

Bishop Daly has found that the Diocese of Spokane’s 13 elementary schools range from 36 students at Guardian Angels School in Uniontown to 300 at St. Aloysius School.  The high schools are Gonzaga Prep in Spokane with 800 students, Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco with 300, and DeSales in Walla Walla with 100.

A poll of U.S. Catholics by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), requested by Holy Cross Fathers at the University of Portland and Notre Dame, studied Catholic families in preparation for the recent visit of Pope Francis I and the Synod on Families in Rome.

The study found that two-thirds of Catholic families do not have their children in Catholic schools or religious education.

“It’s especially a concern if they are not being educated in the family,” Bishop Daly said.

The diocese’s pastoral plan, “Know, Love, Serve,” adopted under Bishop Blase Cupich, began with an emphasis on faith formation the first year, followed by strengthening community and young adults this year, liturgy the next year and evangelization the fourth year.

“The plan gives us a direction, but as I told participants at our recent Assembly, we’re not checking off boxes.  Faith formation is a concern every year,” he said.

“We need to continue to address vocations of priests and faith formation, giving more attention to schools and religious education,” he said, noting that the study suggests that the diocese needs to know why families don’t send children to Catholic schools. 

“Do they cost too much?  Is there confusion about the purpose?” Bishop Daly asks.  He added that the Nazareth Guild, started by Bishop Blase Cupich, helps with tuition for Catholic schools.

Bishop Daly finds outreach “an area of blessing for the diocese,” because Catholic Charities of Spokane serves a large number of poor, needy, marginalized and homeless people. 

“Catholic Charities continued to serve the region through the years the diocese was dealing with the challenges of abuse and bankruptcy,” he said.  “It would have been easy to take our eyes off care for the poor, but we do not stop caring for others.  We need to deal with our own issues while we are caring for people.

“I have been surprised by the poverty in Spokane,” he added. 

Driving to say Mass with the Sisters of the Mission of Charity in Hillyard from where he lives at Bishop White Seminary, he realized, “We have poverty in Spokane.  The poor need assistance and hope.  The church has an important role in serving them.

“We are to proclaim the Good News working with priests, laity, and women and men religious to strengthen community to give witness to the gospel,” he said.

The problem is not the church in the world, but the world in the church, so the church’s mission is not co-opted by pettiness, jealousy or despair.”

Soon after he was installed as bishop on May 20, he appointed Fr. Dan Barnett as rector of Bishop White Seminary, and appointed pastors, with 18 changes.  He also appointed the Vicar of Priests, the Vicar of Finances and the Vicar General, who also serve parishes.

“No priest works full time in the diocesan office,” he said.  “All have pastoral responsibilities outside the Chancery.”

Bishop Daly as of late November had visited 40 of the 80 parishes and many schools, including Connell, Basin City, Chewelah, Uniontown, Tekoa and Clarkston.

The bishop has been impressed with the friendliness of people in the diocese and Spokane’s small-town flavor. He noted that in contrast with the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of San Jose, which are each 1,000 square miles, the Diocese of Spokane is 24,000 square miles—smaller than the Diocese of Helena with 55,000 square miles or Maine with 33,000 square miles.

“I can reach any part of the parish in three hours or less,” he said.

There are 100,000 Catholics in 80 parishes in the Diocese of Spokane, in contrast with 600,000 in 50 parishes in the Diocese of San Jose and 450,000 in 90 parishes in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

The Catholic Church is visible with Gonzaga University and Providence Health Care.

“With changes in the way farming is now done, many parishes in wheat farming communities are small.  For example, there are 10 families at Sprague,” he said.

While he was involved ecumenically in Marin, in the Spokane diocese he said his emphases are in diocesan and school settings, and in addressing financial issues. 

He has asked Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad to continue the ecumenical ministries, along with spiritual direction in the seminary, doing Marriage Encounter and retreats, and filling in for priests.

“In Eastern Washington, with the reality of advanced communication technology, lines between work and family/home are blurred,” Bishop Daly has observed.  “People need time to be quiet.

“In agriculture, people sense God in weather, rain and sun.  They know growing crops takes patience.  In technology, it seems that men and women are creators, and that God is absent.  In fast communication, patience is antiquated,” he observed.

“As I drove through wheat fields during the harvest, I felt that the lesson from the farming community is trust, patience and a focus on need as opposed to want,” he said.

“In the beauty of this area, I give thanks to God.  The Pope’s encyclical reminds us that Creation is a gift from God,” said Bishop Daly, who always liked going to the country and mountains from his home in San Francisco. 

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