Catholic Times asked the people of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois to submit questions for Bishop Thomas John Paprocki to answer for his 10th anniversary of being named bishop of our diocese. Here are those questions with Bishop Paprocki’s answers:
What has been the hardest thing you have done since being bishop of our diocese?
My biggest challenge and the hardest thing I have done since being bishop of our diocese has been the decision to cancel public Masses this past March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Coming at the beginning of my peak season for confirmation and first holy Communion Masses, and as we were approaching Holy Week and Easter, the timing could not have been worse. I had never been confronted with anything like this in almost 42 years as a priest and 17 years as a bishop. With God’s grace, though, we will get through this.
How do you keep up with all the priests within the Diocese of Springfield?
We have several occasions throughout the year when I gather with our priests: our spring overnight, our annual retreat in June, and the convocation in the fall. We have days of recollection every other month and a summer cookout at Villa Maria. I also see our priests in their parishes when I come for confirmation/first Communion, parish anniversaries, and pastoral visits. Sometimes priests contact me by email or phone or schedule an appointment to see me, and I always try to make myself available to them as soon as possible.
What devotion/prayer would you most love to see the laity of your diocese actively engaging in?
The rosary is the devotion I would most love to see the laity of our diocese actively engage in, especially with their families. I say the rosary often when I am in my car and also while I am running, using a small finger rosary that I wrap around my index finger. If we stay close to the Blessed Mother, she will keep us close to her Son, Jesus.
What is your favorite feast day and Mass to celebrate and why?
My favorite feast day and Mass to celebrate is the Easter Vigil because it is the pinnacle of the liturgical year, in which we celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection, proclaim him as the Light of the world, listen to several very powerful passages of the Bible, welcome new members into the church, and renew our own baptismal promises. I always attended or served the Easter Vigil even when I was a child; I could not have imagined missing it.
What would be your most remarkable and most memorable experience as a bishop?
I would say the most remarkable and most memorable experience for me as a bishop was the day of my ordination as a bishop, March 19, 2003. I was ordained by Francis Cardinal George at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, along with two other auxiliary bishops: Francis Kane and Gustavo Garcia-Siller. There is so much symbolism with the mitre, the crozier, the bishop’s ring, and the sacred chrism (holy oil), which the cardinal poured abundantly on our heads as a sign of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is humbling to know that you have been chosen as a Successor of the Apostles. Of course, my Installation as the Ninth Bishop of Springfield in Illinois on June 22, 2010 in our Cathedral was similarly memorable in that I was being entrusted with the pastoral care of an entire diocese.
What are some of your most cherished prayers from childhood and now? Also, was there any one particular prayer your mother was fond of?
Mom always kept a calendar with the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the kitchen. Mom or Dad would take me to church on the First Friday of each month. After Mass, we would pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart and the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart. As a child, when I would “play Mass,” my pretend parish was Sacred Heart Parish. So, I have long had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That is why there is an image of the Sacred Heart on my episcopal coat of arms.
What do you like about living in Central Illinois, considering it’s so much different than you growing up and living in Chicago for decades?
I’ve always said that Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, so identifying with my own local neighborhood gave it a small town feeling and helped me not to feel overwhelmed by the big city. I feel very much at home here in Central Illinois, where the pace is more relaxed and not quite as harried. I never did like the traffic in Chicago, so I am glad that I don’t have to deal with bumper-to-bumper congestion on the roads of Central Illinois!
What is the funniest story that has happened to you as bishop of this diocese?
Shortly after I arrived here, I went to one of our small rural parishes to celebrate Mass. I was accompanied by my master of ceremonies at the time, Father Daren Zehnle, who was doing the driving. The pastor, a senior citizen, was waiting for us in the church parking lot. When Father Zehnle got out of the driver’s side of the car, the pastor said to him, “Welcome to our parish, Bishop.” Then he looked at me and said, “You must be the bishop’s assistant.” He has since gone on to his eternal reward, so to this day I am not sure if he was getting senile or just pulling my leg!
Looking back, what has been the most surprising thing to you being bishop of this diocese —positive and negative?
I have been pleasantly surprised by the generous response of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. With the ordination of two priests last month and six more scheduled for June 19, that will bring my total to 30 priests that I have been privileged to ordain during this past decade as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. It is also great to see so many young women joining the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in Alton. On the negative side, it is disappointing that so many Catholics do not attend Mass regularly. I cannot imagine living without regular contact with Our Lord, especially in the Eucharist.
Because you have visited all our parishes (Editor’s note: the diocese has 129 parishes), list some of the most beautiful churches we should check out.
I will answer that question taking a cue from my very saintly mother, who died last year. Once after Mass that I celebrated, which my mother had attended, we were greeting people after Mass and someone said to Mom, while pointing to me, “You must be very proud of your son.” Mindful of my six brothers and two sisters, my mother replied diplomatically, “I am very proud of all nine of my children.” In that vein, I will respond that I think all 129 of our churches are beautiful abodes in which the Real Presence our Lord dwells! Of course, just as I like to tell my siblings that deep down I knew I was Mom’s favorite, the church closest to my heart is our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, the mother church of our diocese, which was so beautifully restored and rededicated just a few months before my Installation. I hope people from all over will come to visit our Cathedral often.