Bishop Paprocki reflects on his decade leading the faithful in our diocese
On April 20, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Thomas John Paprocki to be the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. Then, on June 22, 2010, Bishop Paprocki was installed as bishop of our diocese during Mass by Cardinal Francis George, Metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago, at a packed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield.
During his 10 years as bishop, Bishop Paprocki has visited all 129 parishes in our diocese, taken Catholics on international pilgrimages, created Catholic Charities Legal Services, been a voice for the most vulnerable, ran marathons, coached the goalie for Sacred Heart-Griffin High School’s hockey team, marched with hundreds of students at the annual March for Life in Washington year after year, ordained dozens of priests, courageously stood up for Catholic Church teachings, raised critical dollars and spearheaded projects to help those in need like Habitat for Humanity’s Catholic Build, confirmed and offered first holy Communion to thousands of children, is building a diocese of intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, celebrated countless Masses for the faithful, among so many other holy endeavors that are building up the Kingdom of God in our area of the world.
Reflections on 10 years as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Monday, March 29, 2010, I was on my way to O’Hare International Airport when I received a message that Cardinal Francis George, then Archbishop of Chicago, had called me. He knew I was on my way to Rome and wanted to talk to me before I got on the plane. I was in the car with another priest, and I did not know if the cardinal wanted to talk to me privately, so I waited until I got to the airport to call him back.
As soon as the priest dropped me off at the airport, I went inside and called the cardinal. He said, “Good, I’m glad I got hold of you before you took off. Can you talk?”
I looked around and said, “Well, I’m in the terminal at O’Hare, but I can talk. What’s up?”
Cardinal George, who was always right to the point without a lot of small talk, said, “The Holy Father is appointing you to be Bishop of Springfield in Illinois.”
I had heard some rumors to that effect, but rumors are just that: rumors, so when you hear something officially, it still takes you somewhat by surprise.
After I told the cardinal that I was honored to accept the appointment, I said, “You know I’m on my way to Rome, and I plan to attend the Pope’s General Audience on Wednesday. If I get the opportunity, should I say something to the Holy Father about this?”
Cardinal George replied, “Well, it’s still under pontifical secret, so you would want to make sure no one overhears you.”
Sure enough, at the Pope’s General Audience that Wednesday morning, I was seated on the stage next to three other bishops near Pope Benedict XVI. There was only a small group of bishops present that day because all diocesan bishops were required to be in their own dioceses for Holy Week. As an auxiliary bishop at the time, I had the opportunity to go to Rome since Cardinal George would be taking all of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies at Holy Name Cathedral. Of the other three bishops at the General Audience, two worked in the Roman Curia and one was retired. Since I was youngest in seniority, I was last in line to greet Pope Benedict after he finished his talk.
When I walked up to the Holy Father, there was no one else nearby, so I introduced myself and said that I had just received word that he had appointed me to be Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. I thanked him for the appointment and for his confidence in me, assuring him that I would do my best to try to be a good bishop. He just smiled and nodded. But I do have a great photo of that moment with Pope Benedict XVI! (See page 14 for photo)
While I was in Rome, I received a call on my cell phone from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who at the time was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America, that is, the pope’s personal representative to our country. He said that he wanted to announce my appointment to Springfield on April 20, the same day that they would announce Archbishop Thomas Wenski as the Archbishop of Miami. I thought it was fitting that the appointments of two Polish-American bishops were going to be announced on the same day, so I said, yes, of course!
When I got home, I called Cardinal George to set the date for my Installation as the Ninth Bishop of Springfield in Illinois. He looked at his calendar and said that he was available on June 22. I said that would be prefect, especially since June 22 is the feast day of Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, my patron saints.
Over the next 10 years I would visit each one of our 129 parishes, most of them more than once. My biggest challenge was that I knew only a handful or priests, but over the next decade I would get to know all of them. In fact, one of my greatest joys as bishop of our diocese has been the privilege of ordaining priests. 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.
Another highlight of my 10 years as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois was our Fourth Diocesan Synod in 2017, at which lay representatives of our 129 parishes, along with priests, deacons, and consecrated religious, would help to set the direction of our diocese for at least the next 10 years. At our Fourth Diocesan Synod, we declared that the “mission of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is to build a fervent community of intentional and dedicated missionary disciples of the Risen Lord and steadfast stewards of God’s creation who seek to become saints.” Thus, we made the commitment as a community of faith to discipleship and stewardship as a way of life.
It has been a privilege and a joy to have served as Bishop of Springfield in Illinois for the past 10 years, and I pray for the grace to be a good shepherd of the flock entrusted to me for as long as the Lord will grant, through the intercession of our patroness, the Immaculate Virgin Mary, in accord with his divine will.
May God give us this grace. Amen.