By Barb Arland-Fye
One is celebrating 10 years as a bishop and the other is about to become a bishop. They are good friends, Bishop Martin Amos and Bishop-designate Robert Gruss, and they share a deep love for liturgy, prayer and ministering to people.
Bishop-designate Gruss, rector of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, will become bishop of Rapid City, S.D., on July 28. While he feels humbled and honored with this appointment by Pope Benedict XVI, Bishop-designate Gruss admits, “I have no idea what it means to be a bishop.”
Bishop Amos has walked in his shoes. He recalls the life-changing moment: March 23, 2001. Bishop Anthony Pilla, then bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, called him into his office and said: “Marty, the Holy Father would like you to be an auxiliary bishop of Cleveland.”
He was ordained a bishop June 7, 2001; five-and-a-half years later Pope Benedict appointed him bishop of the Davenport Diocese where he has served since Nov. 20, 2006. At his core he’s a priest who hasn’t relinquished ordinary activities like doing his own laundry and shopping for broccoli at Hy-Vee.
But as he’d advise Bishop-designate Gruss, time for such ordinary activities has to be managed very carefully. The 69-year-old shepherd of the Davenport Diocese ministers six days a week – many on the road to one or more of the 80 parishes, five high schools, 13 elementary schools and other entities in the 22-county diocese.
Parishioners energize bishop
Kay Temple is one of several people who travel extensively with Bishop Amos to serve as master of ceremonies at confirmation Masses, Chrism Mass and for other special celebrations throughout the diocese.
“As tired as he can be — and I have seen him so tired — when he gets to a parish and sees the people, they energize him,” she said. “He understands parish life; he just gets it. He believes that as spiritual leaders for the flock, a good leader is a loving father, a gentle shepherd and a wise teacher. He lives the words he has been known to say.”
Ruth Skeens, who serves as co-chair of the Diocesan Planning Commission, describes “his leadership as a very fluent style that is smooth and easy to work with and very grounded and strong at the same time. Bishop Amos puts a great deal of trust in his parish members and clergy.”
While he’s had difficult issues to deal with as bishop – he was installed just a month after the diocese declared bankruptcy – Bishop Amos said he appreciates the “overwhelming amount of support, both from staff and parishioners. I get a lot of affirmation.”
As bishop, he places his priorities on preparing for and celebrating the liturgy, writing homilies and interacting with the faithful.
On a Friday afternoon in early May he and several Sisters of Humility gathered in the Magnificat Chapel at the Humility of Mary Center – next door to diocesan headquarters — to practice their parts for the Mass during which Sister Lynn Mousel would profess final vows.
“I like to know where everyone is going to be and when,” he explained afterward, on the drive to St. Mathias Church in Muscatine for a nuptial Mass rehearsal of Kay Temple’s son Mark and future daughter-in law Jenna.
Not unlike other wedding rehearsals – which the bishop would have led as longtime parish priest at St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights, Ohio – nervous energy permeated the church. Hoping to lighten the atmosphere a notch, the bishop told the soon-to-be husband and wife: “I’m going to ask you a question and you need to answer it if you want to get married.” They looked at him anxiously. “Who was the fifth president of the United States?” Everyone laughed. End of rehearsal.
First impressions are lasting
The next morning Bishop Amos was in his office at 8 a.m. to do paperwork. “I was an hour later than usual, but I had to do a load of laundry,” he explained.
Later that Saturday morning the bishop walked over to the Humility of Mary Center, checked the sacristy and sanctuary to be sure everything was in order for Sr. Lynn’s Profession of Vows Mass and then sat down to pray before the liturgy. Afterward he posed for photos — a scenario that would be repeated after Mark and Jenna’s nuptial Mass and following the confirmation Mass at St. Alphonsus Parish in Davenport.
The bishop joined the Sisters for a quick lunch, but left 15 minutes later to catch his ride to Muscatine. Deacon David Montgomery, the diocese’s communications director, would be serving as the bishop’s master of ceremonies and his chauffeur.
Before taking off, the bishop checked his garment bags and other things he’d need for the day. Once he arrived at a parish outside of Davenport without his crosier, which is essential for a shepherd presiding at Mass. A relay team retrieved the crosier just in time. “Instead of passing the baton, we passed the crosier,” Deacon Montgomery said, chuckling.
In his homily for the nuptial Mass of Mark and Jenna, the bishop reflected on married love and what it looks like in the eyes of newlyweds — contrasted with the love seen in the eyes of couples married 25 or 50 years. “Those vows have a real history … you see it in their eyes – a very, very deep love.”
He spoke of the passage in Ephesians where marriage is seen as a symbol of God’s love for his Church. Bishop Amos advised Mark and Jenna: “You have to choose to love each other every day.”
Writing homilies is one of Bishop Amos’ gifts, Catholics in the diocese say, but it’s also a challenge. “If you mess something up when you’re a pastor writing a homily for your congregation, parishioners just figure you had a bad day or that the homily was a little off. But as a bishop if I flub up, it’s different. People don’t see me on a weekly basis.”
A greater challenge, though, is dealing with divisiveness. “There’s so much polarization. Trying to steer a middle course and still acknowledge that people have strong positions on either side. I find that very difficult.”
Bishop is pastoral in approach
One of his greatest joys as bishop is presiding at confirmation Masses – which he does more than 40 times a year. “I enjoy meeting the kids beforehand and talking with them.” His goal is to put them at ease as they are about to receive a sacrament intended to fortify their commitment of faith.
Lee Morrison, diocesan superintendent of schools, says Bishop Amos “does a great job of relating to young people and his homilies are always well prepared. He’s very direct with the young people.”
Arriving an hour early at St. Alphonsus for confirmation Mass, the bishop signed the parish’s ceremonial books – a once-a-year task he undertakes at all parishes. The ceremonial books record baptisms, first Communions, confirmation, marriages and deaths.
Then he addressed the teens from St. Al’s and St. Peter Parish in Buffalo who were waiting to be confirmed. He explained the history of the rite, shared a personal experience relating to that history and described what would happen during the Mass. He smiled when he told them, “When you shake hands with me, you’re allowed to look at me.”
Having served as a pastor, “I know what a lot priests are going through. I understand parish life. I know what it’s like to go through Christmas in a parish; I know what it’s like to go through Easter in a parish. I know what it’s like to run and keep a school going.”
“He is very pastoral in his leadership and I am sure that comes from his experience as pastor of a parish,” agrees Msgr. John Hyland, the diocese’s vicar general. “He is very capable of delegating and working collaboratively with our diocesan staff. I appreciate his leadership and the trust he places in me.”
Bishop-designate Gruss has made note of all this as he prepares for his ordination as bishop. He believes Bishop Amos is a blessing for the Davenport Diocese who has a real love for the people and is supportive of his priests.
“He has a vision and he’s not afraid to make a decision. I think that’s a sign of a good leader,” Bishop-designate Gruss said. “And as a personal friend, he’s been a real gift in my own life. He’s been very supportive of me.”