By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos observes two milestones this month and next: the fifth anniversary of his installation as Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport on Nov. 20 and his 70th birthday on Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He’ll be doing a little more recuperating than celebrating because he underwent knee replacement surgery Nov. 10. (It was the knee he genuflects on, he says with a smile.) He’s back at home, doing fine, walking and exercising as his doctors ordered. A few days before surgery, The Catholic Messenger talked with Bishop Amos about his upcoming milestones.
Q: You were born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. What does that mean to you?
A: It’s always meant a great deal to me, particularly as I got closer and closer to going to the seminary. That’s one of the reasons I chose the color blue on my coat of arms, because of being born on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
Q: If you’re not behind the wheel, how do you spend your time in the car to and from visits across the diocese?
A: It depends on who’s driving. Sometimes I pray a lot! Other than that, if I have both a deacon and driver I sit in the back seat, put my legs up and “veg” out. Most of the time, I end up talking with whoever is there. Usually we’ll go over the ceremony I’m presiding at or discuss other details about it. I can sit in the car quietly. We don’t have to talk all the time.
Q: What have you eaten more of than anything else on visits to parishes?
A. If it’s dealing with kids, I get a lot of pizza. If it’s a more formal event with adults, there’s quite a variety. I get chicken; I get a lot of pork, done different ways. I don’t get much fish. I eat almost anything and enjoy it. A lot of times a parishioner is preparing the meal. They try to do a really nice job. It’s very tasty stuff. And a lot of times I get a care package to take home, which is wonderful. I don’t have to cook the next day.
Q: People tend to treat you like a celebrity wherever you go. How do you deal with that?
A: (Jokingly): I love it! Seriously, I hope I realize — and I think I do — that it’s not about me. It’s the fact that the bishop is coming, no matter who it is. So I don’t take it personally. There’s always a lookout, so when you drive up to the parish grounds you look for the lookout and see him or her saying to everyone, “The bishop’s here!”
Q: If you could retire at 70, would you?
A: Probably not. I’m still in good health. I enjoy very, very much what I’m doing. My comfort zone is much, much better. Certainly I have people I would consider to be friends, so I have some of that support system. I still talk with guys back in Cleveland a lot (his home diocese for almost 65 years). I wonder what it would be like if I were a pastor back home? Would I be tired of doing this? It was a whole new learning curve 10 years ago when I was ordained a bishop and a whole new learning curve five years ago when I was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.
Q: Do you enjoy being the bishop of a diocese? Why or why not?
A: I’ve always said I enjoyed being a pastor because you got to give some direction to the parish. I feel the same way about being the bishop of the diocese. I think people think you have a lot more ability to make things happen than you really do … I hope I’m doing something to help in the building up of the Kingdom here. I trust I am. As I do the things that bishops are supposed to do, it is my hope that the gifts and talents I bring really do move the Church along. I realize it’s ultimately God’s work, but God uses people. I hope I’m letting God use me the way God wants to use me.
Q: What are the strengths of this diocese you lead?
A: As I go around the diocese I see very vibrant parishes. Some are not big and some are. But there’s a heck of a lot of dedicated people — priests and deacons and lay people — and that’s very impressive. You can get down about numbers and the ones who aren’t coming to church. But there are a lot of wonderful people who do. There’s a very strong social justice element to the diocese that’s impressive. When I go to the youth rallies and see so many kids coming together for a day or two or participating in the National Catholic Youth Conference, that’s very impressive.
Q: What are some of the challenges in our diocese?
A: Trying to maintain a Catholic presence throughout the whole diocese. We do have some very small parishes, and trying to staff them can be a little difficult and some are far away from other places … certainly the distribution of ministers, both clerical and lay, can present challenges in trying to meet the needs of everyone in the diocese. That’s why the diocesan-wide planning was exceptional. Some very creative plans were put forth. A lot of thoughtful, prayerful effort went into that. Some tweaking needs to be done in some instances. So I’d have to say pastoral planning is both a strength and a challenge. The challenge is putting it into play over the next 10 years.
Q: What do you find most distracting at a Mass?
A: The thing that people don’t realize is how much you can see from the altar. To see a whole group just standing there and not responding even to the spoken parts makes me wonder: “What are you getting out of this?” I want to go out to them and say, “Would you please say these prayers with me?”
Q: Have you memorized your prayers from the new Roman Missal?
A: I’m starting to work on some of the chants. I’ll get there.
My hope is that I can say Mass on the first Sunday of Advent. I’d love to be able to start the new Roman Missal at the cathedral. Father Rich (Adam, the pastor and rector) said I could!
Q: What form of prayer do you practice most?
A: Liturgical prayer. I get a great deal out of liturgical prayer. I get a great deal out of saying the Mass. I’m faithful about Liturgy of the hours. And I find the Jesus Prayer relaxing.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone — living or dead — who would it be and what would you serve?
A: Obviously it would be Jesus, but I have dinner with him every day. Who else would I have dinner with, living or dead? I suppose it would be interesting to have dinner with Blessed John Paul II and Blessed Mother Teresa. Both led extremely busy and active lives and yet they were able to maintain an interior peace that shone forth from them. What would I serve? I think I would serve Iowa pork chops. I love them!
Q: If you could turn the clock back 50 years, what would you do differently?
A: Absolutely nothing. I don’t think I would want to know everything that was coming. It’s better to get these things piecemeal. Would I make huge changes in my life? I’ve always enjoyed each of the steps along the way: Seminarian, priest, teacher, pastor, bishop.
Q: Are you feeling any different about turning 70?
A: Different times in my life have been more dramatic than others. 40 was a big one. And I have to say 70 is a big one, too. It’s also interesting what “70” was like 30 years ago and what it is today.
Q: How would you sum up these past five years leading the Diocese of Davenport?
A: Ever since I’ve been here there have been challenges, and that’s not exactly a bad thing. Bankruptcy was a challenge, the diocesan capital campaign was a challenge and the planning process was a challenge. I can’t imagine life without a challenge. I think that each thing we’ve gone through, as you finish each step and look back, you realize you’ve gone through some difficult things and made it. … But I also look at the incredible number of experiences I’ve had as a bishop. How many people can say they talked to the pope recently? I did!
What people say about Bishop Martin Amos
“It can’t be easy being a bishop. But If I were to need to find him in the building, all I’d have to do is stop and listen and I would hear his laughter,” said Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action director. Bishop Amos is “joy-filled; he’s incredibly approachable. He’s so personable. You want to perform well in your functions in order to support him in his mission.”
Immigration Counselor Karina Garnica of the Davenport Diocese’s Catholic Charities said:
“I admire the bishop for his strength, because it is not easy to have the responsibility that he has to the community and before God. I remember when he started his episcopate in the Diocese of Davenport and had to face several problems within the Church. With the help of the Holy Spirit, support and understanding of the community, he was able to help our diocese move forward. I think he is a man who strives to help the community to grow in the grace of God through the sacraments, treating everyone with respect and kindness. He gives us the example that we all must feel brotherly love for one another as Christ taught his disciples. The bishop is a person with personality and a good sense of humor. One of the things I like about him is the enthusiasm that he has to learn to speak Spanish, and I think with a little more practice he will celebrate a complete Mass in Spanish.”