By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Bishop Emeritus William Franklin didn’t choose his calling as a bishop 25 years ago, but he responded with faith, grace and the pastoral presence that has distinguished his priesthood.
His official anniversary date is Sunday, April 1. Bishop Martin Amos and his chancery staff have chosen to name the third-floor conference room of the remodeled diocesan headquarters in Bishop Franklin’s honor.
“I could not have asked for a kinder predecessor,” Bishop Amos said. “Although I have assured him he is welcome to do anything in the diocese, he always defers to me. I enjoy very much the times we meet in the hall or he stops by my office for a quick chat. He always smiles, always has a kind word, always says how much he appreciates me being here. I also appreciate him being here.”
Born in Parnell in the Diocese of Davenport, Bishop Franklin was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Dubuque on Feb. 4, 1956. In his first assignment he served as chauffeur and secretary for Archbishop Emeritus Henry Rohlman, who had previously served as bishop of the Davenport Diocese. The two occasionally traveled to Davenport, but the young priest never suspected he’d be bishop of the diocese someday! “I had an ambition to be a priest, to be a pastor. I never planned on being a bishop.”
The future bishop served two years as an associate pastor before being assigned to Wahlert High School in Dubuque where he was director of guidance and a teacher for 15 years. He returned to parish ministry and was serving as pastor at St. Edward’s Parish in Waterloo when he received a phone call from his archbishop asking him to drive to Dubuque. The priest was puzzled because he had seen Archbishop Daniel Kucera earlier that day in Waterloo. That night, Fr. Franklin learned the Holy Father wanted him to become an auxiliary bishop. The stunned pastor suggested names of three other priests who’d make good auxiliaries. But the archbishop responded, “Bill, the Holy Father doesn’t want suggestions; he wants a ‘yes’ or a ‘no.’”
Bishop Franklin was ordained to the episcopate on April 1, 1987, at the Cathedral of St. Raphael in Dubuque. Nearly seven years later, he received a phone call from an apostolic delegate asking him to accept appointment as bishop for the Diocese of Davenport. This time, “I didn’t hesitate.”
His installment as seventh bishop of the Diocese of Davenport on Jan. 20, 1994, gave Bishop Franklin a sense of coming full circle. He said he admired people of the Davenport Diocese such as Msgr. Marvin Mottet, a seminarian classmate of Bishop Franklin’s, “who went above and beyond the everyday activities and responsibilities in keeping a parish alive, active and growing.” That included making a home for the Vietnamese Catholic Community at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, where Msgr. Mottet served many years as pastor.
As shepherd, Bishop Franklin practiced the principle of subsidiarity, where problems are solved at the most local level at which they can be reasonably solved.
“He has been for us a model of subsidiarity. If he gave one a task, he expected you to carry it out to completion,” said Mary Wieser, who served the bishop as diocesan superintendent of schools and director of faith formation. “He has great respect for all, but especially women. He attempted to utilize their skills and gifts in leadership positions. He is certainly a gentle man attuned to pastoral needs,” she added.
“Bishop Franklin had a way of encouraging collaboration. He gave no preferential treatment to one area of ministry over another, instead seeing the need and the benefits for every area of ministry,” said Dan Ebener, who served as diocesan social action director when the bishop led the diocese.
“He was good at getting everybody’s ideas and made people feel like they were part of the diocese,” noted Irene Prior Loftus, who served as chancellor to Bishop Franklin. “He looked for opinions, but he owned the decisions.”
His final years as the diocese’s shepherd presented the greatest challenges of his priesthood: dealing with the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
“I had the experience of listening to the accusations and hearing about the mistreatment of young people by priests,” Bishop Franklin said. “It was a difficult time because people were asking questions that had no simple answers. These were sad moments for all.”
“There were very difficult times,” agreed Prior Loftus. “He was extremely pastoral. I sat with him when he talked with victims of abuse … He was wonderful one on one with victims, feeling their pain and reaching out to be compassionate.”
“… He remained faithful in love, carrying the pain and suffering of victims interiorly,” said Bishop Robert Gruss of the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D., who served as chancellor after Prior Loftus and was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Franklin.
Even in the midst of discouraging times, including the decision to have the diocese file for bankruptcy, Bishop Franklin worked toward fostering faith and encouraging Catholics to appreciate the universality of the Catholic Church. “He really lived out Vatican II,” Prior Loftus said. “He involved the laity and, in a special way, women. He looked at individuals for their gifts. He was very compassionate and had a great sense of humor. He was the epitome of a servant leader.”
But gratitude is his hallmark. “Gratitude has been at the heart of Bishop Franklin’s love and charity for the people the Lord has called him to shepherd,” Bishop Gruss observed.
“God asks us, whether we are ordained or not, to appreciate our faith, to love our faith,” Bishop Franklin said. “And to have a desire to share that faith and love so that others may truly appreciate the many gifts of a loving God who shares himself with us in many ways.”
At the link below, read reflections from Catholics who’ve known Bishop William Franklin: