By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — A thank-you letter from a bishop who previously served as a priest of the Davenport Diocese inspired seventh-graders from St. Paul the Apostle Parish to write to bishops across the country.
The religious education students in Mary Arnould Wood’s class had made 14 fleece blankets for poor people living in the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D., where Bishop Robert Gruss serves as bishop. He served as a priest of the Davenport Diocese before being ordained a bishop last July in Rapid City.
After receiving the blankets, the bishop wrote a letter of thanks to the students that included information about the Rapid City Diocese. That got students interested in learning more about other dioceses.
Arnould Wood said the class didn’t have the resources to write to bishops in the more than 8,000 dioceses worldwide, so the students wrote to one bishop in each state in the U.S. and to Pope Benedict XVI. They also sought information about Eastern Catholic Churches in the U.S.
Students formulated questions on topics that included the succession of popes since St. Peter, the life of a bishop and the challenges of being bishop of a diocese. They sent 56 letters and received 26 responses. “One (bishop) called the religious education office telling us to write our bishop,” Arnould Wood said.
She collected the letters and other items received and placed them in a binder. During class April 18, she read some of the letters to students and invited them to look at the binder after class.
Anchorage, Alaska, Archbishop Roger Schwietz wrote that it was good to hear from young people. One of his favorite activities as bishop is to meet with young people. He has attended various youth rallies and the National Catholic Youth Conference. He said the two biggest challenges in his diocese are weather and distance. He noted that at times he has to fly in a plane to get to parts of his diocese.
San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer informed the students that the first bishop to be ordained in the United States was John Carroll, bishop of Baltimore, in 1789 — the year George Washington was sworn in as the first U.S. president. Archbishop Niederauer noted that on April 30 he was to celebrate his 50th anniversary as a priest and hopes the pope will appoint a successor for him this year.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta told the students that many records of the succession of popes since St. Peter no longer exist. He also noted that the Church is a family of peace. He asked the students to pray for their bishop, Bishop Martin Amos, and if they had any extra prayers, to pray for him.
Bishop Paul Etienne of the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., responding to a question, said the laying on of hands can be traced back to Jesus. Bishop Etienne noted that the Cheyenne Diocese is the largest geographical diocese in the contiguous 48 states. He enjoys the landscape, but doesn’t enjoy the large number of meetings and “the sad realities in the Church (clergy sex abuse).” He told the students every bishop could use their prayers.
Archbishop John Meyers of Newark, N.J., wrote a three-page letter telling the students he likes to talk with young people in person and through Skype (live video through a computer). He provided links to some of his talks and offered the students his prayers. The archbishop noted he oversees 220 parishes, 113 elementary and high schools and 1.5 million Catholics. The Illinois native said his first appointment as bishop was in the Diocese of Peoria, Ill. He came to Newark 10 years ago. He told students he co-wrote a science fiction book titled “Space Vulture” with Gary Wolf.
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain noted that he belonged to St. Paul the Apostle Parish, but in Memphis, Tenn. He previously served as a bishop in Little Rock, Ark., and Joliet, Ill. He wrote that a typical day is spent in meetings with priests, staff or on the phone. His favorite part of being a bishop is celebrating Mass and the sacraments.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Philadelphia Archdiocese asked the students to pray for him. He said his diocese has a variety of issues needing his attention, which meant he didn’t have time to answer all of their questions. But he thanked them for their letter and sent several items the students had requested.
An assistant to Archbishop John Vlazny of the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., told the history of tracing bishops back to St. Peter. The assistant noted that Archbishop Vlazny laughs a lot and prays every day.
Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City is a member of the Catholic Relief Services Board, and talked about his travels in and out of the diocese.
Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., said he uses a variety of media to spread the Gospel: the Catholic newspaper and website, Facebook and podcasts, for example.
Assessore of General Affairs for the secretary of state at the Vatican, Msgr. Peter Wells, wrote on behalf of Pope Benedict. He noted the pope is pleased to hear from young people and is grateful for their prayers and he (the pope) will pray for the seventh-graders and teachers.
Student Tyler Browne through it was “cool to get letters from the bishops across the U.S.” Sydney Pfannenstiel didn’t think many bishops would respond and was pleased with those who did.