By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Dr. Tim Millea expressed his admiration for Bishop Martin Amos in a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted the bishop’s nearly 11 years leading the Diocese of Davenport. The tribute set the stage for an engaging, informal conversation with the bishop during the May 20 meeting of St. Thomas Aquinas Guild of the Quad Cities at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.
A month earlier, Bishop Amos received news he had been anticipating since his 75th birthday on Dec. 8: the appointment of his successor. His schedule remains hectic, this being the height of the confirmation season. He reflects gratefully on the privilege of leading the diocese while counting the days (21) until his successor, Bishop-elect Thomas Zinkula, is ordained and installed as Ninth Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport.
Millea sheepishly admitted that he composed an email on an airplane, asking the bishop on short notice to speak to the guild. Perhaps by divine intervention, the bishop had the morning of May 20 open. Displaying his trademark sense of humor during the talk, Bishop Amos joked: “You people ought to get a life. What are you doing here?!”
The bishop shared a humorous memory from his earlier life as a seminarian, a time when the church was on the precipice of change during Vatican II. Seminarians wore cassocks everywhere, even having to put them on when making a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Cassocks have a lot of buttons!
He majored in classics, and was initially opposed to the church’s decision (Advent of 1964) to move from Latin to English in the celebration of the Mass in the U.S. “Now I’d never want to go back.” The emergence of lay ministers was another fruit of Vatican II, the bishop believes. “Co-workers in the vineyard provided a tremendous boon to the church.”
One of 34 priests ordained for the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1968, Bishop Amos said that plentitude provided opportunities for priests to have a presence in the Catholic schools. With smaller numbers of priests being ordained today, that presence in the schools is missing, he said. As a result, it’s difficult to engage youths and young adults. Pope Francis is asking Catholics around the world to help him address that issue in preparation for a “Synod on Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment” in October 2018, Bishop Amos noted.
Preliminary insights underscore the vast differences in the lives of youths globally. Refugees struggling to find food and jobs have a different perspective than young adults studying at a university in the United States, for example. Earlier this spring, Bishop Amos had a Q&A session with students at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City. They recognized that they were among the “privileged few” in comparison with their peers around the world.
Youths today have so many possibilities and temptations, the bishop said. But he also believes that they have an inner sense of the divine that was lacking in the past. He sees a greater desire among youths today for spirituality and service. The idea of long-term commitment, however, is a concern that needs to be addressed.
Some may be amazed to learn that Bishop Amos has confirmed more than 10,000 youths during his decade in the Davenport Diocese. He’s also ordained 12 priests, 12 permanent deacons and dedicated and consecrated five new church buildings. “I was ordained a priest by Bishop Clarence Issenmann in 1968 and then in 2001 was ordained a bishop by Bishop Anthony Pilla, both in the Diocese of Cleveland.
Now I am able to pass on that same priesthood I received,” the bishop reflected.
He enjoys tremendously administering the sacrament of confirmation, but joked about the “photo ops” that follow each confirmation liturgy. “I find it hard to stand for so long in one spot to have my picture taken!”
Beth Millea of St. Paul the Apostle Parish told Bishop Amos that one of her favorite memories is watching him interact with youths as they are about to be confirmed. “It looks as if the one who is being confirmed is the only focus you have at that moment.”
Traveling overseas to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to Jean Vanier holds a special place in the bishop’s memory. Vanier is an internationally know philosopher, theologian and founder of L’Arche, intentional communities where people with and without disabilities live and work together. “To be able to go to France and meet Jean Vanier was an incredible experience; to be able to sit down with him at dinner and joke with him,” the bishop noted. On that trip, he also ran into two priests from the Cleveland Diocese, his home diocese, and had lunch with them in Paris.
Asked to share thoughts about difficulties he faced leading the diocese, he mentioned feeling anxious about some things, especially the diocesan bankruptcy and presiding at atonement services on behalf of victims of clergy sexual abuse. He didn’t want to add in any way to victims’ pain.
Responding to the question: “What is the church going to do” about fewer Catholics in the pews, the bishop answered: “What are ‘we’ doing about it? We all are the church.” Whether Catholics are comfortable in small faith communities or mega churches, the emphasis must be on ensuring their ability to be Catholics in the world, the bishop observed.
While he has enjoyed his time in the diocese, Bishop Amos looks forward to retirement. He’ll spend the first six months living at the cottage in Ohio that he owns with another priest. He’ll also offer to be of service in the diocese there. The bishop quipped: “I have senioritis! I’m ready.”
Farewell Liturgy is June 11
According to the Ceremonial of Bishops, “When a bishop is transferred to another see or his resignation is accepted by the Roman Pontiff, it is proper that he gather his people at a liturgical service. In this way he can bid them farewell and with them give thanks for the blessings received from God during his episcopate (No. 1156).
Bishop Martin Amos, whose resignation has been accepted, will celebrate Solemn Vespers at St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City on Sunday, June 11, at 5 p.m. All are invited. A reception will follow.