October 26, 2012

New shepherd’s life, ministry are shaped by love of family, humor and grace-filled faith

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin greets Hispanic Catholics after the Oct. 18 press conference at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during which he was introduced as the new archbishop of Indianapolis. Greeting him are, from left, Jesús Castillo, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis; Gloria Guillén, Hispanic ministry assistant for the archdiocesan Office of Multiculture Ministry; Juan Manuel Gúzman, pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis; Jazmina Noguera, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis; Roberto Márquez, pastoral associate at St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis; and Reynaldo Náva, Hispanic ministry coordinator at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin greets Hispanic Catholics after the Oct. 18 press conference at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis during which he was introduced as the new archbishop of Indianapolis. Greeting him are, from left, Jesús Castillo, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis; Gloria Guillén, Hispanic ministry assistant for the archdiocesan Office of Multiculture Ministry; Juan Manuel Gúzman, pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis; Jazmina Noguera, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis; Roberto Márquez, pastoral associate at St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis; and Reynaldo Náva, Hispanic ministry coordinator at Our Lady of the Greenwood Parish in Greenwood. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By John Shaughnessy

The humor of Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin will shine soon when he recalls his days as a hockey player and a keyboard player in rock n’ roll bands.

Yet right now, the newly appointed archbishop of the archdiocese is in a thoughtful mood as he shares two of the love stories that have defined his life and will shape his leadership of the nearly 228,000 Catholics in central and southern Indiana.

The first one involves the love of his parents—Joseph and Marie—for each other.

“As years go on, I become much more aware and much more grateful for the gift of one’s family, beginning with my parents,” the oldest of their 13 children says with reverence. “My mother had five cousins and three aunts who were nuns. She was the first woman in several generations to marry.

“My dad’s mother immigrated to Boston and came from a rather poor, passionate and rollicking group of shanty Irish.

“You have this wonderfully pious mother—and a father who came out of a really tough background and who was a great football player. They found a love that not only united them, but brought the best out of each of them. And we kids were the benefit of that.”

His second love story reveals the depth of the bond between a father and a son.

Growing up in a family that lived in one half of a duplex in Detroit for all of his childhood and youth, Archbishop Tobin saw up-close the way his father treated his mother and cared for his children.

At 19, the future archbishop and his father worked alongside each other as they helped to build a larger house for the family on a small farm in Canada.

“I think the greatest gift my father gave me was an image of manhood,” the archbishop says. “A man in the best sense. A chivalry toward women. A self-sacrificing love for his family.

“My father was strong. He liked his occasional beer and a cigar. And he never once sent me to church. He took me with him. When I was kneeling next to him, I wanted to be like him.”

Of course, the reality of nearly every love story is that there are not only chapters of hope, but heartbreak, too.

“My dad died when he was 54, and he left my mother with 13 children, the youngest of whom were 5 and 6,” the

60-year-old archbishop recalls. “So I know what it is a bit to be in a troubled family, a family that has to struggle against odds.

“So I hope the ministry of the Church in central and southern Indiana will have a special place in its heart for families, and not simply the nice and easygoing families but the families who struggle—families like my family with a single mother who, with the help of her husband in heaven, had to raise 13 of us. And when people say, ‘Mrs. Tobin, how wonderful!—13 children and they all went to college,’ her response is, ‘How wonderful!—13 children and they all practice their faith.’ ”

A touch of humor

Those qualities of faith, family, hope, humility and hard work have guided Archbishop Tobin in his nearly 35 years of serving God and the Church as a priest.

So has a sense of humor.

He believes a sense of humor is an essential part of the spiritual life. Being of Irish descent, he says, he is also part of a people who have always had a capacity for laughing at themselves.

Archbishop Tobin shows that tendency when he recalls his youthful days as a keyboard player in less-than-stellar rock n’ roll bands. He notes that people’s favorable impressions of his bands improved with the number of drinks they had enjoyed.

“We used to play in some real dives,” he says, smiling.

His easy smile bursts into a full laugh when the conversation turns to his passion for playing ice hockey. He recalls the time an opponent whacked him in the mouth, leaving a cut that led to 40 stitches and a bruised, puffed-up lower lip, just days before he was ordained a transitional deacon.

“I remember kneeling in front of this auxiliary bishop, and he was staring at me because of my stitches,” he says with a laugh.

After he was ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1978, he soon returned to serve at his home parish in Detroit, leading him to once wryly recall those days with this thought, “Some parishioners probably wondered how on earth ‘that ruffian’ was now up there celebrating the Eucharist.”

A deep sense of humanity

While a sense of humor is at the core of Archbishop Tobin, even more so is the deep sense of the connection between faith and humanity.

As pastor of his home parish in Detroit and later at another parish in Chicago—both with large Hispanic communities—Archbishop Tobin embraced the ‘catholic’ nature of the Church, seeing strength in diversity.

That appreciation grew as he traveled extensively around the world in his past two roles for the Church.

From 1997 to 2009, he served as superior general of the Redemptorist congregation. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. It’s the second highest-ranking position overseeing the more than 1 million men and women in the world’s religious orders. This appointment also led to him being ordained a bishop in the same year.

Along the way, the fan of the University of Notre Dame football team also became fluent in five languages—English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.

“Part of it was growing up in a multicultural neighborhood,” he explains about his love of language. “I remember being a little bit envious of the kids that went home and spoke a different language or ate different foods. My grandmother spoke English well, coming from Ireland, but she prayed in Irish. She wasn’t sure God understood English.”

After delivering that touch of humor, Archbishop Tobin smiles again, believing those languages and his experiences will serve him well in leading an archdiocese that is increasingly becoming more multicultural.

“I presume I’m coming to a Church with multiple gifts and a wide variety of vocations that are called to live together in a Church communion,” says the archbishop, who will be installed on Dec. 3. “If we want a one-size fits-all, vanilla Church, we can’t possibly have a Church in communion. Communion needs a variety.”

A calm strength

His tendency is to reach out, to share, to make room, to be inclusive—lessons that once again hark back to growing up as one of 13 children in one half of a duplex.

“I wouldn’t recommend that [13 children] for every family, but for us it was wonderful,” he says. “We learned to share and support each other. We learned to live with diversity because it’s hard to be selfish if you have one bathroom in the house and eight sisters.”

His love for his sisters and his mother—as well as being educated by Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters and working with them in parish life—undoubtedly shapes his conciliatory and appreciative attitude toward women religious in the midst of a Vatican appointed visitation of women’s religious communities in the United States in recent years.

“People have asked me, ‘Will anything good come out of this visitation to the American sisters?’ ” he notes. “I say, ‘Good things have already come.’ One very good thing is that in the American Church there is a renewed appreciation for the historical role that women religious have played in the building of the Church. And a sharing among ordinary Catholics about how women religious have influenced their lives and helped them live a better life than they would have otherwise.”

Yet, tellingly, Archbishop Tobin doesn’t stop there in his answer, continuing calmly and strongly with this thought: “That’s a good starting point, but it’s not the finishing point. When I hear people speak enthusiastically of women religious, I sometimes ask, ‘But have you suggested that possibility to your nieces or to your daughters?’

“I heard Mother Teresa once say that she really resented being called a living saint because, she said, ‘People want to push onto me what is the vocation of us all.’ The sisters, while probably grateful for all the wonderful support they’ve been getting and deserve, I also think they’re wondering if their vocation will attract young women.”

He is equally supportive of Catholic education. He knows the impact that Catholic schools have had on his life and on generations of Catholics.

“I think we have to support catechism, CCD, religious education at all levels in the Church,” he says. “We must also recognize the particular force a Catholic school can have. I remember a lay superintendent of schools saying to me, ‘Give me a child for an hour on Saturday, and I can provide some information. Give me that child for five days a week, and I can provide formation.’ To complement the formation they should be receiving at home. That’s why I’m a strong believer in Catholic schools.”

A life filled with grace

That combination of quiet strength, purpose and commitment shines through moments later when he answers a question about his interest in the study of secular culture and its impact on faith as it relates especially to teenagers and young adults.

“One of the more interesting stories that has always fascinated me is from the Gospel of John,” he says. “Jesus begins with a question to these people who were tagging along behind him: ‘What are you looking for?’ It’s only at the end of the Gospel that he says, ‘Come follow me.’ I think what the Church would like to do in a secular society is say, ‘What are you looking for? What do you really want to get out of life?’ And then the Church would say, ‘You can certainly find it with us and more than you ever expected.’ ”

It’s a reality he has found in his own life.

It’s a faith he wants others to know and share.

It’s a faith that has defined his priesthood for nearly 35 years.

“The experience is one of gratitude for everything,” he says. “It’s like that phrase at the end of Diary of a Country Priest where the dying priest says, ‘But all is grace.’ So even what I think are the disasters, the great failures of my life, they were moments of grace because the Psalms say God is close to the brokenhearted.

“The trust that people have shown me because I am a priest, before they knew anything about me, the opportunity to be invited into people’s lives, and the great questions they face and the great suffering they face, all of that is something that I know is not my accomplishment. There have been times when I’ve been kneeling down at night, and I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, because I didn’t know what to do there. I believe you helped me.’ ”

He believes that help and faith will continue to guide him as he becomes the next archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. †

 

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