December 2, 2016

Retired bishop not surprised at pope’s selection of Cardinal Tobin

Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary, Ind., is pictured concelebrating Mass with U.S. bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome in this Feb. 13, 2012, file photo. He retired as bishop of Gary in 2014. Bishop Melczek has known Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin for nearly 40 years since their days ministering as priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Bishop Dale J. Melczek of Gary, Ind., is pictured concelebrating Mass with U.S. bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome in this Feb. 13, 2012, file photo. He retired as bishop of Gary in 2014. Bishop Melczek has known Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin for nearly 40 years since their days ministering as priests in the Archdiocese of Detroit. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

By Sean Gallagher

Many people in the Church were surprised when Pope Francis announced on Oct. 9 that he had chosen Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin as one of the newest members of the College of Cardinals.

No other archbishop of Indianapolis had been selected as cardinal. Neither had any leader of the Archdiocese of Newark, to which Cardinal Tobin was subsequently assigned on Nov. 7.

But Bishop Dale J. Melczek, the retired bishop of Gary, Ind., wasn’t astonished when Pope Francis made his announcement about the new cardinals. His knowledge of Cardinal Tobin stretches back to the late 1970s shortly after the outgoing-archbishop of Indianapolis was ordained a Redemptorist priest and began ministering at Holy Redeemer Parish in Detroit, where he had grown up.

At the time, Bishop Melczek was a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit serving in its chancery. When then-Father Tobin was chosen as a young priest by his fellow clergy to serve as the vicar for a vicariate—the equivalent of a deanery in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—in that archdiocese, Bishop Melczek met with him often.

Their association continued until 1990, when then-Father Tobin was assigned by his religious superior to serve in a parish in Chicago.

“He just seemed so filled with the love and mercy of God that he felt kind of compelled to reach out with love and understanding,” said Bishop Melczek in a Nov. 2 interview with The Criterion. “He had a passion for bringing the love of God to other people.

It was this knowledge that led Bishop Melczek, who served as bishop of Gary from 1992 until his retirement in 2014, to take Cardinal Tobin’s appointment to the College of Cardinals in stride.

“I personally wasn’t surprised that he was made a cardinal, because I knew that he had interacted on many occasions with Pope Francis before he was pope and afterward,” he said. “I’m sure it was a personal recognition because Archbishop Tobin’s gifts and spirituality are so obvious. He’s such a transparent person.”

While Bishop Melczek wasn’t surprised at the selection, he was happy about it.

“I was thrilled beyond belief,” he said. “The universal Church will benefit, as it has already in the past from his gifts. He’s a man of the Gospel. He’s a man of Vatican II. I’m so joyful that his gifts are recognized and being used on behalf of the Church.”

Bishop Melczek noted that the deep respect that Cardinal Tobin showed the people in Detroit whom he served will now extend to Catholics around the world.

“He has a deep love and respect for every person,” Bishop Melczek said. “And that shows in the way that he interacts with other people. He really believes that every baptized person shares in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

“That was the way he operated as a pastor and as an associate pastor. He valued every person. It was an interior love of God that he experienced and that he easily and freely shared with others.”

Bishop Melczek’s appreciation for this quality in Cardinal Tobin increased in knowing how much he gave himself to ministry in situations he wouldn’t have chosen for himself.

“It wasn’t his goal to serve in his home parish,” Bishop Melczek said. “He really wanted to be a missionary. But he ended up there, so OK. That’s where the Lord wanted him to serve.

“He was so self-giving, and he had this sense that his life was not about him.”

That acceptance of God’s will for him, Bishop Melczek said, continued when Cardinal Tobin was chosen by Pope Benedict in 2010 to be ordained a bishop and serve as the secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation of Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

This change in his life happened shortly after he had finished 12 years of service as the general superior of his religious order, the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), and he was expecting to return to ordinary priestly ministry.

Now it’s happened again, when it was announced on Nov. 7 that Pope Francis had selected Cardinal Tobin to lead the Archdiocese of Newark, something that Bishop Melczek said is “a heavy cross” for his friend whom he knows “had a deep love for the people of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and was looking forward to ministering to them for many years.

“However, Cardinal Tobin is a man of the Church and he is also, at the depth of his heart, a missionary,” he said. “He’s always ready to do whatever the Church asks him to do. He realizes that in God’s will is our peace. From a human point of view, it’s difficult to uproot himself, yet he knows that he belongs wherever the Lord wants him.”

Bishop Melczek said that Cardinal Tobin has encouraged Catholics across Indiana during the past four years to embrace God’s love and mercy in their lives, and to then share it with others.

Cardinal Tobin’s final act in leading the Church in central and southern Indiana—accepting God’s will that he is to leave the Hoosier state behind to lead the Church in northern New Jersey—can also help Catholics here grow in their faith.

“As difficult as it was personally to uproot himself, he knows that that is what he needs to do and joyfully does it,” Bishop Melczek said. “He doesn’t do it begrudgingly. He just accepts it, because it’s clear that it’s God’s will.

“And once we know what God’s will is, we do it with joy and we find peace in that.” †

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