Bishop Donald Hying has been named by Pope Francis to lead the Roman Catholic Diocese of Madison, succeeding the late Bishop Robert Morlino.
Hying, 55, comes from the Catholic Diocese of Gary, Indiana, where he has served as bishop since January 2015, but he has deep Wisconsin roots.
A West Allis native and graduate of Marquette University, Hying was ordained a priest in Milwaukee in 1989 and served as a priest in Menomonee Falls and Milwaukee before he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese in 2011 by Pope Benedict XVI.
At a news conference Thursday at the diocesan headquarters, Hying recalled visiting his grandparents’ farm in Iowa County and said “half my family” lives in the Madison diocese.
“I’m very much at home here,” he said.
Hying, the fifth bishop to lead the Madison diocese and its 182,000 members, said he wants to “build on the great foundation of Bishop Morlino,” who died Nov. 24 at age 71.
Morlino presided over the diocese for 15 years, and his conservative theology was often at odds with the liberal views of many church members.
Hying declined to say if he considers himself a traditionalist or progressive.
“I”m just Catholic,” he said. “When we’re centered in Jesus, ultimately that’s not political. Although the gospel has political implications, the gospel itself is not inherently political. I’d say I’m Catholic in the fullness of what that means.”
Hying said the church “must never surrender” its distinct values, but that he is willing to sit down and talk with those who may have other views on issues such as abortion.
“Truth without love becomes harsh, rigid, judgmental. Love without truth becomes sentimental and kind of devoid of content,” he said. “When you fuse love and truth together, you have the firepower of the Gospel.”
With his low-key approach, Hying is a skilled listener who excels at bringing people together, said Michael Heinlein, a friend and editor of the website simplycatholic.com, for which Hying has written.
“He’s always after the truth,” Heinlein said. “Anyone who takes the faith seriously … is going to find him as a good bishop.”
Hying has a reputation as a hands-on pastor.
“This is a guy who will be out among his flock,” said Matt Korger, a blogger for The Badger Catholic.
Heinlein said Hying was constantly traveling in his last post and that priests would often be surprised to find out the bishop was having dinner with their parishioners.
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“He was so approachable,” Heinlein said. “I don’t think he ever turned down an invitation.”
The Rev. Jeff Burton of St. Paul Church in Valparaiso, Indiana, said Hying will be remembered fondly in his former diocese.
“He was a great fit,” he said. “He came from a blue-collar background.”
Burton said Hying personally tended to the parishioners and worked with priests to deal with the closing of less well-attended parish churches in the Gary Diocese.
Hying, whose father grew up on a farm and worked in a factory, said places like Gary, which face economic and racial disparities, are where the church is most needed.
“The Church needs to be everywhere,” he said. “But especially places where people need to hear the good news.”
During his first year in Madison, Hying said he hopes to visit each of the 102 parishes and 46 schools in the diocese, which encompasses parts of 11 counties from Jefferson County to the Mississippi River.
“I expect to put a lot of miles on my car,” he said.
Hying said he doesn’t yet know enough to have an opinion on whether to rebuild St. Raphael Cathedral, destroyed by fire in 2005, though he is “open to suggestions and direction.” Reconstruction plans have been on hold for more than a decade, and in 2012 the church turned the Downtown site into a park.
Monsignor James Bartylla, who has served as diocesan administrator since Morlino’s death, thanked Pope Francis, the people of the Gary diocese, and Hying for the “quiet sacrifices” involved in changing posts.
Paul Mullaney, president of the Bishop Noll Institute, said Hying “immersed himself as a shepherd of the faithful” immediately upon arrival in Gary.
“He has worked humbly and tirelessly, in a very pastoral way, to share — with as many people as he could reach — the good news of God’s unconditional love for all of us and the promise of salvation that gives us great hope,” Mullaney said. “I know he will bring the same excitement and messaging to the faithful of Madison, and we are grateful to him for having brought it to us in Northwest Indiana.”
The Times of Northwest Indiana contributed to this report.