Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Friend: Bishop-Elect John LeVoir

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The Wanderer, July 24, 2008

By FR. RICHARD M. HOGAN
The Wanderer
congratulates Fr. LeVoir on his appointment by Pope Benedict to the See of New Ulm. His good friend and compatriot, Fr. Richard Hogan, offers his reflections on this providential develop­ment. — Alphonse J. Matt, Editor + + +


Bishop- elect John LeVoir, appointed as the fourth bishop of New Ulm, Minn., on July 14, 2008 by Pope Benedict, has been a very good friend of mine since the summer of 1977. I was tied to St. Agnes Parish in St. Paul, Minn., because my priest-uncle, the late Msgr. Richard J. Schuler, was pastor there. Bishop-elect LeVoir, together with his parents, were parishioners at St. Agnes. Msgr. Schuler inspired me to think of the priest­hood and by the summer of 1977, I was ready to consider beginning my seminary ed­ucation at the St. Paul Seminary. Bishop-elect LeVoir was in a similar position and Msgr. Schuler suggested that the two of us visit with one another. One day that summer, the fu­ture bishop came over to my parents’ home where I was living and we visited for some hours, exchanging personal histories and hopes for the future. We were both planning on entering the seminary in the fall of 1977 and were hoping to be archdiocesan priests of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The St. Paul Seminary has reportedly changed radically since our four years there between 1977 and 1981. In those years, the faculty was not entirely pleased with stu­dents who espoused the teachings of the Church, who were loyal to the papacy, who wanted to dispense the sacraments, who prayed the rosary, and wished to at­tend daily Mass. Those seminary students who were friends of “ conservative” Catho­lic
priests, most especially Msgr. Schuler at St. Agnes, seemed to have targets on their backs and were frequently “ shot at” by some of the faculty. In fact, Bishop- elect LeVoir and I even developed a nickname for Msgr. Schuler so that we would not be overheard talking about him or about his teachings.

As for Monsignor, he was vilified for run­ning an “ underground seminary” because he would invite us and other seminarians over to the parish frequently. We were both members of his choir, the Twin Cities Cath­olic Chorale, which practiced on Tuesday nights. Choir practice was almost always followed by a “ snack” in the rectory with much talk and discussion, sometimes last­ing into the wee hours of the morning. ( Even though Monsignor was close to 60 years old at the time, he always enjoyed these evenings, even when they ran late.) Saturday morning breakfast was another occasion because we would attend the Lat­in Gregorian Mass (
Novus Ordo) at 8 a.m. which was followed by a lengthy breakfast with more discussion and opportunities to learn about the Church. Of course, as mem­bers of the chorale, we were also at St. Agnes for the magnificent orchestra Mass­es at the 10 a. m. High Mass on Sundays.

Literally, Monsignor was running a sem­inary in disguise because at his table, un­der his baton, and with his hospitality, we learned the doctrine of the Church, the moral teachings of the Church, the appli­cation of these teachings to parish life, and how to pray through the sublime liturgy of the Church. Both Bishop- elect LeVoir and I ( as well as others) owe an incredible and unpayable debt to Msgr. Schuler.

At the seminary during those trying years when almost every doctrine and moral
teaching of the Church was denied at least once publicly by one or another faculty member ( as a historian, I have the records to prove this assertion), future bishop LeVoir and I formed an ever- deepening friendship. Although I think I helped him now and then, I owe a much greater debt to him than he does to me.

Having finished my classes at the Uni­versity of Minnesota for a Ph. D. in medi­eval history before I entered the seminary, I was accustomed to an atmosphere of free and open discussion with my professors. In fact, I was challenged at Minnesota to ask deliberate and provoking questions of the professors and if I or my fellow graduate stu­dents failed to do this, our grades suffered. The seminary was radically different. The fac­ulty wanted no discussion and above all, no challenging questions. I cannot even recall how many times my friend, John LeVoir, cau­tioned and warned me not to engage in such un-docile behavior. (Lack of docility was one of the code phrases used by the faculty against those seminarians who they wished would voluntarily leave.) I will always be grateful to Bishop- elect LeVoir because I am not sure I could have survived those four difficult years without him.

During our second year, 1978-1979, two eventful things happened. Bishop Alphonse Schladweiler, the first and founding bishop of New Ulm, was celebrating his 50th an­niversary as a priest. At a friend’s sugges­tion, I wrote a biography of the bishop and presented it to him at his anniversary. This book entailed many visits with the older bishop and Bishop- elect LeVoir was often with me on these visits with Bishop Schladweiler. John LeVoir read the entire manuscript and saved me from several mis­takes which had crept into the text. Hav­ing known the first bishop of New Ulm as well as he did, it is hard not to believe that Bishop- elect LeVoir’s appointment to the same chair that Bishop Schladweiler had is not in some way the result of the old bish­op’s intercession with Christ in Heaven.

The second event of that year was the election of Pope John Paul II as the Suc­cessor of Pope John Paul I and Pope Paul VI. Nineteen seventy- eight was the year of the three Popes ( an event not seen since 1648) and the year of a non- Italian Pope (not seen since 1523). Watching the scenes in Rome was somewhat like watching the coronation of Charlemagne in St. Peter’s on Christmas Day, 800. History was un­folding before our very eyes on our TV screens. The election of JPII was to affect my life and John LeVoir’s for a very long time — much longer than either he or I knew.

Pope John Paul II gave a talk in Central America in early 1979 for the 500th anni­versary of the introduction of Christianity into that region. This address had a new tone, a new voice, not heard before. The talk was not in the Vatican “speak” we were all accustomed to hearing.

Then, on March 4 of 1979, JPII issued his first encyclical,
The Redeemer of Man, which also had this new tone, even in a more pronounced way than the Central American speech. Later that same year, on September 5, 1979, John Paul II gave the first of his 129 talks in his Theology of the Body series. Reading John Paul II’s works, the then- seminarian, John LeVoir, and I became very interested in John Paul II’s thought. That interest was to absorb us and our priesthood for the next 10 to 15 years. I and John LeVoir were ordained dea­cons in May 1980 and began our fourth year with six months’ pastoral work in par­ishes. During the spring semester, I wrote an article on the Theology of the Body se­ries which was eventually published in Fi­delity, vol. 1, no. 1. The then- Deacon LeVoir read this article critically and offered many comments on it.

After our Ordination to the priesthood on May 30, 1981, there were one or two books published on John Paul II. Howev­er, he and I both thought that the authors of these books were missing something important. We thought there was much more to say. So, we expanded the original article, added some more chapters, and sent one of the chapters to some New York publishing houses. Eventually, Doubleday expressed an interest and over the next two years or so, while active in our respective parishes as associates, we wrote the first of our publications,
Covenant of Love. Covenant was published by Doubleday in 1985.

During the drafting of
Covenant, the then- Fr. LeVoir taught me a great deal about the Pope’s philosophy. He had stud­ied philosophy at the University of Dallas before entering the seminary. The philos­ophy department at Dallas had at that time a number of faculty who were phenome­nologists. Phenomenology is a 20th- cen­tury philosophical movement begun at the beginning of the century ( c. 1900) by the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl. John Paul II studied phenomenology at the University of Krakow under the tutelage of Roman Ingarden, one of Husserl’s stu­dents. For various reasons, Pope John Paul II found in phenomenology a means of teaching the faith in a new language more appropriate to the modern era. In fact, as Bishop- elect LeVoir and I have ar­gued, John Paul II’s new tone and new lan­guage, is in part attributable to phenome­nology. By teaching me the fundamentals of this philosophical movement, Fr. LeVoir helped me immensely in my research and writing on John Paul II’s new synthesis of the faith.

We both continue to use John Paul II’s new way of speaking about the faith and we both continue to advocate the thesis that Pope John Paul II is another St. Au­gustine, another St. Thomas Aquinas. Au­gustine ( fifth century) united the faith ( Rev­elation) with Plato’s philosophy and Aquinas ( 13th century) united it with the philosophy of Aristotle. John Paul II has done the same thing for our age by unit­ing the faith with phenomenology.

Having presented this argument in
Cov­enant, we were approached by our editor at Doubleday to do another volume on Pope John Paul II. By this time ( c. 1985), the Pope had begun another series of talks, his catechetical series. We drafted a second book, Faith for Today which was published in 1988. In this volume, we offered an ex­planation of the talks already given in the catechetical series. (Pope John Paul II con­tinued the catechetical series for a number of years after Faith was published.) After Covenant and before Faith, we both decided that we had to do something to explain Pope John Paul II’s new ap­proach to the faith to the young people in both our parishes (we were still associates). For that reason, we gathered a number of teachers from the grade schools in parish­es as well as teachers in the religious edu­cation programs. We launched a program to publish a Catholic textbook series for preschool/kindergarten through the eighth grade so that other parishes around the country ( and even outside the country) would benefit from John Paul II’s new ex­planation of the faith. ( I think if we had known what we were actually trying to do and how much work it would be, we prob­ably would not even have tried it!) We did not actually do the writing, but were part of an editorial committee which reviewed every word of the texts which were written by teachers and religious education instruc­tors.

This project eventually came to be the
Image of God religion series which is still in use today. While I generally looked at the overall outline for the series and tried to read each lesson in view of the general plan, Fr. LeVoir saved the series from many mistakes and errors because of his incredi­ble attention to detail. Reading every line and asking himself whether this line could stand if it were quoted individually, his con­tribution to the Image of God series was absolutely vital.

As pastor at Holy Trinity and St. Augus­tine in South St. Paul (1992-2004) and St. Mary and St. Michael in Stillwater ( 2004­2008), Fr. LeVoir has distinguished himself with his unremitting preaching of the faith, his administrative and financial abilities ( he was a certified public accountant before studying for the priesthood), and his gen­erosity and hospitality to his fellow priests. One of his most important works while serving as pastor of these four parishes was his work as the priest- moderator of Courage, a Catholic support group for men and women who have same-sex attractions and who desire to live according to the teachings of the Church.

I can hardly think of another priest more deserving of the honor bestowed on him by Pope Benedict. I am proud to call Bish­op- elect LeVoir a close friend and will al­ways pray for him in his new assignment as the fourth bishop of New Ulm, Minn.

Ad Multos Annos!
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July 16, 2008 Feast Of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel

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