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Life after being the bishop of Lansing
As we begin the celebration of the anniversary of the Diocese of Lansing, we talked with Most Rev. Carl Mengeling, who was the fourth bishop of Lansing, from Jan. 25, 1996, until April 28, 2008. He talks about those 12 years and about what he is doing in retirement.
It began the last Monday of October 1995. After Bible class, my associate told me a man with a heavy accent would phone at 9 p.m.
When the call came, I gave my usual hello and greeting. He said, “How do I know it’s you?” I responded as I would to a priest buddy playing tricks. He said, “Do you know (Cardinal) Justin Rigali?” “Sure, we were grad students together in Rome and are good friends,” I said. He said, “Now I know it’s you.” It was Archbishop Cacciavillan, papal nuncio to the U.S. After hearing the news that Pope John Paul II had appointed me bishop of Lansing, I said, “I am 65 years old.” He replied, “Ah, but our Holy Father is 75.” He trumped me. I said, Yes!
Before ordination on Jan. 25, 1996, I made a retreat at Maria Laach Abbey in Germany. Since Jan. 25 is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, he was on my mind. All the doors opened for me when I recalled that Paul had two titles. Jesus named him “vessel of election”; Paul named himself “vessel of clay.” Paul knew he was weak, but he never forgot that Jesus, who called him, would sustain him. I believed that.
Being boss or CEO of a company hardly compares to being bishop for nearly a quarter of a million Catholics and having responsibility for all that happens. President Truman was right: “The buck stops here.”
But I was enthused and enjoyed those 12 years. I loved it. I was blessed to be in a good diocese. Bishop Povish and our chancellor, Msgr. James Murray, were great – welcoming and supportive. And I soon found out that I was working with devoted and happy priests who were united in priestly life and mission. This was true also of permanent deacons and religious men and women. I was always busy, but had great collaborators. In our 10-county diocese, I was on the road a lot, one of my few opportunities for privacy. Those drives, sometimes 60 to 90 minutes one way, were great for saying the rosary and listening to CDs.
Some high points
Bethany House Retreat Center, dedicated in DeWitt in 2001, with the help of a generous gift of $1 million from the Knights of Columbus diocesan councils, is a proven blast furnace of holiness.
The much-needed Father Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor was finished, and is a blessing for students and families.
The Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist began in 1997 with four Dominican Sisters, and now has more than 100 in the provincial motherhouse in Ann Arbor. Mother Assumpta is busy establishing two more provinces in the U.S.
The presence and service of consecrated virgins in our midst are graced gifts that I cherish. I loved presiding at profession rites for the Sisters of Mary, Servants of God’s Love, and consecration of virgins.
I was happily amazed at the large number of lay men and women serving in the diocese and parishes and schools. They are a believing and happy presence.
Some specials for me were ordinations, commissioning of lay ministers and jubilees. Close to my heart, with many happy memories, are our seminarians and the precious times with these fine men.
Also: the founding of St. Andrew Dung-Lac Vietnamese parish in 1998; the relocation and expansion of multiple ministries at Cristo Rey Parish in Lansing; the vital new additions at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Flint; the realization of a beautiful new church and parish center by the “on fire” people of Christ the King Parish in Flint.
Communicating to all registered parishioners in our diocese is FAITH magazine, launched in Jubilee 2000. It’s an Academy Award publication, second to none and going strong in informing, teaching and inspiring.
Monsignor Murray, who served most of his priestly life as chancellor, curial moderator and tribunal judge, and “in charge” during Bishop Povish’s illness, became bishop of Kalamazoo in 1998. He taught me how to be a diocesan bishop in my first two years.
The spiritual preparation for Jubilee 2000 in 1997-99 in all parishes and institutions is still bearing fruit.
A virulent, often lethal, bladder cancer nearly killed me four years ago. I believe that our Lord heard the prayers of the diocese and gave me more time to be a priest. I carry a souvenir of that close call. It’s called an urostomy bag, which is connected to the kidney and worn externally. It works great and I only change it every five days. Not a bad exchange for these extra years. My health is good. I’m a biker, but at 82, it’s tricky. I had a bad fall in September and needed arthroscopic knee surgery.
I am planning to reach 100 years old. I stay busy, which is why I enjoy retirement. I give parish missions, conduct retreats, assist in parishes, teach Scripture courses and have lots of visitors. My sisters and brother come for three or four days at a time.
So... with God all is possible.
It’s great to be a believer.
It’s great to be alive.
It’s great to have the gift of more time for conversion.
It’s great to live in the Diocese of Lansing.