When he first arrived in the Peoria area, Louis Tylka didn’t know much about it. After a year and 27,000 miles on his vehicle, that is no longer true.
Previously a longtime pastor in the Chicago area, Tylka became coadjutor bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria in an elaborate but pandemic-limited ceremony on July 23 at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Tylka’s title means he is heir to current Bishop Daniel Jenky when he retires, likely early next year. This gave Tylka time for a crash course regarding the Diocese of Peoria, which spans 26 counties and 160 parishes and includes more than 120,000 Catholics.
Previously:Eventual Catholic Bishop of Peoria ordained in COVID-tinged ceremony
Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, LaSalle-Peru and the Quad Cities are part of the Diocese of Peoria. That meant a lot of travel for Tylka, 51, from the southern suburbs of Chicago.
But “Bishop Lou” took an hour-long hiatus last week in his office at the Spalding Pastoral Center in Peoria. At that time, the avid Chicago Blackhawks hockey fan spoke to the Journal Star on a variety of topics. Among them, how he spent his first year in central Illinois and his goals for the diocese.
Here is part of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
It’s been about a year since you came here. How did that happen ?
It’s good. Despite the challenges of COVID, it has been a great year. I felt extremely welcome in north central Illinois. I took great pleasure in traveling the diocese. I have visited over 60 of our parishes. I had 150 public events. I made 33-34 confirmations. So I really liked being able to go out and be with the people of God who make up our diocese.
I pretty much adjusted to the point a few times when I got back to Chicago, I was really complaining about the traffic.
What was the biggest surprise?
We tend to paint people in broad strokes, don’t we? Here, everyone paints Chicago with a big, wide … you know, it’s the big city. And when you’re in a big city, oh, that’s the rural church. They are a rural people. Most of our diocese is rural, but we have urban areas. We have Peoria. We have champagne. We have the Quad Cities. We have Bloomington. So, I think that while we like to characterize and roughly paint people in particular boxes, the reality is that we are all good people.
We want good families. We want a good education for our children. We want to be able to practice our faith. We want to know that the love of Jesus is present in our lives. It’s the same for everyone everywhere, so trying to go beyond the general kind of broad strokes we paint each other with, to realize that people are people and we are all children. of God.
And I meet him all the time, in conversations with ordinary people. “Oh, you’re from town.” In fact, I grew up in the suburbs and have lived south of I-80 for most of my life. The kindness of people is the same wherever you are.
Is it easy or difficult to make this change of mindset from “This is my parish, I take care of about 500 or a thousand people” to “I now have 160 parishes and I have tens of thousands of people I need to watch out for ‘?
It’s not an easy change, as I’ve obviously spent most of my life focusing as a priest and pastor on a smaller footprint. Now that footprint is so much bigger.
I will often sit down with a pastor or one of the parishioners and they will talk about their parish, their problems in their parish or what they have to do. And I have to put that in the context of, “It’s not just your ward. It’s the diocese, isn’t it? While I can appreciate and understand that your point of view is much smaller, mine is much larger. To fill is the challenge.
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Often times I want to go in and solve the problem in the small way, but I realize that solving it in this way, in this way, has an implication because when I say something, it goes through (the diocese).
What do you think are the greatest immediate and long-term challenges facing the diocese?
It is no different from many dioceses across the United States. Unless you are in a diocese where the population moves, the problem is the sustainability of all their parishes. Resource limitations of priests. The sustainability of their school systems.
We’re going to have to do a hard and honest examination of the question, “How do we make the necessary changes to prepare for renewal?” Go to the scriptures and you will hear how the vine must be pruned to produce grapes. So what size do we need to be?
It’s not just (like) the commercial term for proper sizing of a network. It’s really about “How do we renew our own call to go out and evangelize so that other people can be brought into the relationship with Jesus that brings them into the relationship with the church?” “
My priority as a bishop is to truly encourage and challenge ourselves and hopefully lead us through renewal for our time, for our diocese, so that we know that the mission of the church will continue. Live our faith in a way that goes out and meets the world in such a way that we give convincing testimony to others to come and meet Jesus.
When you become a bishop, what is your goal? What do you want to do when you get to this position?
I want to guide us in what I just spoke about. In the coming months, I will be going out (again), this time to meet the parish leaders to listen to them and learn from them their experience of the church. What I want to do is help us put forward the plan that continues to invite us to renewal.
I remember a pastor once saying, “You know, I didn’t realize that in my golden years my job was to deal with the decline. I said, “Well, my answer to that is that I’m not here to deal with the decline. I am here to promote renewal, to promote growth. So that’s what I want to do is start putting in place these pieces that will invite us to renew the church.
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I have a lot of hope and I see a lot of potential. There are a lot of people out there who, for so many different reasons, including the pandemic, are at a point where they really feel it’s time, in a way, to start over. There is a lot of pent-up energy to look to the future. It gives me hope and it’s exciting. We can hopefully harness all of this and look to a very bright future.
In (four) years this diocese will celebrate its 150th anniversary of faith in the Diocese of Peoria. My hope as a bishop and going through this anniversary is to show the solid foundation on which we stand and how we will build the next 150 years of faith in this diocese.